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Killings, disappearances of Filipino envi, indigenous defenders draw UN concern

PRESS RELEASE, 10 October 2023


Beverly Longid, Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas

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Atty. Krissy Conti, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

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Clemente Bautista. Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment

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Killings, disappearances of Filipino envi, indigenous defenders draw UN concern

Geneva, Switzerland — Several experts and mechanisms of the United Nations were alerted to the targeted killings of environmental and indigenous land defenders in the Philippines — a country that has earned a grim reputation as Asia’s most dangerous place for environmental defenders over the past decade.

To register serious alarm over the human rights situation in the Philippines, the Philippine UPR Watch held several meetings last week with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, the Special Rapporteur on Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

“Almost half — or forty percent — of the 281 environmental defenders killed in our country in the past ten years (2012-2022) were Indigenous Peoples,” said Beverly Longid, spokesperson for KATRIBU – Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, a member of the PUPR Watch.

“As they strive to protect their territories, resources, traditions, and the right to self-determination, Indigenous land defenders face formidable challenges, including lethal attacks,” she said, also noting that while “they struggle not only for their communities but also for the entire planet,” their pleas “fall on deaf ears within the government.”

“Indigenous communities, as natural environmental stewards opposing destructive projects, play a crucial role in combating climate change, she said. “The government should guarantee their protection.”

Enforced disappearances, surfaced dead

In several meetings, PUPR Watch delegates also raised the situation of numerous activists who had been red-tagged, who experienced threats and attacks, were subsequently forcibly disappeared, then later discovered dead, with the military officially presenting their dead bodies as combatants killed in encounters.

“In life, red-tagged by the state; in death, labeled as NPA casualties,” said Cebu activist Dyan Gumanao, herself a victim of an abduction and enforced disappearance by Filipino state agents. “When the military presents the lifeless bodies of red-tagged activists and conveniently labels them as casualties of combat, this raises suspicions of foul play and injustice,” she said.

Gumanao shared her personal experience and provided live updates on the case of Jed Tamano and Jonila Castro, two environmental defenders who were forcibly taken by state agents in early September and falsely presented as surrenderees. Tamano and Castro managed to escape custody by revealing their abduction on live television.

14 Envi defenders killed under Marcos Jr.’s administration

Highlighting the fact that 14 environmental defenders were killed during the Marcos Jr. administration, PUPR Watch delegates also noted that many of these killings can be attributed to state agents.

“When we trace the grim path of defender killings, we often find the fingerprints of state agents,” said Clemente Bautista, International Linkages Officer of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

“Worse, these killings, tragic as they are, represent only the visible tip of the iceberg, as attacks on defenders encompass threats, harassment, surveillance, red-tagging or the baseless accusation of being associated with insurgency or terrorists, arrests and illegal detention on trumped-up charges, and the weaponization of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11479),” Bautista said. “All these are part of a broader pattern of attacks on these courageous Filipinos,” he added. ###