Indigenous Leaders Killed In Philippines Were ‘Red-Tagged’ Over Dam Opposition

Indigenous Leaders Killed In Philippines Were ‘Red-Tagged’ Over Dam Opposition

In this article, written by Jun N. Aguirre and published in Mongabay on February 8th, 2021, he describes how nine environmental activists were killed by the authorities due to their opposition regarding the construction of dams.

Featured image: Project description from the government homepage.  Image courtesy of the National Irrigation Administration JRMP Project Stage II 

By Jun N. Aguirre/Mongabay

  • The killing of nine Indigenous leaders by police during an operation in the central Philippines on Dec. 30, 2020, has drawn widespread condemnation from environmental and human rights groups, politicians, lawyers, and Catholic bishops.
  • Police allege that those killed, and another 16 arrested, were supporters of the NPA, the armed wing of the banned communist party.
  • But supporters of the Indigenous Tumandok community on Panay Island say they were targeted for their opposition to two dam projects in their ancestral domain.
  • One of the projects, on the Jalaur River, is largely funded through a $208 million loan from the South Korean government.

AKLAN, Philippines — At dawn on Dec. 30, 2020, police officers raided Indigenous villages within a military reservation camp in the central Philippines in search of alleged members of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the banned communist party.

During the raid, authorities killed nine leaders and arrested 16 members of the Tumandok ethnic group. The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), who led the synchronized raids on the island of Panay, said the members were rebel sympathizers.

Human rights and environmental groups have linked the raids to two major dam projects in the area: one on the Jalaur River and the other on the Panay River. Lawmakers and local groups say the targets of the raid, especially those who were killed, had been opposed to the ongoing construction of the controversial Jalaur dam in the nearby municipality of Calinog. Indigenous groups there have long complained that the project is destroying their ancestral domain.

Conflicting narratives

The PNP’s internal affairs division has opened an investigation into the raids, but insists those killed and arrested were NPA supporters. Roger James Brillantes, a police colonel who heads the internal affairs office for the Western Visayas region, said at a press conference that the operation was part of a government campaign against rebels.

“The PNP did the raid because it is armed with warrant of arrests,” he said. “There is an ongoing investigation if the operatives have conducted lapses in its operation.”

Police allege some of the Indigenous leaders fired at officers during the raids, prompting a return of fire in which the Indigenous men were killed. Police reportedly seized some firearms from the operation. But those arrested deny there was any resistance on their part, saying the police raided their homes at about 4 a.m., when they were asleep. The Indigenous groups say the firearms and explosives the government says it seized were planted.

The Jalaur project is the first large-scale dam to be constructed in the Philippines’ central and southern Visayas and Mindanao regions. Eighty percent of the project cost, nearly $208 million, comes from a loan from the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (KEDF) of South Korea, issued through the Export-Import Bank of Korea in 2012. In 2018, the Philippines’ National Irrigation Administration signed a 11.2 billion peso ($224 million) contract with South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering and Construction for the second stage of the Jalaur project.

The project is expected to provide year-round irrigation, bulk water supply, hydroelectric power, and ecotourism opportunities for the communities on Panay Island.

The fact that those most opposed to the project were killed in a purported operation against communist sympathizers is no coincidence, groups say. On Dec. 11, the nine Indigenous leaders killed were part of a Human Rights Day rally, in which they protested against the dam projects. They were accused of being rebels that same day — a practice known as “red-tagging” that is often used to justify a subsequent crackdown by the police or military.

“Their strong resistance against the development projects have made its members become subject of red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and harassment through intensified military presence in their communities,”

the Panay chapter of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), a network of NGOs and advocacy groups, said in a statement.

An ‘excuse’ to kill

The deadly raid on Dec. 30 has also sparked political fallout. On Jan. 4, members of Congress filed a joint declaration calling for a deeper probe into the incident.

“This mass killings and arrests of indigenous peoples in Panay, in the middle of a pandemic no less, is highly condemnable, and has no place in society,” six representatives from four parties wrote in their declaration. “The brazen killing of the poor and marginalized indigenous peoples is an indicator of the state of human rights in the country as well as the raging impunity that seems to reign over our land.”

The Panay chapter of the National Union of Lawyers of the Philippines (NULP) also condemned the killings, calling them “identical to the killings of farmers in Negros Oriental on March 30, 2019.” In that incident, 14 people were killed in synchronized police raids in three municipalities in Negros Oriental province. Police similarly accused those killed of being armed NPA sympathizers and firing on officers.

“It appears that the service of these warrants was nothing more than an excuse to carry out an operation intended to kill and arrest local leaders of Tumanduk communities that have been actively advocating for the rights and interests of farmers and indigenous peoples,” NUPL-Panay said in a statement.

The clergy in this staunchly Catholic country has also raised concerns over the killings.

In a joint statement, eight bishops representing dioceses in the Western Visayas region issued a demand for the government to thoroughly investigate the raid. They also called on the government to listen to the “legitimate cries of the Tumandoks over the Jalaur mega dam issue”; end the militarization of Indigenous communities in the area; compel the PNP and the military to follow ethical standards in the rules of engagement; and require police officers to use body cameras to protect parties against false accusations.

The government, through its Western Visayas Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC), has responded by calling the bishops misinformed on the issue. Flosemer Chris Gonzales, a lawyer for the task force, said the clergymen may have been deceived by the propaganda from the NPA.

“We caution the bishops from making hasty, false, and presumptuous conclusions,” he said. “We would like to think that you have all been misinformed. As Catholics, we adhere to the teachings of the Church but that does not equally mean that our bishops are not prone to errors in judgment. The individuals who were arrested were subjects of legitimately issued search warrants. You cannot conclude that atrocities were committed. That is simply irresponsible.”

This article was originally published on Mongabay , you can access here.

Indigenous Environmental Defender Killed, Logging Mafia Targets Tribe

Indigenous Environmental Defender Killed, Logging Mafia Targets Tribe

Featured image: The Guardians of the Amazon recently destroyed a logging truck they discovered in their territory. © Guardians of the Amazon

     by Survival International

Warning: some people may find the details and image below disturbing

A leader of an Amazon tribe acclaimed for its environmental defenders has been killed, the latest in a series of deaths among the tribe.

The body of Jorginho Guajajara was found near a river in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. He was a leader of the Guajajara people, acclaimed internationally for their work as the ‘Guardians of the Amazon’ in the most threatened region in the entire Amazon.

It is not yet clear who killed him, but a powerful logging mafia has repeatedly targeted the tribe for its work protecting both its rainforest home, and the uncontacted members of a neighboring tribe, the Awá, who also live there, and face catastrophe unless their land is protected.

Jorginho Guajajara’s body was found near a river in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.

Confronted with official inaction, the tribe formed an environmental protection team named the Guardians of the Amazon to expel the loggers. Some estimates suggest up to 80 members of the tribe have been killed since 2000.

The murder of Jorginho Guajajara is further indication of the increasing volatility in this area. In May this year, a team from Ibama (Brazil’s environmental protection agency) and environmental military police were dispatched to the Guajajara’s Arariboia reserve, a rare move from the authorities.The Guajajara say: “Our uncontacted Awá relatives cannot survive if their forest is destroyed. As long as we live, we will fight for the uncontacted Indians, for all of us, and for nature.”

Survival International has protested to the Brazilian authorities about the wave of violence against the Guajajara, which has gone almost entirely unpunished.

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today: “The Guardians of the Amazon face an urgent humanitarian crisis, and are fighting for their very survival. This small tribe of Amazon Indians are confronting an aggressive, powerful and armed logging mafia with close ties to local and national politicians. And they’re paying with their lives for standing up to them. They urgently need public support to make sure they survive.”

The Guardians of the Amazon
– The “Guardians of the Amazon” are men from the Guajajara tribe in Brazil’s Maranhão state who have taken it upon themselves to protect what remains of this eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest.
– They want to save the land for the hundreds of Guajajara families who call it home, and their far less numerous neighbors: the uncontacted Awá Indians.
– The Guardians say of their work: “We patrol, we find the loggers, we destroy their equipment and we send them away. We’ve stopped many loggers. It’s working.”
– The Guardians recently released video and images of a rare encounter with the uncontacted Awá living in Arariboia. Watch the footage here
– You can see videos of several of the Guardians talking about their work on Survival’s Tribal Voice site.

– The Arariboia indigenous territory comprises a unique biome in the transition area between the savannah and the Amazon rainforest.
– There are species here not found elsewhere in the Amazon.
– The land inside the indigenous territory is under threat from illegal loggers
– Brutal cuts in government funding to its indigenous affairs department FUNAI and tribal land protection mean the dangers are now even greater, as the area is not properly monitored or defended by the authorities.
– A powerful and violent logging mafia operates in the region, supported by some local politicians.

Seven Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala Killed in the Last Month

Seven Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala Killed in the Last Month

Featured image:  CODECA members march to Guatemala City from their communities to march on June 12, 2018. By @GtCodeca on Twitter. 

     by Cultural Survival

In the past week three human rights defenders from the Campesino Development Committee have been killed, totaling seven fatal attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala over the past four weeks.

CODECA (by its Spanish acronym) is an Indigenous-led grassroots human rights organization that fights for Indigenous and campesino rights in Guatemala. Its main goals include improving working and living conditions of the rural poor, fighting against exploitative energy companies and engaging in political advocacy.

On June 8, 2018, Francisco Munguia was found hacked to death by machete in the Jalapa region in eastern Guatemala. Munguia, a member of the marginalized Indigenous Xinca nation in Guatemala, was the community vice president of CODECA in the village of Divisadero Xalapan Jalapa.

This comes four days after Florencio Pérez Nájer and Alejandro Hernández García, were found dead by machete attack on June 4, 2018. As human rights defenders for CODECA, they mainly advocated for farmers’ labor rights, land reform and the nationalization of electric energy.

Last month, the regional director of CODECA, Luis Arturo Marroquín, also Xinca, was fatally shoton May 9, 2018 in San Luis Jilotepeque central square when he was on his way to a training of Indigenous women. This came only a week after president Jimmy Morales made a speech that publicly defamed CODECA, which CODECA leaders believe “strengthen[ed] hatred and resentment” towards their organization.

In response to the murder of their colleagues, CODECA issued a press release, saying “While the murder of our friends hurts us dearly, it will never intimidate us. We will fight harder and more united to reach our goals and those of our deceased defenders and friends.”

In a speech from the community cemetery in Xinca territory of Xalapán, Thelma Cabrera Perez, National Director of CODECA, declared,  “What we demand is the defense of our rights and to live a dignified life [and] when we organize ourselves to defend our rights, that is when we are persecuted.”

In addition to the murders of these CODECA members, three other Indigenous Q’eqchi human rights defenders have been murdered this month; Ramon Choc Sacrab, José Can Xol and Mateo Chamám Paau from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (Comité Campesino del Altiplano, CCDA). Attacks on human rights defenders has been on the rise in Guatemala, as UDEFEGUA reported 493 attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala in 2017. This is happening in the context of government attempts to criminalize and defame human rights organizations such as CODECA.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples condemned these murders in an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, calling them evidence of institutionalized racism against Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples. The UN has also called out Guatemala in the past for its criminalization and imprisonment of human rights defenders. Guatemala has received 17 recommendations from UN member states through the Universal Periodic Review system to combat this wave of violence; for example,

In 2012, Australia recommended Guatemala to:  “Ensure effective and independent investigations into all reports of extrajudicial executions and ensure that reports of killings, threats, attacks and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and journalists are thoroughly and promptly investigated and those responsible brought to justice’’

Often times, murders of Indigenous activists are not featured in mainstream news or media outlets, despite Indigenous activists constituting 40 percent of environmental activists murdered worldwide last year.

On June 12, 2018, CODECA supporters marched in protest to Guatemala City to “demand justice for the murder of their colleagues” and call for the resignation of president Jimmy Morales. They demand a fair investigation into the murders of those killed.

CODECA tweeted, “From the fields to the city, our southern contingency at the Trébol begins to organize. We demand justice for the assassination of our defenders; we demand the resignation of Jimmy Morales, his inept cabinet, and corrupt congressmen.”

CODECA is one of Cultural Survival’s grant partners for the community media grants project, through which it receives support for its radio programs on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, decolonization, and the establishment of a plurinational democratic nation.

Cultural Survival stands in solidarity with CODECA and firmly condemns these murders of Indigenous human rights defenders. We call for an immediate investigation into the pattern of violence against human rights defenders in Guatemala, in line with international human rights recommendations.

We join Amnesty International in demand authorities:

  • Initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation on the recent killings of human rights defenders from  CODECA and CCDA. The investigation should include the theory of the attack being a possible retaliation for their legitimate activities as human rights defender.

  • Guarantee the safety of all CODECA and CCDA members at risk in accordance with their wishes;

  • Condemn the killings and publicly recognize the important and legitimate work of all human rights defenders in Guatemala and refrain from using language that discredits, stigmatizes, abuses, disparages or discriminates them.

Take Action:

Another Indigenous Community Leader Killed by Colonos in Nicaragua

Another Indigenous Community Leader Killed by Colonos in Nicaragua

Featured image:  Cejudhcan Derechos Humanos

     by Courtney Parker / Intercontinental Cry

¡Ya Basta! A phrase known for its political and revolutionary connotations throughout much of the Spanish-speaking world, translates roughly into English as, ‘Enough is Enough!’

It is a statement of finality; a concrete call to action; a heightened call for awareness; and an official call of duty to end cultures of violence and impunity against Indigenous Peoples.

His name was Felipe Perez Gamboa. He was 24 years old.

According to Mark Rivas, who has aided in representing the Moskito Council of Elders at the United Nations, Gamboa was a leader of much distinction among the young people of the community of La Esperanza on the traditional Indigenous frontier region of Moskitia – located on the northern Caribbean coast of colonial Nicaragua and home to the largest tropical rainforest, second only to the Amazon, in the western world.

For his part, Rivas credited Cejudhcan Derechos Humanos – a local NGO whose founder, lawyer Lottie Cunningham, and staff, have been on the receiving end of death threats for their ongoing human rights work in the region –  with originally disseminating and confirming the tragedy to the larger community.

The traditional Indigenous frontier regions of Moskitia have been terrorized by mounting acts of deadly colonial violence, stemming from the expanding agricultural frontier and the rigidly nationalist agenda, since 2015.

IC first began reporting on the escalating tragedies in the traditional Indigenous regions in June of 2016.

Readers may refer to previous analyses here and in other outlets concerning the role of the Ortega government, neoliberalism, and the fraudulent banner of ‘Christian Socialism’ the fallen Sandinista leader still attempts to hang over his tenuous authoritarian rule.

As of right now, we can do no more than reach out to the Indigenous rights community in the rest of Latin America, and across the world, with the simple message, made famous by the Zapatsista, that ‘Enough IS Enough’.

It’s time to end this culture of impunity surrounding deadly violence against Indigenous Peoples – in this instance, those who are protecting the last bastions of a biodiverse, climate mitigating rainforest.

¡Ya basta!


2.7 Million Animals Killed by Federal Wildlife-destruction Program in 2016

2.7 Million Animals Killed by Federal Wildlife-destruction Program in 2016

     by Center for Biological Diversity

WASHINGTON— The highly secretive arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services killed more than 2.7 million animals during 2016, according to new data from the agency.

The multimillion-dollar federal program targets wolves, cougars, birds and other wild animals for destruction — primarily to benefit the agriculture industry. Of the 2.7 million animals killed last year, nearly 1.6 million were native wildlife species.

According to the latest kill report, the program last year destroyed 415 gray wolves; 76,963 adult coyotes, plus an unknown number of coyote pups in 430 destroyed dens; 407 black bears; 334 mountain lions; 997 bobcats; 535 river otters, including 415 killed “unintentionally”; 3,791 foxes, plus an unknown number of fox pups in 128 dens; and 21,184 beavers.

The program also killed 14,654 prairie dogs outright, as well as an unknown number killed in more than 68,000 burrows that were destroyed or fumigated. These figures almost certainly underestimate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.

“Despite mounting public outcry to reform these barbaric, outdated tactics, Wildlife Services continues its taxpayer-funded slaughter of America’s wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s simply no scientific basis for continuing to shoot, poison and strangle millions of animals every year. These cruel practices not only fail to effectively manage targeted wildlife but also pose ongoing threats to other animals, including endangered species and pets.”

According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed 2,790 animals last year, including badgers, bears, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, otters, porcupines, raccoons, skunks, turtles and more. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of painful leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.

Earlier this month a young, endangered male wolf known as OR-48, died an agonizing death in northeast Oregon after taking the scented bait from a cyanide trap put out by the federal wildlife killers. The program’s brutality has fueled growing public outcry and calls for reform by scientists, elected officials and nongovernmental organizations.

“The Department of Agriculture needs to get out of the wildlife-slaughter business,” said Adkins. “Wolves, bears and other carnivores help keep the natural balance of their ecosystems. Our government kills off the predators, such as coyotes, and then kills off their prey — like prairie dogs — in an absurd, pointless cycle of violence.”

The wildlife-killing program contributed to the decline of gray wolvesMexican wolvesblack-footed ferretsblack-tailed prairie dogs and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s and continues to impede their recovery today.