Time for the Senate to protect land and environmental defenders

Being a land and environmental defender is a high-risk endeavor in the Philippines. According to the international NGO, Global Witness, in 2018 alone 30 of such defenders were killed, and countless more were subject to threats, attacks and intimidation. These figures make the Philippines stand out as the country with the highest total number of such killings in the world, a deeply disturbing and frankly outrageous record to which we should not remain indifferent. This is not a new story, but a historic national crisis that is only getting worse.

In June 2019, the House of Representatives, with input from civil society organizations, unanimously passed the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill (House Bill 9199). The Bill seeks to prevent human rights abuses against all defenders, including those working on land and environmental issues.

This is a promising and necessary first step, but it requires more. And, crucial to this is the passage of Senate Bill 179 introduced by Senator Leila De Lima, and of which I am a Co-Author. With the alarming rate of killings and harassment, this is an urgent concern. It is not only a responsibility, but also a ground-breaking opportunity: if we take swift action, the Philippines will be the first country in Asia to pass a Bill that specifically legislates for the protection and respect of those defending our most fundamental rights.

Furthermore, beyond protecting and supporting defenders, we must ensure we help address the underlying reasons fueling these killings. This includes combating corruption and ensuring that businesses operating in the Philippines honor the right of communities to free, prior and informed consent and operate in a way that does not cause environmental harm. We must also play an active role in providing justice for those murdered, thus ending impunity for the perpetrators of these terrible crimes.

This Senate holds great power and great responsibility over the lives of those who defend our land and our environmental resources. In other words, those who selflessly and bravely work for the benefit of the planet and of us all. It is our duty to stand behind them.

Source: Senate of the Philippines