December 10, 2021
This was underscored by environmental human rights defenders during the 21st episode of Klimatotohanan entitled “Fighting Back for the Planet: How Environmental Human Rights Defenders Are Risking Their Today for Our Tomorrow.”
Leon Dulce, National Coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE), said that the next set of leaders will face the small window the global community has to stop irreversible damage from climate change.
“We have less than a decade to take drastic action for climate justice. In the Philippines, this includes pursuing climate change adaptation, and securing enough climate finance from developed countries for loss and damage, among others,” Dulce said, adding that the country is also in the midst of a protracted pandemic. “The elections will be crucial because whoever wins will have to face these crises together,” he added.
Deign Frolley Soriano, Representative for Biodiversity and Environment of the United Nations Youth Advisory Board, noted that it is rare for politicians to speak in volumes about the environment and environmental defenders.
“As much as we have grassroots leaders who are working on the ground, we also need leaders [in government] that are always pushing for the rights of our people and our environment at the very front,” Soriano said, pointing out that the environmental and climate crises are interwoven with food security, public health, and human rights among others.
A report recently released by watchdog Global Witness revealed that the Philippines was the third deadliest country for environmental defenders in the world as it accounted for 29 out of the 279 total land and environmental killings in 2020.
According to the report, the trend of indigenous peoples, being one of the most disproportionally affected types of environmental defenders, continued in 2020. One-third of the total fatal attacks in the past year were against indigenous people.
Included in those numbers, according to Dulce, are the killings of Tumandok indigenous people leaders in simultaneous police operations in December 2020. The tribe leaders killed were opposing the Jalaur Mega Dam project, which is projected to displace 17,000 indigenous peoples.
“Global Witness’ yearly reports are focused on killings because that’s the sharpest point of the stick. But it represents an even wider and harder-to-document situation of impunity,” Dulce explained.
Lia Mai Torres, Executive Director of Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, agreed with Dulce, adding that environmental defenders also face harassment, death threats, illegal arrests, and strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPP suits.
Government as human rights duty bearer
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Founder and Executive Director of Tebtebba Foundation, said that the government should be the one protecting environmental defenders.
“The government has ratified a lot of conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in which they are not supposed to torture, arrest illegally, and displace people,” Tauli-Corpuz said.
However, despite supposedly being the “human rights duty bearer,” Tauli-Corpuz said the government failed to protect environmental defenders. “There is a need to educate government institutions, including the military and police,” she added.
Tauli-Corpuz also underscored the need to use international mechanisms to make government accountable, to raise awareness of the cases of extrajudicial killings of environmental defenders, and to campaign against laws that are repressive, illegal, and unjust.
“Justice will come for as long as there are people who are persisting in demanding justice and demanding human rights duty bearers to do their role,” she said.
Adding to this, Torres called for the defunding and abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a government instrumentality criticized for its red-tagging crusade against personalities and groups that are critical of the Duterte administration, including environmental groups.
Environmental Defense Bill pending in Congress
Torres said that the Environmental Defense Bill has been filed in Congress in December 2020.
The said bill aims to provide environmental defenders access to legal counsel and other legal needs and to information on projects involving their communities, increased protection for their public participation, and other mechanisms that will support their advocacy work.
“Let us challenge our lawmakers. If they really want to protect the environment and the environmental defenders, they should support the Environmental Defense Bill,” Torres said.