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Philippine rights groups claim increased state intimidation

Incidents have grown since launch of Global Witness report on killings of environmental activists, they say

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: October 08, 2019 10:38 AM GMT
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Philippine rights groups claim increased state intimidation

Philippine rights and environment groups protest what they claim is harassment by state agents. (Photo courtesy of Kalikasan)

Human rights and environment groups in the Philippines have accused the government of upping a harassment and intimidation campaign against their members.

In a media briefing on Oct. 7, the groups alleged that incidents of police and military intimidation of human rights workers and activists have increased in recent weeks.

Clemente Bautista of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said he had received reports that police had attempted to raid the environmental group’s offices on Oct. 4.

He said police accused the organization of "harboring indigenous children and teaching them to become activists."

Bautista admitted that Kalikasan has opened its offices as a "temporary sanctuary" for tribal leaders and students who fled Mindanao to escape conflict there.

"Since when has this been a crime?" asked Bautista. "Does this even warrant a raid on our offices?"

He said the harassment of pro-environment activists started after the launch of a Global Witness report in July on the rising number of killings of environmental defenders in the Philippines.

Kalikasan partnered with Global Witness in investigating cases of violence allegedly carried out by businesses and government agencies in communities.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, said there is a "systematic and organized effort to attack, intimidate and vilify human rights workers."

Palabay said that on Oct. 1 and 3 an unidentified motorcycle rider followed and took photographs of Karapatan members.

She claimed that they also received reports that state agents were planning to arrest Karapatan chairwoman Elisa Tita Lubi, who is on medical leave.

Palabay said the government is becoming "increasingly desperate" to shut down her organization, which routinely exposes alleged human rights violations.

The Philippine government accuses both Karapatan and Kalikasan of being "legal front organizations" of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

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