GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Together with fellow rights defenders under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice), Filipino environmental defenders participating in the 43rd UN Human Rights Council sessions appealed to the member states to conduct an independent fact-finding mission or establish a Commission of Inquiry in the Philippines to investigate the worsening human rights situation under the administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, including attacks on environmental defenders.
“There are serious challenges to life, security and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environmental of communities, including that of indigenous peoples and peasants,” said Clemente Bautista, international network coordinator of environmental group Kalikasan, who delivered an oral statement during the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
In Boyd’s 50-page report at the 43rd UNHRC session, the Philippines was cited as one of the 110 countries that legislated the principles of the right to safe, healthy, clean, and sustainable environment.
The Philippine Mission to the UN had an intervention mentioning the different laws such as the Writ of Kalikasan and establishment of Green Courts to hasten the process of environmental cases.
“However, despite all these formal guarantees, people’s rights to a balanced and healthful ecology continue to be violated as the Philippines is identified as having one of the fastest rate of biodiversity loss in the world. At the same time in 2018, it was cited as the most dangerous place for environmental defenders by international watchdog Global Witness,” Bautista said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, a woman indigenous Manobo leader, explained that most environmental defenders killed in the Philippines were indigenous peoples and peasants who were the frontliners protecting the country’s forest and land resources.
“In the course of conserving our natural resources and defending communities from big mining companies, commercial loggers, and agro-corporations, indigenous peoples and peasants are targetted for extrajudicial executions and judicial harassment. Many of my fellow environmental defenders in Surigao del Sur are subject to trumped up charges, while at least 60 families from the community where I came from in Lianga recently evacuated from their homes due to indiscriminate firing and relentless attacks by the military,” Cullamat said.
She also lamented that the public inquiry conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Cultural Communities & Indigenous Peoples on the reported human rights violations committed by Oceanagold, an Australian mining company, in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya was hastily organized, not giving space for the affected communities and actors to express their situation and their reasons for opposing the renewal of Oceanagold’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement.
Kalikasan reported that there were 157 killed, 11 enforced disappearances, and 106 arrested on trumped up charges among environmentalists under the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, in Negros, upland and coastal communities are facing possible eviction due to encroachment of mining corporations, conversion of agricultural lands into corporate plantations, establishment of industrial economic zones. “Such so-called developments will displace thousands of poor families and destroy Negros’ remaining forests and coral reefs,” Clarissa Ramos of environmental group Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG).
Rep. Cullamat, Ramos and Bautista are part of the EcuVoice delegation composed of representatives from civil society and people’s organizations engaging with the UNHRC on the human rights situation in the Philippines.