Are environmental activists targeted for killing?
MANILA, Philippines - Another anti-mining and anti-logging activist was ambushed together with his wife, an environmental group reported.
Dr Isidro Olan, executive director of the environmental group Lovers of Nature Foundation Inc, was shot by unidentified assailants at about 3:30 pm, October 29, in Bgy Puyat, Carmen, Surigao del Sur, CARAGA Watch said in a statement.
The 69-year-old Olan and his wife were on their way home when they were attacked. Only Olan was wounded but survived the alleged assassination attempt. He is now recuperating at the Madrid Municipal Hospital in Surigao del Sur.
"Dr Olan is one of the most vocal and known anti-logging and anti-mining activists in the Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza (CarCanMadCarLan) area of Surigao del Sur," according to the Mindanao-based environmental coalition.
"The shooting of Dr Olan is but one of the countless attempts to silence the growing clamor of the people of Caraga to put a stop to the increasing number of destructive large scale operations of mining, logging and plantations in the region," CARAGA Watch spokesperson Fr Raymond Ambray said.
At least 16 of mining operations in the Philippines are reportedly based in Caraga. 57 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) cover close to 135,000 hectares of Caraga’s total land area. Wood-based companies and palm oil and banana plantations are also spread across the region.
Six military battalions and 2 infantry brigades are currently deployed as Investment Security Forces (ISF) in the region.
The attack on Olan has created "a chilling effect on environmental advocates," lamented Clemente Bautista, convenor of the Defend Patrimony Alliance, a network opposing "plunder of resources" particularly through large-scale mining.
“There could be no other motivation to assassinate Dr Olan than his staunch opposition to ecologically destructive projects in their areas," Fr Oliver Castor, spokesperson of Task Force Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED), said.
Since President Benigno Aquino III assumed power, 25 activists have already been killed allegedly because of their environmental advocacies, the TF-JED claimed. The Church and civil society-led task force recorded 13 cases of extrajudicial killings of environmental advocates in 2012.
61 cases of extrajudicial killings of environmental advocates have languished in courts since 2001, TF-JED said.
The Aquino government's human rights record “speaks for itself,” Katribu indigenous peoples’ partylist president Beverly Longid said, claiming that her group has documented at least 28 cases of killings that victimized her fellow indigenous peoples.
In an earlier interview with Radio New Zealand, Aquino dismissed criticisms of his human rights record as the handiwork of leftist groups whom he described as “very good at propaganda.”
Shift in target of killings
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is cautious about releasing aggregated data on human rights violations, insisting that figures must be clear whether they refer to particular violations like extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.
"You don't just lump things together. Dahil may listahan na ganito, iyon na iyon. Kailangang suriin ang listahan na iyan (A mere list is not conclusive. It has to be scrutinized)," CHR chair Loretta Ann Rosales said in an earlier interview with Rappler.
"Figures are figures. You can always come out with figures of killings but that's not the point. The important thing is how do you get rid of this impunity. The main problem is the problem of impunity," Rosales stressed.
Rosales added that the CHR is focusing on what the government can do with respect to effective remedies in resolving the problem of impunity.
But Rosales acknowledged that there is a pattern of killings and human rights violations committed against environmental defenders and indigenous peoples.
"Ngayon ang namamatay ay mga environmental activists, yung sa mga mining. Nagsi-shift siya," Rosales said. (At present, environmental activists are getting killed, particularly those tackling mining. It is shifting.)
Rosales clarified that the human rights situation under the Aquino government "is not as worse as" the previous administration, noting that the "question of land" is a "historical problem."
"Nagwo-worsen ang sitwasyon diyan sapagka't ang business interest -- mining -- lumalaki. Habang lumalaki yan, at maraming nagkakaroon ng interes sa mining, nalalagay sa panganib ang ating mga IPs, mga katutubo. Sila naman ang tuwirang apektado sa mga mining operations," Rosales said.
(The human rights situation worsens because business interests, particularly in mining, expand. As they expand, and many become interested in mining, indigenous peoples are threatened. Indigenous peoples are directly affected by mining operations.)
The attempt on Olan's life happened a few weeks after the killings of the wife and two children of an anti-mining B'laan tribal leader in Kiblawan del Sur, Davao del Sur.
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