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Philippines is Asia’s Deadliest Country for Land Defenders for 8th Straight Year

Third in the world.
by Ara Eugenio
Sep 13, 2021
Photo/s: Ara Eugenio

The Philippines retained the distinction as Asia's deadliest country for land and environmental defenders and the third in the world, an environment watchdog said, adding the government was both causing and failing to prevent this "deteriorating human rights situation". 

Global Witness, in its 2020 annual report, said 29 killings of “people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems” were documented in the Philippines. 

This placed the country as the third deadliest in the world, after Colombia and Mexico, with 65 and 30 land defenders killed respectively. The Philippines previously held the top spot in 2019 with 43 deaths. Globally, 227 land and environmental defenders were murdered, which is a record-high. 

In the Philippines, opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects drove over half of the deadly attacks, with Global Witness noting how state actors such as the police and the military were behind the "violent crackdowns".

"We tend to associate the climate crisis with its environmental impacts – unbearable heat, air pollution, rising seas, burning forests, or super-storms. Yet the data on attacks against land and environmental defenders, show that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also having an increasingly violent impact on people," the watchdog said, calling it a "crisis against humanity".


According to Global Witness, governments like the Philippines' have used the COVID-19 pandemic to enforce draconian measures upon citizens and their civic space. It noted the Anti-Terror Law as President Rodrigo Duterte's way of taking advantage of the health crisis to further crackdown on dissent, as the law supposedly accelerates red-tagging that could lead to increased violence against environmental and indigineous defenders.

It added that the President prioritized mining for economic recovery when he reversed the ban on open pit mining. In 2017, Duterte's late environment secretary Gina Lopez imposed the ban, citing protection of watersheds that are being polluted for the benefit of the privileged few and much to the harm of marginalized people in mining communities. 

Under the Duterte administration alone, the group recorded 166 killings of land defenders since 2016, 30 of whom were indigenous peoples protecting their land. Killings in Mindanao were highest at 73 killings or 49.97% of the total count for the entire island.

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"Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect defenders – in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others arguably complicit with business," it said. 

According to Global Witness, the breakdown of the climate is a violent one. Not only does this manifest against the natural world, the systematic destruction also concerns violence against people. 


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