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The Dangers Of Environmental Activism In The Philippines


The Philippines is now the deadliest country for environmental activists, according to a report from the watchdog group Global Witness. They say that 30 of the 164 activists killed in 2018 were in the Philippines, where Rodrigo Duterte is president. Leon Dulce is an environmental activist. He's national coordinator for the Kalikasan Peoples Network For The Environment. He joins us now from Quezon City in the Philippines. Thank you so much for being with us.

LEON DULCE: Thank you for having us today.

SIMON: Have you seen this violence close up in your work?

DULCE: I've been working in Kalikasan over the past eight years. And violence has been a part of the territory. So at times, we get desensitized to the violence, to the attacks. But every now and then, something significant happens that jars us and shocks us. So for instance, the first time that someone I personally knew who worked in the environmental movement that was killed - it was shocking because I found out in the news that his head was blown off. They were executed in front of 200 Indigenous Lumad people, their village. And justice up until now has not yet been served. So it's a reality that you have to work on every day in order to achieve the changes, the protection of the environment that we have all collectively worked for.

SIMON: Mr. Dulce, has your work and the work of other environmentalists gotten more dangerous under President Duterte?

DULCE: This is true. If you look at the data, on an annual average, it has multiplied by almost eight times compared to the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which ran from 2001 to 2010. And it spiked two by four times compared to the previous administration of President Aquino. And it's only just three years that we are suffering under the fascist administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

SIMON: Now, you hold President Duterte responsible for this increase in violence. Have there been any investigations, anything gone to trial, anybody been arrested or accused of these murders?

DULCE: The administration of President Duterte has faced three iterations of the global witness report. And all the response that we are getting from the administration is just blanket denial or trying to justify certain trends in killings by accusing the communist insurgency here in the Philippines. But when you look at the data, when you look at the the real faces of the people being killed, they are ordinary land and environment defenders who just so happen to be up against the priority projects of the administration.

SIMON: The report by Global Witness said that a third of the deaths last year happened on the island of Mindanao. That's President Duterte's home region - I believe is the first Philippine president from Mindanao. And he has plans there, doesn't he?

DULCE: Mindanao has been the hotspot over the past three to four years. He has the best idea on how to exploit our natural resources, how to crack down on social movements, the very strong Indigenous people and recent farmer movements in the island. He aims to bring in 1.6 million hectares of largely oil plant plantations. The island is also currently the center of large-scale mining. So we think the declaration of martial law in the island of Mindanao is part and partial of the attempts to bring in the infrastructure, to bring in the big business projects that Duterte's escorting from foreign investors.

SIMON: Mr. Dulce, do you feel safe?

DULCE: Safety is no longer in the vocabulary of environmental defenders or, you know, activists in general here in the Philippines. They are being told that we are terrorists. We are enemies of the state, no? And then the more extreme cases is, when they think they vilified you enough, they start sending in the death squads. They start sending in the infantry battalions. And Duterte is clearly not seeing this as an exercise of democracy. He's seeing it as a threat to his rule in the Philippines. So he's sending in so-called investment defense forces in the military that are organizing paramilitary groups to crack down on these exercises of democracy. It's a situation where you can always - you will always fear for your life. But then if you're not going to do the work you do, who else will do it?

SIMON: Leon Dulce of the Kalikasan Peoples Network For The Environment - he joined us by Skype from Quezon City. Thank you so much. Good luck to you, sir.

DULCE: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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