Early trends paint another grim year for farmers’ human rights in the region

Regional peasant leaders Jomorito Goaynon (left) and Ireneo Udarbe (right) were first reported missing and later arrested on four counts of attempted murder and frustrated murder in Cagayan De Oro City in Northern Mindanao, Philippines, January 28. Arresting officers alleged that the two have links to armed communist rebels in the region (Photo: Philippine Star).

Press Release

In the past two years, PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) ranked the Philippines as the deadliest country in the world for people asserting their right to land and resources. We are deeply alarmed that early trends in 2019 indicate that the human rights situation of Filipino farmers and farm workers could still get even worse.

Just less than two months into the year, already six Filipino farmers fell victim to alleged extrajudicial killings. This translates to almost one killing every week, a trend that if left unchecked could outpace last year’s roughly one farmer death in every two weeks.

The latest reported killing – that of peasant leader and land rights activist Roberto Mejia in Pangasinan province (around 211 kilometers north of Manila) last February 18 – also brought the peasant death toll in the Philippines to 115 since January 2017, based on our monitoring.

Outright violence of this sort, however, is but one of the many attacks that rural communities in the Philippines face on an almost daily basis. Land rights defenders still fall prey to political persecution—as in the case of Jomorito Goaynon and Ireneo Udarbe, regional leaders of the indigenous Lumad in the country’s southernmost island of Mindanao. They were arrested in January by the military for alleged links to armed communist rebels. Both have been vocal advocates of the Lumad’s right to their ancestral domains and denounced military encroachment and state-backed land grabs by corporations for resource extraction.

The situation looks just as dire in other countries. In Kampot province in southern Cambodia, six security guards of a Chinese company beat to death a farmer over an unresolved land conflict. Meanwhile, in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in central West Bank, Israeli military gunned down a farmer during a confrontation that broke out amid land confiscation and ongoing settler violence in the village.

We urge state authorities to probe, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators of these gross human rights violations. Particularly in the Philippines where most land-related killings remain unsolved and arrests and other kinds of legal persecution appear to be politically motivated, the government must strictly enforce mechanisms of accountability and eliminate barriers to justice.

We call for an end to the culture of impunity holding sway at present, which just serves to facilitate the repression of political and civil rights as well as social, economic and cultural rights of peasants who comprise the biggest yet most marginalized segment of the population. Finally, we express our continuing support for farmer networks and our partner organizations in the Philippines and other countries in the region in their struggle against all forms of harassment and dispossession, and in their campaign for pro-people rural development and genuine agrarian reform.

Reference: Arnold Padilla, Coordinator, Food Sovereignty Program, PAN Asia Pacific (nolandnolife@panap.net)