Seven months into Rodrigo Duterte’s administration as the president of the Philippines and we have had to look from the outside-in, as executions and death squads become the norm.

The leader, who has praised Hitler in the past, and put a target on the head of every drug dealer and drug addict, now faces a new scandal – one involving the environment.

Rodrigo DuterteWhat’s been happening?

We wrote recently about the state of affairs in Honduras, where indigenous environmental activists are murdered if they stand in the way of large corporations that want their land and resources. Now, something very similar is happening in the Philippines, where 12 people have been murdered for their defensive stance on the environment.

Most recently, Mia Manuelita Mascarinas Green, an environmental lawyer who works investigating crimes affecting the environment, was driving her van through Bohol with her nanny and kids when four motorcycle gunmen began shooting at them. She died later in hospital, whilst her passengers survived.

Mia Mascarinas GreenHer family said:

“We would like to thank the thousands of people from all walks of life – the fishers, farmers, tricycle drivers, community workers, public servants, civil society members, religious groups, the young and old, men and women – who shared their love, prayers, flowers, gifts and time during the wake for Atty. Mia at the family home. We have received so many precious stories, gifts and kind words from them, as well as the whole Boholano, Philippine and international community.”

Vice-President Leni Robredo has finally called for an inquest into the murders, to find out who is behind them and stop them before it escalates.

Human rights abuses in the Philippines

The recent environmentalist tragedies are interlinked with all of the human rights abuses that are ongoing in the South-east Asian islands. In his campaign trail, president Duterte, nicknamed ‘the Punisher’, openly stated that he would kill 100,000 drug addicts and dealers and that the blood would be on his hands. This idea proved effective, and when he won, he armed civilian militias who became his personal hit-squads. This insurgence of weapons onto the streets has meant more shootings and murders, although surprisingly the overall crime rate has dropped.

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you,” he is quoted as saying on his campaign rally. “I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

The problem with arming civilian militias is that they are not the police, and they are not investigators, but they are instead better described as the ‘guardians of public order’ which is far more subjective than ‘crime’. If environmental activists are seen as a threat to public order, they are placing bounties on their own heads, as has been happening. It must be noted that there’s no evidence to suggest Duterte’s hit-squads are behind the killings.

Davao hitman

The bravely fallen

The Philippines has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental activist, with more than 100 people being killed since 2015. Please take a moment to read the names of those who have been murdered in cold blood for their defence of the natural environment since Duterte became president.

  • July 1, 2016 – Gloria Capitan (Lucanin, Mariveles, Bataan)
  • July 30, 2016 – Makinit Gayoran (Kawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon)
  • September 8, 2016 – Ariel Diaz (Delfin Abano, Isabela)
  • September 13, 2016 – Rita Gascon (Brgy. Lanao Kuran, Arakan, North Cotabato)
  • September 13, 2016 – Norberto Gascon (Brgy. Lanao Kuran, Arakan, North Cotabato)
  • October 10, 2016 – Jimmy Saypan (Brgy. Nan, Compostela, Compostela Valley)
  • October 13, 2016 – Joselito Pasaporte (Mabini, Compostela Valley)
  • January 5, 2017 – Datu Vennie Diamante (Sitio Lambusong, Brgy.Puti Norallah, South Cotabato)
  • January 7, 2017 – Mario Contaoi (Brgy. San Ramon, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur)
  • January 20, 2017 – Veronico Lapsay Delamente (Punta Naga, Brgy. Caagdianao, Claver, Surigao del Norte)
  • February 2, 2017 – Renato Anglao (Crossing Busco, Quezon, Bukidnon)
  • February 15, 2017 – Mia Manuelita Cumba Mascarinas-Green (Purok Dos, Zamora Street, Dao, Brgy. San Isidro, Tagbiliran City, Bohol)

Only time will tell if an end is put to these murders, but an inquest is a good place to start.