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Philippine church leaders make environmental plea on Human Rights Day

Activists condemn govt rights abuses in its war on drugs, efforts to put down communist rebels

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: December 10, 2019 08:29 AM GMT
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Philippine church leaders make environmental plea on Human Rights Day

Two alleged drug dealers are handcuffed during a police operation in Manila in March 2018. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)

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Church leaders in the Philippines called on Catholics to protect the "common home" and "uphold the right to life" on International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

In a statement, the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops' conference said the annual observance should serve as a reminder that care for life and the environment is a Christian duty.

The church leaders noted that environmental degradation brought about by "destructive and extractive industries" is a "violation of the right to life of many Filipinos."

"We call on the Christian faithful and the Filipino people to stand together in defense of the environment and the right to life," read the statement.

Hundreds of activists marked the observance of Human Rights Day in the Philippines by taking to the streets of major cities to dramatize their call for human rights protection.

The group Alyansa Tigil Mina (Stop Mines Alliance) voiced concern at what they described as "alarming threats" against human rights defenders.

Global Witness, an international human rights group, identified the Philippines as the most dangerous country for environmental and human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders have been attacked and in some cases killed by unknown assailants allegedly part of illegal logging, destructive mining and corrupt agribusiness operations.

"We are the victims of destructive mining practices. We only aspire for a better future for our families, but we have become targets," said Malou Verano of Alyansa Tigil Mina.

The group called on the government "to stop endangering environmental defenders" and start holding accountable those behind the destruction of the environment.

Trade union workers also complained of "rampant labor rights violations" and the alleged crackdown on activists and government critics.

Protesters carried red-tag placards and wore red tags at the demonstrations to signify the red-tagging of government critics, including labor organizations. Red-tagging refers to the government accusing individuals and groups of being communist rebel sympathizers.

The 2019 Global Rights Index of the International Trade Union Confederation ranked the Philippines as among the bottom 10 of the world’s worst countries for workers.

Government blames communists

In a statement released to mark Human Rights Day, the presidential palace said the recruitment of young people "by groups that advance terrorism" has become a serious threat.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the government is committed to quelling the threat posed by communist groups that allegedly recruit children and youth as soldiers.

"Children and youth, mostly from indigenous communities and as young as 11 years old, are trafficked by local armed communists ... and forced into becoming warriors," he said.

Part of the government's campaign to "quell this terrorist threat" is the closure of tribal schools, a move that has been criticized even by Catholic bishops.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly denounced human rights and human rights advocates, who have criticized him for his pronouncements and his bloody war on drugs.

The military has also been condemned by rights groups for red-tagging universities and accusing them of being hotbeds for communist recruitment.

"I think the human rights situation today is deplorable, especially when we talk about the right to life," said lawyer Chel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group.

He cited human rights violations, especially under the context of the government's war on drugs that has reportedly killed thousands of suspected drug users and dealers.

"Primarily, it's the war on drugs but it's the entire climate of fear and violence that we are experiencing today," said Diokno.

The government claims that at least 6,000 people have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since 2016 when Duterte came to power. Human rights groups, however, put the toll close to 30,000.

Human Rights Day is commemorated every Dec. 10, the date in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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