President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and declaration of martial law in an island territory are being used as a pretext to attack people defending their land and environment in the Philippines.
The resource-rich archipelago in south-east Asia is the world’s most murderous country for people who oppose logging, destructive mining and corrupt agribusiness. At least 30 people were killed in the Philippines last year, following 48 in 2017, dislodging Brazil from the top spot for the first time since the independent watchdog Global Witness began monitoring in 2012.
In Palawan, illegal logging is the dark side of the tourism boom as the island province rushes to construct hotels and resorts. At least 12 local environmentalists have been murdered since 2004, including Ruben Arzaga, the head of El Nido village, who was shot in September 2017 by illegal loggers.
Global Witness said the threat against defenders in Palawan has escalated with Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs. Some environmental activists have been erroneously named on a list of “narco-politicians” created by Duterte’s administration.
“The president’s brutal ‘war on drugs’ has fostered a culture of impunity and fear, emboldening the politically and economically powerful to use violence and hitmen against those they see as an obstacle or a threat,” the report said.
The report says the same is true for attacks against people opposing the coal industry, illegal mining, and corrupt agribusiness around the country. Many deaths involve armed men on motorcycles, the same modus operandi employed in the war on drugs.