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ALBAY, Philippines – Filipino environmental defenders appealed to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during its 43rd session in Geneva, Switzerland to establish a Commission of Inquiry for the Philippines.
The group, under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation, emphasized the need for an investigation, either via commission or independent fact-finding mission, into the worsening human rights situation under the Duterte administration – including attacks on environmental defenders. (READ: Rights groups blast Andanar's 'perilous' attempts to 'mislead' U.N. council)
“There are serious challenges to the life, security, and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment of communities, including that of indigenous peoples (IPs) and peasants,” said Clemente Bautista, international network coordinator of environmental group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (KPNE).
KPNE reported that there were 157 killings, 11 enforced disappearances, and 106 arrests on trumped up charges among environmentalists under the Duterte administration.
“Many of my fellow environmental defenders in Surigao del Sur are subject to trumped up charges, while at least 60 families from the community where I came from in Lianga recently evacuated their homes due to indiscriminate firing and relentless attacks by the military,” said Bayan Muna Rep Eufemia Cullamat, an indigenous Manobo leader who was also a delegate.
Moro and IP rights group Sandugo, in turn, blames Duterte’s national internal security policies, particularly EO 70 and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which made IPs its core targets. (READ: CHR: Ancestral lands of indigenous peoples 'sacred' and protected by law)
“Legitimate resistance and dissent in the assertion of rights to ancestral domains and self-determination are categorized as communist activities, while indigenous organizations and leaders are classified as ‘Communist Terrorist Groups’ or enemies of the State,” Sandugo said.
A promise to protect
In the 50-page report of released by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd, the Philippines was cited as one of 110 countries that legislated the right to a safe, healthy, clean, and sustainable environment.
The Philippine has different laws such as the Writ of Kalikasan and the establishment of green courts to hasten the process of environmental cases.
"But despite these formalities, the Philippines is identified as having one of the fastest rates of biodiversity loss in the world. At the same time in 2018, it was cited as the most dangerous place for environmental defenders by international watchdog Global Witness," Bautista said.
After his report, Boyd met with the Filipino environmentalists.
“Special Rapporteur Boyd promised to help in strengthening the right of the Filipino people to safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in the Philippines," said Bautista.
The Filipino delegates also shared with him two pending bills – the People’s Mining Bill and the Human Rights Defenders Bill – that people’s organizations and communities are pushing to be legislated in Congress. – Rappler.com