THE PHILIPPINES was the fourth deadliest country in the world for land and environmental defenders last year, according to an international report, which noted that killings of indigenous peoples were rampant in the Southeast Asian nation.

The report by non-profit organization Global Witness said the country’s key institutions were weak, allowing perpetrators to commit crimes with “little accountability.”

Global Witness cited 19 environmentalists and land defenders killed in the Philippines in 2021, making the country the most dangerous country for green advocates in Asia.

“Steaming ahead with development projects without any consideration for human rights raises serious concerns about the future of land and environmental defenders in a country with one of the highest levels of killings of defenders in the world,” the report said, referring to the Philippines.

Latin American countries were at the top of the global list with Mexico ranking first with 54 killings, followed by Colombia with 33, and Brazil with 26 killings, the report said. Nicaragua was placed after the Philippines, with 15 killings.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Gueverra, the justice chief during the last years of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s six-year term, did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comments. The new administration has yet to issue a statement on the report.

While the Philippines saw a drop in killings of defenders in 2021 from 30 in 2020, the country recorded at least 270 killings between 2012 and 2021, the report said.

The report said that globally, 40% of all “fatal” attacks targeted indigenous peoples (IPs) “despite them only making up 5% of the world’s population.”

These were documented predominantly in Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines.

It said 40% or 114 of the defenders murdered in the Philippines in the last 10 years were IPs “campaigning to protect their land and the environment.” Nearly 80% of these took place in the southern region of Mindanao.

Most of the killings were linked to the mining sector, with 27 related deaths, the group said. Most of these occurred in Mexico (15), the Philippines (6), Venezuela (4), Nicaragua (1) and Ecuador (1).

The report also cited Mr. Duterte’s lifting of a nine-year-old moratorium on new mining projects on April 14, 2021, just over a year before he stepped down in end-June 2022. The moratorium was issued by his predecessor in 2012.

Global Witness said green advocates criticized the move, “warning that the new order could further endanger defenders as well as negatively impact key biodiversity areas, local water and food supplies, and Indigenous communities.”

“There is very little transparency in the Philippines’ mining sector, with mining contracts and data seldom made public,” according to the report, noting that rules mandating mining firms to get the consent of affected communities are “not consistently implemented.”

It said Mr. Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., “raised a red flag” during his first address to Congress in July, where he emphasized  “investment incentives including within the energy sector” and did not talk about the country’s human rights condition.

“Impunity is rife: it is suspected that state forces are behind the majority of killings in the few cases where the identity of the perpetrators is documented,” the report said. “Key state institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, are weak, and the military and police commit human rights violations with little accountability.”

The Philippines is among the top five countries rich in mineral resources, the report noted, adding that nearly 30% of the country’s land is known to hold high mineral deposits, of which over 8% is covered by mining concessions as of July.

“It’s clear that the government has not taken this crisis seriously,” Philippine-based Kalikasan People’s Network said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“While the slight drop in killings should be noted, unless specific measures are in place to protect environmental defenders — least of all even just recognizing the problem on a national level — these killings will undoubtedly continue at a systematic level,” the green network’s national coordinator, Jon Bonifacio, was quoted as saying.

The network said it will push for the refiling of an environmental defense bill, which seeks to establish appropriate mechanisms to hold perpetrators into account. “We only hope it gains traction under an administration that supposedly cares for the climate and the environment.” Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza