Groups call for ‘urgent’ need to protect environment defenders in PH

MANILA – Environmental groups called on the government to work harder to protect the country’s land and environment defenders, after the Philippines ranked as among the deadliest even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a statement, Greenpeace Philippines said firms, as well as the government, should be held accountable for atrocities against environment workers for the sake of “profits.”

“The continued killings and persecution of environmental activists, even during the time of pandemic shows distorted priorities that put profit and the gain of a few over the welfare of communities and the environment we depend on,” said Greenpeace Philippines Country Director Lea Guerrero. 

Guerrero stressed that companies and the government should be prevented from imposing “misguided policies” which could destroy the environment and the climate.

“We demand justice and peace for activists of all causes, and call for urgent and effective protection mechanisms, and an enabling environment, for those who are peacefully defending people and the planet.”

The Global Witness report, released on Monday, said 29 Filipino environment defenders were killed last year. A record-high 227 environmental activists globally died defending their land, homes, environment, and important ecosystems, with the actual figure believed to be higher due to unreported cases.

“The lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects… Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military,” the report read.

The Masungi Georeserve in Rizal, in a separate statement, said they need help and assistance from the public and authorities in protecting pristine areas. 

Two of the award-winning nature reserve’s park rangers survived a shooting incident in late July during their rounds at the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, a portion of which they are managing for their restoration project.

Before the attack, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) have issued cease and desist orders against establishments encroaching the watershed. 

“It is important more than ever to take the situation seriously and demand for stronger protections for our rangers and defenders who protect us all,” Masungi Georeserve said, noting that illegal fencing, quarrying, and harassment hounded members of the nature reserve in the past 2 years. 

“While we are a small team, we have gone so far and achieved so much to protect this special place through the support of many others. We have seen what is possible with courage and determination, and we will never falter in our commitment to conserve the Masungi landscape for generations to come.”

ABS-CBN News reached out to the office of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for his comments on the Global Witness report, but they have yet to respond as of this story’s posting. 

The news team has also sent a message to Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda regarding the topic, but he has yet to reply to a request for interview.

post from Antiporda’s official Facebook page said he was “saddened” to learn about the developments, and said his agency would strengthen the protection of environmental defenders. 

“Mas patitibayin po namin ang proteksyon ng aming mga environmental defenders, at sisiguraduhing hindi makaliligtas sa batas ang mga gumawa nito,” the post read. 

(We will ramp up the protection for our environmental defenders and make sure that those behind the killings would be held liable.)

PNP PLEDGES SUPPORT

The Philippine National Police (PNP) vowed its support to the environment and its defenders. 

PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said they would “strictly enforce environmental laws” to aid the people at the frontlines conserving it. 

“In fact, we deployed our Special Action Force at the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal after two of its forest rangers were attacked two months ago and our SAF men are just waiting for the deputization order from the DENR,” Eleazar said.

The national police, he noted, would “continuously coordinate” with the DENR and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “extend manpower” which would help forest rangers in their duty. 

Masungi Georeserve trustee Billie Dumaliang said they are checking with the team on the ground to get the latest updates with the presence of SAF troops. 

Naderev Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said Wednesday that protecting the environment relies on the collective strength of the people who believe in their work. 

He urged the public to fight for the environment in numbers, as the world reels from the effect of global warming.

“Saving the planet, and therefore, helping the people who rely on… the environment is a much, much more complex challenge today, compared to 50 years ago. We cannot do it alone and we cannot do it through isolated actions and wish the problems to go away,” Saño said as his organization marks its 50 years in service. 

“We are dealing with so many environmental damage in so many parts of the world, and we are living through a climate emergency… Climate change and global warming is happening faster than they have ever predicted,” he pointed out. 

“We need all of you to find that courage to reach into the heroes inside each of you and fight this good fight together.”

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