Declaring “it is not a crime to defend the environment,” a total of 116 non-government organizations, social movements, and other environmental groups came out with a unified statement raising concern over the worsening human rights situation faced by environmental defenders in the Philippines, declared the third deadliest country in the world and deadliest in Asia in the 2017 Global Witness Report on Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders.

Hailing from 25 different countries, the groups noted that “in just more than a year under the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, at least 42 environmental defenders have been killed, 240 have been slapped with harassment lawsuits, and at least 18,263 have been forcibly displaced because of their resistance to destructive projects.”

“President Duterte is by far the worst human rights violator to Filipino environmental defenders. Duterte is well on his way to making the Philippines the most dangerous country for environmental defenders by 2018,” said Mr. Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), one of the main initiators of the statement.

The statement came out amid increasingly atrocious human rights violations perpetrated against Filipino environmental defenders and other activists over the past two weeks.

On November 26, an exodus was begun by 1,688 indigenous Lumad people opposing coal mine entry in their ancestral lands in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. This was spurred by intensified military operations of the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Later, the evacuation camp was food blockaded by the 75th IBPA to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid.

Last December 3, elements of the 27th and 33rd IBPAs massacred 8 indigenous T’boli and Dulangan Manobo tribe members opposing attempts by the DMCI corporation to establish a 3,000-hectare coal mine within their ancestral lands in South Cotabato province, accusing them as communist guerrillas of the New People’s Army.

Various other incidents of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, enforced disappearances, and forced evacuations occurred in just over the past week in the provinces of Mindoro Oriental, Batangas, Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley, and Surigao del Sur. Affected communities mainly confronted mining, plantation, and coal issues.

The groups observed that “civilians are systematically targeted by bloody military operations under an increasingly aggressive ‘Oplan Kapayapaan’ counter insurgency program and the dark shadow of Martial Law,” noting the recent systematic efforts of justifying killings and militarization by accusing environmental defenders as armed communist rebels or sympathizers.

The groups furthered in the statement that “Big Mining has much to do with the mayhem” with 55% of the monitored killings and 100% of the monitored harassment lawsuits involving anti-mining activists and community members.

“The Duterte administration must immediately free all remaining 16 illegally detained environmental defenders from prison, and drop all 225 trumped-up charges still lodged against environmental defenders. Urgent and concrete actions must also be taken to stop the killings of environmental defenders and bring to justice its perpetrators,” the groups said.

The unified statement was initiated by Kalikasan PNE together with the Environmental Advocates against Repression and Tyranny in defense of Human Rights (EARTH), a recently established environment and human rights coalition united to oppose human rights violations perpetrated against environmental defenders.

Kalikasan PNE and EARTH announced their intention to mobilize various environment groups in time for the December 10 Human Rights Day mobilizations planned by various movements opposing the worsening climate of impunity in the country.