Faith-based organizations in the Philippines decried the arrest of an environmental campaigner in the central Philippines on April 1.
Adrian Cabag, an environmental campaigner in the central Philippines and a member of Pusyon Kinaiyahan, was arrested in the city of Naga, Cebu province, over a cyber-libel case filed by a former local government official.
The 36-year-old environmental activist had been leading campaigns against mining and quarrying activities in the province and has been demanding justice for victims of a landslide in Naga on Sept. 20, 2018, that killed at least 78 people.
“We view [the libel case] as intimidation and threat to silence communities opposing projects detrimental to the integrity of ecosystems and of creation as a whole,” said Rodne Galicha, executive director of Living Laudato si.’
It was the second arrest of Cabag for cyber-libel after he was first detained on Oct. 10, 2019, for the same charges filed by the same proponents. The complaint was eventually dismissed by the court.
Religious Brother Jaazeal Estelou Jakosalem, co-founder of Pusyon Kinaiyahan, said Cabag did not receive any summon from the courts about the charges.
He said the arrest was “obviously a desperate act aimed to intimidate local initiatives to protect the environment and the rights of the people.”
Carmelite priest Christian Buenafe, executive director of the Institute of Spirituality in Asia, called on civil society groups to “work together and put pressure on the government to disallow the weaponization of laws to hinder ecological campaigns.”
The priest, who is also head of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, said the government should start decriminalizing libel, “which is often used as a legal threat and create a chilling effect.”
Father Buenafe called on the local Church in Cebu to stand against destructive projects “with a louder voice and more concrete actions.”
“We can avoid incidents like this to happen if Church institutions speak as one and with one voice,” he said.