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.

8 thoughts on “Indigenous Leaders Killed In Philippines Were ‘Red-Tagged’ Over Dam Opposition”

  1. This is a perfect example of the usual result of industrial society coming up against resistance to destroying the natural world, though most countries would refrain from killing dam opponents for PR reasons, they’d just build the dam(n)s. Even many on the left support these types of projects because of the “benefits” that they might provide to some humans, and those of us opposed are a tiny minority As I always say, if we don’t get a major change for the better in human attitudes toward the natural world and life in general, this kind of stuff will continue.

    The Catholic Church and Christians in general are a big part of these problems. This evil religion, like all the other evil monotheistic religions that emanated from that part of the world, advocates infinite growth and the use of the Earth and all life on it for human purposes regardless of the harms that doing so cause. So while it’s nice that high-ranking members of the Catholic Church are calling for an investigation into the murders, their church is a big reason that things like this happen in the first place.

    The government of the Philippines is led by an admitted murderer and has no legitimacy (this guy makes Trump look like an angel). I don’t know why DGR would print the government’s lies, you can’t believe anything they say. Much better to just use one sentence to paraphrase the government’s pretext and characterize it as such.

  2. Expanding on Jeff’s comment, the (w)Hol(l)y (contrived) Bible takes just 25 verses summarizing creation, before Genesis 1:26 gets down to the basic point of all civilized religions: An invisible, imaginary god who looks just like a man (hairy scrotum and all) separated us from all other forms of life, and gave us “dominion” over Earth, and everything in and on it.

    I’m not sure which is scarier — the notion that we were given the world as a giant mining concession, or the fact that many of our leaders still believe the most monumental error in the annals of human thought: Our tiny planet (which is to the known universe as a speck of dust is to the solar system) is the central and most important object in existence. And as its dominant species, we have the inherent right to rape and plunder it for profit.

  3. I have always felt the same way about the Christian -or any of the three monotheistic rituals-religion there is however some good news with the “Laudato Si” presented by the Pope in 2015 wherein dominion is interpreted as moral responsibility. There is genuine effort amongst the Catholic faith to clean up it’s act.

  4. And yet it was the Catholic Church that produced the environmentalists St. Francis and St. Clara, whereas the anarchist paganism of the German romantics paved the way to Nazi ecology.

    1. The entire ideology of the monotheistic religions from the Middle East — that the Earth was created for Man, that he may use and abuse it and everything on it however he chooses, and that he should overpopulate (“be fruitful and multiply”) — is very anti-environmental at its core. The fact that some unevolved mean-spirited fools totally misinterpreted what paganism is or that Christianity accidentally produced a couple of supposed environmentalists — I question whether these people were actually environmentalists, I’d have to see what they advocated and what they did — has nothing to do with what these ideologies stand for.

  5. The first Christians were, in a way, anarcho-communist rebels. The harmful theological aspects you mention were all already present in Judaism. Religion only becomes a problem when it becomes a state weapon, and this is not a prerogative of monotheistic religions. Monotheism isn’t bad in itself and pantheism isn’t good in itself; these are two cosmological views among many others.

    1. I couldn’t disagree more that monotheism isn’t bad per se. The idea of one god instead of many is theological authoritarianism, and creates attitudes of hierarchy. Monotheism is perfectly suited to conquering armies and capitalism.

      As to what the first Christians were: 1) whether they were anarcho-communist has nothing to do with whether they were pro- or anti-environment; and 2) they only lasted a few decades before Christianity became substantially the opposite of what Jesus stood for and against. Christianity has done more harm than any other religion, destroying the entire continents of Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. Islam is second, but it’s only destroyed Indonesia and some areas of Africa.

  6. Christianity as understood today was largely the creation of 3 people: Paul (a self-appointed “apostle,” who never met Jesus, and apparently was rejected by the real apostles), and two bishops from the 2nd and 4th centuries, Irenaeus and Athanasius.

    Paul had been an oppressor of the early Christians, until he had a “vision” of Jesus, and started preaching his own religion in Greece, and what is now Turkey and Syria.

    Irenaeus was upset about the various religious factions that claimed to be Christian, and decided that the whole essence of Christianity was John 3:16 — which, in effect, promises immortality to anyone who believes someone else (in this case, Jesus) can take the blame for all our mistakes. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card, which understandably appealed to religious bargain hunters. (In fact, John’s gospel has at least 13 different paths to immortality — though all of the others require some work on the part of the believer.)

    Athanasius was the leader of the movement that arbitrarily decided (300 years after the fact) that Jesus was God himself. Later, Athanasius also decided which books belonged in the Bible, and tossed out about a dozen he didn’t like.

    If all we knew about Christianity was what was in the first copies of the first written gospel (Mark), we’d probably conclude that Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist, who only claimed that he was one of God’s children, along with everyone else, and that true religion is based on love, compassion, charity, and forgiveness.

    Like several other men of that era, Jesus tried to fulfill some of the Old Testament prophesies about a messiah who would liberate the Jews from Roman domination. Instead, he was crucified for sedition. And when two of his followers went to look for his body, a man dressed in white said it had been “raised” (not resurrected) and moved to Galilee. End of story.

    The later gospels added progressively more folklore, where the man in white becomes an angel, and all sorts of resurrection stories are added. This would be obvious if the gospels appeared in their original order (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John). Ditto the fact that Matthew added the virgin birth mythology, which he borrowed from several earlier religions — all of them involving the son of a virgin and a god, who is born outdoors around the winter solstice, performs miracles, is executed around the vernal equinox, and is resurrected 3 days later.

    When one of the early popes was asked about this anomaly, the best explanation he could come up with was that those earlier religions had all copied Christianity in advance — which is like saying that 19th century writer, Helen Hunt Jackson, borrowed her name from 20th century actress, Helen Hunt.

    (Of the 60 or so books I read on early Christianity, the two I recommend most highly are “The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity,” by Hyam Maccoby; and “The Jesus Dynasty,” by James Tabor.)

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