A mining operation in Surigao del Norte, a province in the Philippines.

A new report submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UN OHCHR) by environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) revealed the extensive ecological risks that could cascade from the ongoing crackdown against environmental defenders in the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“At least 19,498 environmental defenders were subjected to a wide range of human rights abuses under the Duterte administration. This crackdown threatens to open up 6.2 million hectares of critical landscapes and seascapes under the protection of defenders from extractive and destructive interests,” said Clemente Bautista Jr., international network coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

According to the report’s findings, “a rough estimate of the total damages we will be experiencing should these landscapes and seascapes be degraded or destroyed would amount to a total of PHP 1.04 trillion annually, or equivalent to 28% of the country’s national budget in 2019.”

These documented areas include such important landscapes such as the Pantaron Mountain Range, where the fiercest indigenous Lumad struggles for self-determination have faced intense militarization, and the protected areas of El Nido-Taytay and Victoria-Anepahan in Palawan Island where forest rangers and ‘para-enforcers’ have been murdered for their continuing campaign to arrest illegal loggers.

The submission recorded 19,178 people affected by forced evacuation spurred by military operations in resource conflict areas, 106 illegally arrested, and 46 included in terror listings from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2019. The sharper end of the violations recorded were 11 victims of enforced disappearance, and 157 victims of extrajudicial killings.

Kalikasan PNE furthered in the submission that these rights abuses were driven by “economic policies on mining, agribusiness, forestry, and other industries under Duterte have provided guarantees, incentives, and rights to big businesses.” 

Likewise, it was noted that “internal security measures” that have functioned as an “investment guarantee” for various big business projects were also significant drivers,  with at least 69% of the documented killings linked military and police forces, including their paramilitary ‘force multipliers.’

The report’s recommendations called on the United Nations “to consider initiating an International Fact Finding Mission or establishing a Commission on Inquiry to probe deeper into this situation and come to binding resolutions to alleviate the national human rights crisis,” specifically looking into “the link between destructive projects of big business and government and the counter insurgency and other internal security programs.”