Filipino woman fears for life after complaining to Duterte

President's reply to environmental complaint has placed her in danger, activists say
Filipino woman fears for life after complaining to Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets families of victims of a landslide in the province of Cebu on Sept. 21. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

A woman who openly complained to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about quarrying that supposedly caused a deadly landslide in Cebu province has gone into hiding in fear for her life, according to an environmental group.

Sheila (not her real name), a resident of Naga City in Cebu province, sought the help of a religious congregation after reportedly receiving threats for voicing her concerns directly to the president.

"She needs protection because of threats she is facing for speaking the truth," said Augustinian Recollect Brother Takoy Jakosalem.

The religious brother, spokesman of environmental group Pusyon Kinaiyahan, said Sheila received threats after Duterte joked that she was "well-trained" to speak in front of a huge audience. 

The woman was allowed to speak to Duterte during a Sept. 21 meeting with survivors and families of victims of the deadly landslide in the central Philippines that killed at least 63 people.

Sheila asked the president to shut down a quarry that the residents blamed for the disaster.

"Stop the quarry. That's what I'm asking. We don't need food. What we need is for the quarrying to stop because I believe if the people would just work, we'd still manage to eat," she said.

"I believe what you say," said Duterte, who added that the woman spoke well and seemed to have been "well trained" by the rebels.

"Make sure that no one is supporting the communist-rebels," the president warned.

Environment group Kalikasan said Duterte had placed Sheila in danger with his statement.

"The victimization of Sheila for speaking the truth to the powerful is victimization of all environmental defenders," said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan.

He noted that in the Philippines "speaking the truth about environmental plunder can get you killed."

International advocacy group Global Witness named the Philippines as the second deadliest country for environmental defenders last year. 

In 2017, at least 41 land and environmental defenders were killed for opposing big mining and commercial agriculture interests. 

The government had ordered the suspension of quarry operations in at least eight regions across the country following the landslide in Cebu.

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However, on Sept. 27, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the suspension had been lifted in most areas that were being investigated for geohazard risks.

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