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Indigenous peoples’ groups call for independent probe of human rights situation in PH

As United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry arrived in the Philippines, indigenous peoples’ groups are pushing for an independent investigation of the human rights situation in the country.

Eufemia Cullamat, council member and spokesperson of Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination lamented that rights violations under the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continue to escalate.

Cullamat said that since July 2022, ten incidents of bombings, shelling, and strafing have occurred in rural areas, affecting approximately 30,000 people. Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances also continue, she added, with 11 abductions since last year.

“The Philippines remains the deadliest country in Asia for land defenders, with massacres like TAMASCO (T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization), Tumandok, Lianga, and the New Bataan 5,” Cullamat said in a statement.  

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment also urged Fry to thoroughly investigate the rights violations against environmental advocates. The group cited the case of young activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano who were looking into the effects of the Manila Bay reclamation when they were abducted by the military in September. 

“The visit of Special Rapporteur Ian Fry marks a critical moment in bringing our fight for climate justice and human rights to the international level,” Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE said in a statement.

He added that “a thorough investigation of the situation of climate change and human rights in the Philippines will undoubtedly reveal that Marcos Jr.’s aspiration to portray himself as a climate advocate internationally is nothing but mere posturing.”

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According to fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay threaten the communities and the livelihood of fisherfolk. The biggest reclamation project, the group said, is in Bataan and Bulacan provinces.

Bonifacio said that the impacts of these reclamation projects include economic displacement and potential impacts on critical ecosystems. Reclamation projects have also been linked to worsening climate impacts, such as floods, as documented in some areas in the northern Manila Bay region, Bonifacio added.

Environmental defenders facing charges

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay called on Fry to address what she described as a “dangerous situation (for) environmental human rights defenders and communities in the country.”

She cited the case of Castro and Tamano who are facing perjury charges filed by the Philippine Army.

“Defenders of the planet and rights and their communities should not be subjected to political persecution, but in the Philippines, environmental defenders are killed or abducted, and they face trumped-up charges like Jhed and Jonila,” Palabay said.

 “We hope UN SR on Climate Change and Human Rights Mr. Ian Fry will look into these issues and challenges that land and environmental human rights defenders face,” Palabay said.

She lamented that instead of addressing the climate crisis in the country, the present administration has focused its efforts on “weaponizing the situation under the pretext of counterinsurgency in its National Security Policy for 2023 to 2028, wherein the destructive whole of nation approach is continuously employed.” 

Palabay also cited the case of environmentalist Daisy Macapanpan who is also facing rebellion charges.

It would be remembered that Macapanpan was arrested on June 11, 2022, several hours after her meeting at the local community to oppose the Ahunan Pumped Storage Hydropower Project in Pakil, Laguna.

The said project will reportedly affect communities, livelihoods, and the immediate environment of settlers in the mountain ranges of Sierra Madre, Southern Luzon.  Macapanpan was later released on bail.

Palabay also mentioned the six environmental defenders and indigenous people’s leaders in Cordillera who were designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) last June.

Included in the designation were Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) chairperson Windel Bolinget and CPA leaders Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, and Steve Tauli.

“Awingan and Abellon-Alikes also suffered from imprisonment after being arrested on the basis of the trumped-up charges against them. Both have been released, after posting bail. Tauli, on the other hand, was abducted on August 20, 2022, and subjected to interrogation, and was surfaced and found the next day,” Palabay said.

If not judicial harassment, environmental human rights defenders also experienced harassment. According to Pamalakaya, in the southern region of Manila Bay, fisherfolk organizer Aries Soledad of Pamalakaya-Cavite was visited by state agents in their own home in September 2022.

The said agents demanded “that they disaffiliate from their organization to ‘clear their name’ from a government list.”

Environmental organizations such as Kalikasan PNE and AKAP KA Manila Bay were publicly red-tagged by state officials alleging that these groups are spreading “communist propaganda” by presenting the findings of a fact-finding mission investigating the disappearance of Castro and Tamano.

Outside of the Manila Bay region, the group said fisherfolk from the Save Gubat Bay Movement campaigning against illegal reclamation in the province of Sorsogon were also recently red-tagged and harassed by local government officials,

For Palabay, Fry’s visit should be an “opportune time to answer the distress call by environmental defenders in the Philippines, who need and deserve protection.”

“Marcos Jr. makes it look like he is deeply concerned about climate change, while there is a clear government policy to crack down on environmental and other human rights defenders who resist destructive projects like reclamation, large dams, and mining,” Palabay said.

Bonifacio meanwhile hopes that the UN Special Rapporteur’s visit will push the Marcos Jr. administration to commit to protecting the rights of environmental defenders and “scrap its draconian policies, particularly the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which help perpetuate these human rights violations.”   

Global Witness 2021 report said that the Philippines has remained the most dangerous place in Asia or among the top five worst countries in the world.

Fry and his team are in the Philippines from Nov. 6 to Nov. 15. The focus of his visit will be on loss and damage and the impacts of climate change on human rights; climate change legislation, litigation, and intergenerational justice; protection of the environmental human rights defenders and gender responses to climate change.

“The Special Rapporteur will examine how the effects of climate change are forcing people to be displaced from their land and what measures are being taken to address these impacts,” an earlier statement by the UN Special Rapporteur read. 

This article was first published by KODAO Productions

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