PH remains worst place for land, environmental defenders in Asia — watchdog

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 30) — The Philippines remains the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders, with 270 of them killed in the last decade, international nongovernment organization Global Witness said in its latest report.

The watchdog's "Decade of Defiance" report released Thursday said 19 defenders, mostly indigenous persons, were killed in the country last year.

"Over 40% (114) of the defenders murdered were Indigenous peoples campaigning to protect their land and the environment with nearly 80% of attacks against Indigenous defenders taking place on the island of Mindanao," the organization noted.

Over 80 percent of killings in the country over the past decade were connected to protests by defenders against company operations, with a third of them linked to the mining industry, followed by the agribusiness sector, according to the report.

Global Witness cited former President Rodrigo Duterte's overturning of a nine-year nationwide moratorium on new mining projects, which have been criticized by environmental and human rights groups for negative impacts on the safety of defenders, key biodiversity areas, local water and food supplies, and indigenous communities.

The group also said President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos raised a red flag with his first State of the Nation Address in July, where he emphasized investment incentives including within the energy sector but was mum on "the country's dismal record on human rights."

"There is very little transparency in the Philippines' mining sector, with mining contracts and data seldom made public," the report said, also noting that rules ordering mining companies to gain consent from communities who live in the areas in which they seek to operate are "not consistently implemented."

"Impunity is rife: it is suspected that state forces are behind the majority of killings in the few cases where the identity of the perpetrators is documented," it said. "Key state institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, are weak, and the military and police commit human rights violations with little accountability."

CNN Philippines is seeking comment from government officials.

Global look

The report listed 200 land and environmental defenders killed globally in 2021, or nearly four people a week, with Mexico recording the highest number of killings (54), followed by Colombia (33), Brazil (26), then the Philippines.

Mining was the sector linked to the most killings with 27 cases, topped by Mexico (15), followed by the Philippines (6), Venezuela (4), Nicaragua (1) and Ecuador (1).

"In the majority of cases where a sector could not be identified, land conflicts were found to be a key driver of the attacks against defenders. However, in many cases the economic motives behind land-related violence are not reported," the report explained.

There were 1,733 defenders killed worldwide for protecting their land and resources since 2012. Of that number, 39 percent were indigenous peoples, 11 percent were women, and 68 percent of the killings happened in Latin America.

According to the watchdog, main drivers behind threats and attacks to land and environmental defenders were land inequality, violent conflict, corruption, and culture of corporate immunity.