Philippine targeted killings spark growing global concern

US Congress has condemned 'serious human rights abuses' taking place across the country
Philippine targeted killings spark growing global concern

Environmental activists present on July 30 the Global Witness report that labeled the Philippines as the "deadliest country in the world" for land and environmental defenders. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

International human right groups have expressed growing concern over reports of assassinations in the Philippines, especially of activists, in recent months.

Several members of the U.S. Congress have already spoken out against what they described as "serious human rights abuses" in the country.

Representative Ann Wagner, head of the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has noted the attacks on tribal schools and tribal leaders especially in Mindanao.

Earlier this year, five U.S. senators also called upon the Philippine government to drop charges against incarcerated Philippine opposition senator Leila de Lima.

The U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs raised the issue of alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines during a public hearing in Washington on July 25.

Wagner's statement came as international watchdog Global Witness branded the Philippines as the "deadliest country in the world" for land and environmental defenders.

In its annual report, the group noted that 30 activists were killed in 2018 alone, while 48 were killed the year before.

The report also raised alarm over what it described as the "criminalization" of civil cases to stifle environmental activism and the defense of land rights.

Among the countries with the highest overall number of recorded deaths were the Philippines (30), followed by Colombia (24), India (23) and Brazil (20).

Philippine human rights group Karapatan has urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to immediately conduct an investigation into the killings of land rights and environmental activists.

"We are calling on the U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to take a look at the killings," said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary-general.

Palabay said the U.N. should "document and interview" victims and witnesses to the "unceasing rights violations" against rights defenders and poor communities.

She also challenged the Philippine government "to invite and allow" independent experts to examine alleged state-sponsored killings.

"These deaths are not just numbers. There are families that are the best source of information about these killings," said Palabay.

The pro-environment group, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, reported that at least 104 environmental defenders were killed between Duterte coming to power in 2016 to December 2018.

"The killings will not end if the government continues to protect the interest of capitalists who profit from mining, vast monoculture plantations, and aggressive agribusiness expansions," said Leon Dulce, the network’s national coordinator.

A "national solidarity mission" conducted in Nueva Vizcaya province last week found that tribal leaders protesting against mining operations in the area have been tagged as rebels.

Residents affected by mining operations set up a checkpoint in the town of Kasibu in June to prevent the Australian mining firm OceanaGold from operating.

The company's operating license expired last month.

Mark Saludes and Leonel Abasola contributed to this report

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