Philippines a dangerous country for green activists

EL NIDO • Environmental activists are being killed in record numbers around the world, with the corruption-plagued Philippines one of the most dangerous countries, according to watchdog Global Witness.

At least 200 community activists, non-governmental organisation workers and other civilians at the front line of protecting the environment were reported murdered worldwide last year, the highest on record, the group said.

In the Philippines, an environmental activist was recorded to have been killed at a rate of every 12 days last year, with only Brazil and Colombia having more murders recorded.

As in other hot-spot nations, the deaths in the Philippines are rising as communities stand up against corrupt politicians and businessmen intent on securing natural resources that are becoming increasingly scarce.

"Voracious industries such as mining, agribusiness and logging are trampling over people's rights to take part in decisions that affect their land and environment," Mr Billy Kyte, Global Witness environmental and land defenders campaign leader, said.

"Forced into activism, many of these marginalised communities then receive threats and attacks for defending their rights. The government does little to stop the ensuing violence and rarely holds anyone to account for the killings," Mr Kyte added.

DISREGARD FOR RIGHTS

Voracious industries such as mining, agribusiness and logging are trampling over people's rights to take part in decisions that affect their land and environment.

MR BILLY KYTE, Global Witness environmental and land defenders campaign leader.

Father-of-five Ruben Arzaga was one of the most recent land defenders murdered in the Philippines when he was shot in the head in September as he tried to approach illegal loggers in Palawan island, which is a popular tourist destination.

Mr Arzaga was an elected village captain in Palawan's tourist town of El Nido and had been trying to confiscate illegally cut timber as part of a personal crusade to stop rampant deforestation.

"If this illegal activity is not stopped, I think before my youngest daughter becomes a young adult and has a family of her own, all the big trees here will be gone," Mr Arzaga, 49, had said in February.

Police said Mr Arzaga, who was leading a small group of local officials, was ambushed at the logging site in September. A pair of brothers from Mr Arzaga's local community have been charged with his murder.

Mr Arzaga belonged to the Palawan NGO Network Inc (PNNI), a non-profit group made up of so-called para-enforcers that uses a citizen's arrest law to confiscate equipment that is being used to destroy the island's environment.

Mr Arzaga was the 12th member of the group murdered since 2001.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'Philippines a dangerous country for green activists'. Print Edition | Subscribe