An environmental activist group claimed that the number of environmental defenders who became targets of attacks rose during the first month of the electoral campaign for this year’s Philippine elections.
The group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) raised concern on Tuesday, March 1, that election-related violence might be deliberately targeting defenders.
“There is a 483 percent spike in the number of environmental defenders under attack and a 350 percent increase in incidents after the formal electoral campaign season started,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
“We urge the Filipino public to demand both current and future government leaders to address the plight of our heroic defenders obscured by the election’s fog of war,” added Dulce.
Among the incidents the green group monitored was the recent arrest of community health practitioner Dr. Naty Castro, and the killing of activist Chad Booc and four others in the southern Philippines.
The military claimed that Booc and company died in an encounter between government security forces and communist rebels.
On February 18, seven forest rangers of the Masungi Georeserve were also physically assaulted by illegal land grabbers intruding into the world-renowned conservation area.
On February 23, the protest camp of 236 agrarian reform beneficiaries in a 200-hectare agricultural land area in Concepcion, Tarlac, was burned down by unidentified men.
On February 27, a gun attack seriously injured outgoing Infanta municipality mayor Filipina Grace America, a staunch opponent of the building of the Kaliwa Dam, which threatens to submerge thousands of hectares of forestlands and displace indigenous Dumagat families.
On February 28, police arrested Agnes Mesina, a church lay worker and political activist who have long been involved in anti-mining campaigns in the Cagayan Valley region.
International watchdog group Global Witness recently noted the growing trend across “Global South” countries holding national elections this year, such as the Philippines, Brazil, and Colombia where environment and climate issues are urgent electoral concerns, but where land and environmental defenders working to resolve these crises are suffering the worst human rights abuses.
“We hope the current electoral hopefuls walk their talk of environmental and climate concern by standing with our embattled defenders,” said Dulce.