The online news portal of TV5
MANILA - A New York-based human rights group scored the Philippine government for its alleged failure to address the killings of environmental advocates and called for the immediate dismantling of paramilitary forces in mining sites.
In a statement Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the new mining order, Executive Order 79, signed by President Benigno Aquino III last July 2 failed to address the issue of human rights abuses brought by mining investments.
“President Aquino has enacted decrees to encourage mining investment in the Philippines but has done little to stop attacks on environmental advocates,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “He should recognize that respecting human rights is crucial for economic development.”
The group urged the government to "redouble" its investigations on attacks against advocates. The group said evidence points to the involvement of military or paramilitary forces.
HRW has documented three cases since October 2011 where critics of mining and energy projects were killed by alleged paramilitary forces. The slain activists were vocal in opposing mining and energy operations in their area.
One case was Margarito Cabal, 47, an organizer of a group opposing a hydroelectric dam in Bukidnon province, who was gunned down last May 9. His relatives alleged that police have not yet investigated the killing and no suspect has been arrested.
Last March 5, Jimmy Liguyon, village chief of Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon was also killed. HRW said his death was due to his alleged refusal to sign an agreement to secure a mining investment in the area.
The local paramilitary group Bagani (“tribal warriors”), reportedly under military control, was allegedly responsible for the fatal shooting of Italian priest Father Fausto Tentorio, 59, in Arakan, North Cotabato province on October 17, 2011, said HRW. Tentorio was a long-time advocate of tribal rights and opposed mining in the area.
“While mining and other environmentally sensitive projects promise economic benefits for Filipinos, they should not come at the expense of basic rights, particularly the lives of environmental advocates,” Pearson said. “The Aquino government should ensure that those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice.”
The group also urged Aquino to disband paramilitary forces securing mining sites due to accusations of human rights violations.
“Aquino should disband paramilitary groups that are being used to divide tribal communities and instill fear among the residents,” Pearson said. “The government crucially needs to hold accountable the military officers who are behind these abusive forces.”