By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Rights violations against environmental defenders have quadrupled after the electoral campaign season opened in February.
This is according to environmental monitoring group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). They are concerned that election-related violence deliberately targets defenders.
“There is a 483% spike in the number of environmental defenders under attack and a 350% increase in incidents after the formal electoral campaign season started,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
The group urged the public to “demand both current and future government leaders to address the plight of our heroic defenders obscured by the election’s fog of war.”
The group cited the recent arrest of community health practitioner Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro, and the massacre of five indigenous Lumad advocates Chad Booc and the rest of the ‘New Bataan Five.’
Dulce said all of them have worked against large-scale mining projects in Caraga, the country’s mining capital region.
They also cited the assault against seven forest rangers of the Masungi Georeserve on Feb 18 by the alleged illegal land grabbers intruding into the world-renowned conservation area.
Kalikasan PNE also monitored the burning of the protest camp of the 236 agrarian reform beneficiaries in a 200-hectare agricultural land in Concepcion, Tarlac on Feb. 23.
“Standing to gain from the attack is the land cooperative disputing the area affiliated to the local Villanueva political clan,” Dulce said.
On Feb. 27, outgoing Infanta municipality Mayor Filipina Grace America was attacked, which resulted in serious injuries. She was a “staunch opponent of the Kaliwa Dam, which threatened to submerge thousands of hectares of forestlands and the thousands of indigenous Dumagat families residing in them.”
They also cited the Feb. 18 illegal arrest of Makabayan-Cagayan Valley regional coordinator Agnes Mesina, who has long been involved in anti-mining campaigns in the Cagayan Valley region.
Dulce said international watchdog group Global Witness recently noted the growing trend across ‘Global South’ countries holding national elections this 2022 like the Philippines, Brazil, and Colombia where environment and climate issues are urgent electoral concerns, “but where land and environmental defenders working to resolve these crises are suffering the worst human rights abuses.”
Prior to this, the Global Witness report released in 2020, placed the Philippines in second spot as the deadliest country for environmental defenders stating the killing of 43 environmental defenders in 2019.
“We hope the current electoral hopefuls walk their talk of environmental and climate concern by standing with our embattled defenders. We should call out the worsening violence they face and demand accountability from the outgoing public authorities,” said Dulce. (RTS, RVO)