Philippines has most environmental defenders killed in Asia in 2017

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 25) — The Philippines has the highest number of land and environmental defenders killed in Asia, a report from an international group showed.

According to non-government organization Global Witness, 48 defenders were killed in the country in 2017 — a 71 percent increase from last year, and the highest ever recorded in the continent.

The Philippines was just behind Brazil, taking the top spot in the entire world, where 57 defenders were killed. The year 2017 also recorded the highest number of killings, with over 207 killed in 22 countries.

Brazil has the highest number of environmental defenders killed in the world last 2017, followed by the Philippines, Colombia and Mexico.

Global Witness defined a land or environmental defender as "anybody who takes peaceful action, either voluntarily or professionally, to protect environmental or land rights."

Global Witness data says military involvement was suspected in 56 percent of the murders. It added 67 percent of killings occurred in Mindanao, and 41 percent were related to agribusiness.

The report claimed President Rodrigo Duterte's stance on human rights and military presence in Mindanao are factors in the violence against these defenders.

"The widespread criminalisation and demonisation of human rights defenders saw one UN expert labelled a terrorist and the president threaten to throw others to the crocodiles," it read.

Encroaching upon indigenous people's land

Global Witness cited the massacre of eight members of the T'boli-Manobo community in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in December 2017. The indigenous people were killed in what the military claims to be an encounter with the New People's Army.

However, fact-finding missions from other groups found that the community was fighting against a coffee plantation trying to take over their land as part of the firm's expansion.

Global Witness cited the fact-finding mission reports that alleged that the military was involved in 20 of the 48 deaths.

"Duterte's military campaign against the NPA and its sympathisers has allegedly claimed the lives of many innocent civilians, disproportionately affecting indigenous communities in Mindanao," it said.

It then suggested that the Philippine government implement a law protecting land and environmental defenders.

Malacañang in February said Duterte will first consult with indigenous peoples in Mindanao to relocate from their ancestral lands.

"He is not forcibly removing them from ancestral domains, let's not claim a monopoly of knowledge of what the Lumad communities' problems are," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had said.

Duterte previously said that ancestral lands could be put to use if they would allow investors to utilize them, even volunteering to look for possible investors.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' spokesman has not yet responded to CNN Philippines' request for comment on alleged military involvement in some of the deaths of environmental defenders.