The Kalikasan Philippine Network for Environment holds a press briefing at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City to release the report by international watchdog Global Witness which has tagged the Philippines as the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

International non-government organizations bucked the ongoing harassment on the headquarters of Filipino environmental organizations Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC Phils), which included surveillance and a lingering threat of a raid into their offices.

“We are shocked and alarmed by the news of a planned raid into the headquarters of one of our partner organisations in the Philippines. Although the raid has not materialised until now, we are deeply concerned for their wellbeing,” said Dutch environmental groups International Union for Conservation of Nature – National Committee of the Netherlands (IUCN NL) and Both ENDS in a joint statement.

The local environmental groups was tipped of by a reliable source last Thursday evening that their office wes allegedly under surveillance from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). The office was reportedly going to be raided pending a warrant from the court for being a ‘front of rebels.’

Kalikasan PNE staff members monitored suspected incidents of surveillance on the following day. The latest incident was just last Saturday afternoon, when a police car with marking number A5F667 slowly drived by the office with an officer slowly taking a video of the office.

“Kalikasan PNE is a valuable partner of Both ENDS and IUCN NL. As part of their work in Strategic Partnerships with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have provided valuable inputs to the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Masterplan carried out in a Dutch-Filipino partnership,” the Dutch groups said in the statement.

They also furthered that Kalikasan PNE was actively leading in “defending the rights of local farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities against the environmental damage and human rights violations linked to the mining sector.”  

Enemies of the state?

In a separate statement, British watchdog Global Witness said the red tagging and harassment “fits a national and global trend of criminalisation of land rights and environmental activism not only in the Philippines but globally.”

“Global Witness wishes to express its support for these organisations and calls upon the government to guarantee the security of their members and ensure that due process is followed in any and all judicial processes brought against rights activists in the country,” the group said.

Global Witness said that aside from using “deadly violence” against environmental defenders, “governments and companies are also using countries’ courts and legal systems as instruments of oppression against those who threaten their power and interests.”

“Criminalising defenders in this way makes attacks on them seem legitimate, making them more likely. These trends continue across the globe, helped by populist politicians who are stripping away vital environmental protections when we need them most.,” the watchdog explained.

Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said “we are heartened by the solidarity of the international community as we face these clear reprisals by the Duterte government.”

“We suspect these harassments are a retaliation to our exposure of environment-related killings before the National Inquiry on Human Rights Defenders of the Commission on Human Rights. We urge our fellow environmental defenders, our supporters, and the general public to be vigilant over these attacks,” said Dulce. 

The group said they have reported the situation to the CHR, and have received a response that an investigation into the matter is ongoing.#