Eighteen percent of the world’s 164 environment-related deaths took place in the Philippines, the international watchdog said in its report Tuesday.
This figure translates to a rate of three deaths a week. Many of these would have happened during demonstrations against logging, mining and agribusiness, Global Witness said.
According to data, 23 of these were farmers working in sugarcane plantations located on the island of Negros. Four women, two minors and one lawyer — the nation’s 34 lawyers to be killed since 2016 — were also slaughtered during incidents last year. The National Federation of Sugar Workers, a labor federation, has accused the landlords of organizing the deadly attack.
Although aggression against environmental activists has been building around the globe, this is the first time the Asian country has risen to the top. The watchdog said that demand for land and raw materials has propelled the violent persecution of environmental defenders.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has defended police response to the violent outbreaks, illicit arrests, death threats, lawsuits and smear campaigns calling it “legitimate.”
Since Duterte’s controversial anti-narcotics campaign began on June 2016, police have killed more than 4,500 people they say were suspected drug pushers who resisted arrest.
Human rights groups have denounced the president’s campaigns against drug trafficking and lawless violence. Under Duterte’s administration, they say, thousands have been executed in what amounts to a systematic extermination of outspoken activists and drug users in the poorest communities and targeting demonstrators. Police vigorously rejected the allegations.
"Vicious attacks against land and environmental defenders are still happening, despite growing momentum behind environmental movements the world over," said Global Witness senior campaigner Alice Harrison.
"It is a brutal irony that while judicial systems routinely allow the killers of defenders to walk free, they are also being used to brand the activists themselves as terrorists, spies or dangerous criminals," Harrison said in a statement.