Aquino’s presidency is deadliest for environmentalists

by CLEMENTE BAUTISTA, Kalikasan PNE

Aquino’s presidency is deadliest for environmentalists

27 February 2016

Racking up 56 cases of political killings of environmentalists in its
nearly six years of rule, the Aquino administration has already
surpassed the record set by the preceding decade-long Arroyo presidency
in being the deadliest.

A 2014 study by international watchdog Global Witness corroborates this
claim to infamy, noting that the Philippines is the second most
dangerous place in the world for environmental advocates, and is in fact
the deadliest in Southeast Asia.

Kalikasan PNE started to monitor the killings of environmentalists in
the Philippines in 2001. Since then, it has recorded 92 cases. There may
be more out there that remains undocumented.

We have not yet included the killing of Nelbert Esguiran, president of
the reforestation group United Canlusong Upland Reforestation and
Development in Negros Occidental in November 8, 2015, and of French
national Jean Marc Messina, his wife Jewelyn Venturillo and their son
last January 26, as police or independent investigations have yet to
clear the motive of their cases.

Killings under Aquino down the wire

The attacks on environmental advocates continue under President Aquino.
This early 2016, suspected military forces committed a series of
killings and other human rights violations (HRVs) among enviornmental
advocates.

A 15 year-old Lumad student, Alibando Tingkas, was killed by suspected
members of paramilitary group Alamara, a known defender of mining and
plantation interests in the Davao region. Christopher Matibay a 43
year-old local leader of Barug Katawhan, an organization of typhoon
Pablo (Bopha) survivors in Southern Mindanao, was killed in January 18.

Next, anti-large-scale mining activist Teresita Navacilla of Save
Pantukan Movement in Compostela Valley, was killed in January 27. A day
after, Alex Josol was clobbered almost to death by suspected members of
the Philippine Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion on Jan. 28. Josol is the
chairperson of Indug Kautawan, the organization of Pablo survivors in
Compostela Valley.

The Philippine National Police (PNP), aided by private security forces
of the notorious environmental criminal DM Consunji, Inc. (DMCI)
Holdings, tried to dismantle the barricade put up by residents of Bayto
village in Sta. Cruz, Zambales in their bid to bar the passage DMCI
trucks into their community.

DMCI, along with three other mining companies, is extracting and
shipping out nickel ore from Zambales. These mining operations have
already caused widespread environmental destruction and negative health
impacts to the communities.

Some 11 community protesters were arrested and charged by the PNP for
obstructing the mining operations. Several more were hurt by the police
during the crackdown. The community barricade still holds.

Beating the Oplan Bayanihan deadline

The continuing killings and human rights violations of environmental
activists under Aquino fully demonstrated the fascist and
anti-environment character of the current administration. This
deplorable impunity toes the line of the widely criticized and detested
anti-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (Operational Plan Collective
Endeavor).

Oplan Bayanihan, euphemistic on paper and brutally frank in practice,
aims to weaken people’s resistance to government and corporate programs
and projects in the countryside. These include the operations of
large-scale mining, commercial logging, agricultural plantations, and
big dams and other infrastructure.

No wonder then that most of the killed environmentalists that we
recorded, which account for 79 percent of the total, are anti-mining
activists opposing big mines.

In Palawan, dubbed as the country’s last ecological frontier, people
opposing environmentally destructive projects such as large-scale
mining, palm-oil plantations, coal power plants, illegal logging, and
other forms of ‘development aggression’ have been consistently harassed
and threatened with harm.

A major factor in this perpetuating impunity is the failure of
government to resolve the mounting human rights violations. Aside from
one case with a watered-down decision, all recorded killings have yet to
be solved by the Aquino government. Almost all identified suspects and
perpetrators of these killings, majority are state forces, remain at large.

Fighting for justice

The prevailing human rights situation tells us that state authorities
and the legal justice system are skewed in favor of the rights violators
and environmental criminals. But like those barricading in Bgy. Bayto,
the Filipino people are beginning to understand that justice can only be
attained in the Philippines by fighting for it tooth and nail.

A reality that has flourished amid the state-sponsored impunity is that
there are venues outside the system to claim justice that enjoy popular
support.

The growing revolutionary government represented by the National
Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA),
both under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has
enforced its own system of justice within their territories.

On January 14, 2016, the NPA implemented their death verdict to William
Versoza in Bgy. Patitinan, Sangay Camarines Sur. On February 7, the NPA
gunned down Bernabe Abanilla in Bgy. Doroluman, Arakan, Cotabato
province. Both were members of the government paramilitary group CAFGU.

Abanilla, according to the NPA, was behind the killing of known
anti-mining activist and Italian priest Fr. Fausto ‘Pop’ Tenorio last
October 17, 2011. Versoza, on the other hand, was tagged by the NPA as
the murderer of Menchie Alpajora, who was an anti-illegal trawl fishing
advocate killed in July 29, 2015. The NPA said these two perpetrators
were punished as part of their revolutionary justice.

NPA is also known to punish operations of large-scale mining and
agricultural plantations in the Philippines, and disarm and attack
military and paramilitary groups defending these destructive projects.
Only this month the NDF Northern Eastern Mindanao (NEMR) Region banned
coal mining in CARAGA and ordered the NPA “to carry out punitive actions
to prevent coal mining companies from operating in the areas.” This they
do by destroying the mining companies’ equipment, preventing its agents
or administrators from entering the area and attacking its armed troops.
Last December 2015 it warned giant agrocorporations like Dole and Del
Monte to stop aerial spraying saying they will shoot at crop dusters
aircrafts.

Revolution rages on in the countryside. It is a concrete manifestation
of the people’s rejection of systemic impunity in the Philippines. The
killings and other HRVs have indeed caused much loss for the people, but
it has also galvanized their defense of their communities, environment
and natural resources. It has not deterred the advocates and communities
from asserting their rights and working toward the protection of the
environment.

Clemente Bautista is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s
Network for the Environment in the Philippines. He is also the regional
coordinator of the Oil Watch – Southeast Asia, and the Yes to Life, No
to Mining Network.For comments, email him at secretariat@kalikasan.net.