By Derek Cabe
As Filipinos mark the first anniversary of Duterte’s inauguration on this day, a significant gathering of environmental activists, fellow human rights defenders, friends, relatives and supporters will likewise be held today honoring the first victim of extrajudicial killings under his administration.
Ate Gloria Capitan was a staunch environmental activist and human rights defender with the Coal-Free Bataan Movement (CFBM). Exactly a year ago, she was gunned down by two unidentified assassins at her karaoke bar in Brgy. Lucanin, Mariveles, Bataan.
On the very same day, July 1, 2016, President Duterte was sworn in as the nation’s first president from Mindanao. He won with a promise to Filipinos that change is coming. It turned out that Ate Gloria was only the first victim, and the number of deaths are still climbing. Her death was not just a coincidence but the beginning of an administration’s policy (declared or not) on extrajudicial killings.
The news of her assassination brought me into a brief state of disorientation and disbelief. Memories of her being so alive and active played in my mind, at least until Mar, her son, called to confirm the shocking news.
Ate Gloria was a very helpful leader and colleague, even selfless at some point. She lived a modest life with her family yet would oftentimes spend her own resources for our shared advocacy. She had rejected bribery several times, in fact she loathed it. She believed that the struggle is not an opportunity for personal gain but for the the greater good.
Prior to her death, she was a key leader of the community that led the campaign launched by the CFBM against pollution and looming environmental destruction, believed to be caused by the open coal stockpile operating at the heart of their village as well as the coal-fired power plants in Bataan.
Like many other environmentalists and human rights defenders, Ate Gloria dreamt of things getting better. She believed that we have a chance to succeed if we stay on course and continue the struggle for safe environment. And although she was aware of the rising risks of going against huge business interests in the province, she was not convinced that her life would be sacrificed.
Yet she did believe that because all people would die eventually, it would be better to do so while doing something good for the planet, out of her love for her grandchildren.
“Titigil lang ako pag pikit na ang mata ko! Ano pa ba ang magagawa ko e patay na ako. Hindi ito para sa akin, kundi para sa mga apo ko, masakit ang loob ko kapag nakikita ko silang nagkakasakit,” Ate Gloria used to say about threats to her life.
(“I will only stop when my eyes are closed forever! What would I be able to do then when I’m already dead? This is not for me but for my grandchildren, it pains me when I see them sick.”)
A year has already passed since she was cowardly silenced by gunshots from people who profit from the dirty business of fossil fuels. Justice has yet to be served. Though we still grieve for our dear Ate Gloria, as well as for our fellow environmentalists who were killed for the cause, we rise up. We remain resolved to continue the struggle with more fervor for the love of our planet, our only home.
People suffer because of the climate crisis brought about by fossil fuel barons so influential they can buy even governments. They must be stopped and held accountable. If we who suffer do not demand it, who will do it for us?