As working closely with farmers and farmworkers’ groups and human rights advocates in the Philippines, we are alarmed by what appears to be an escalation of the attacks against leaders of rural communities fighting for their land and rights.
Since the start of the year, unknown assailants have killed five people already for reasons that could be related to their role in opposing land grabbers in their communities. This translates to one killing per week.
Among those killed are Lumad leaders Venie Diamante (killed on 5 January), Veronico Delamente (20 January), and Renato Anglao (3 February). Lumad pertains to the indigenous people in Mindanao, the country’s southernmost island. Accounts say that the victims are involved in resisting the encroachment on their ancestral lands by a palm oil plantation, a mining firm, and a pineapple plantation.
The two other victims are farmer-leaders Alexander Ceballos (20 January) and Wencislao Pacquiao (25 January). They are both active in opposing schemes by local politicians to seize lands from the farmers, based on reports. Ceballos’s assailants also hit his four-year old niece.
Such assaults have been going on for a long time now. Filipino activists and human rights groups pin the blame on the military’s counterinsurgency campaigns for these extrajudicial killings as well as other human rights violations.
Based on our monitoring, from January 2015 up to the present alone, at least 46 Filipino farmers, indigenous people and activists engaged in land struggles and conflicts have been killed already. (See Land & Rights Watch – http://panap.net/2017/01/land-and-rights-watch-20170131-2)
Compounding this is the reported termination recently by the Philippine President, Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, of the peace talks with revolutionary groups represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Mr. Duterte’s decision came at a time when the peace panels are already negotiating key social and economic reforms that aim to address the roots of armed conflict in the country – chief of which is landlessness and poverty in the rural areas.
We share the anxiety of our Filipino friends and fellow advocates of the people’s right to land and resources that this unfortunate development could lead to more atrocities against rural communities, especially those that are resisting land grabbing.
We urge the Duterte administration to seriously look not just into the recent spate of killings of Lumad and farmers but past similar killings as well, immediately make those responsible to account for their crimes, and help end the reign of impunity that has long been gripping the Philippine countryside.
We also join the peace advocates in the Philippines in their appeal to both the Duterte administration and the NDFP not to totally abandon the ongoing peace negotiations. We believe that it provides a useful venue to institute the needed policy reforms that will help address the land issue which fuels rural unrest and the armed conflict. ###