THE PHILIPPINES has replaced Brazil as the most murderous country in the world for people defending their environment, according to a report by London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness.

“The Philippines has consistently ranked as one of the deadliest countries in the world for people protecting their land or the environment,” the international group said.

Last year, the Philippines was the worst affected country in sheer numbers, with 30 deaths, including the massacre on Negros island.,” the watchdog said in a report titled ‘Enemies of the State? How Governments and Business Silence Land and Environmental Defenders.’

Last year’s death count was lower than 48 in the previous year, when the country ranked second after Brazil.

“The ecological agriculture that landless farm workers have painstakingly carved out of the vast monoculture plantations of Negros sugar barons have been irrigated with blood and bullets,” Leon A. Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment , said in a separate statement.

“Since 2017 to date, at least 87 land and environment defenders have been murdered by military, paramilitary troops, and other state forces for carrying out land occupation and cultivation campaigns across the island,” he said.

The report said companies and governments were now leaning toward criminalizing environmental activism and land rights defense.

“The country’s legal system is used to criminalise and intimidate land and environmental defenders, while officials who are complicit in these crimes go unpunished,” it said.

Mindanao has become the hot spot for murders of defenders, accounting for a third of the killings in 2018. It is also the region where a chunk of 1.6 million hectares of land were to be allocated for industrial operations planned by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, it added.

The group noted that globally, 164 people or three defenders a week were killed in 2018, lower than 201 in 2017. Mining was considered the deadliest sector, with 43 people killed. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang