Article | April 16, 2014

Filipinos on the Front Line

Why the Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental or land defender.

Gerardo Ortega was one of the 67 activists killed in the Philippines between 2002 and 2013. A well-known opposition political figure and anti-corruption campaigner, Ortega opposed illegal logging and large-scale mining in the verdant western island of Palawan. 

Al Jazeera reported on his 2011 murder and the hunt for his killers, as well as Global Witness’s research on the dramatic rise in activist murders over the past decade.

In 2012, a number of senior politicians including former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes were charged with masterminding Gerardo Ortega’s killing but they were cleared in 2013 due to procedural errors by the Department of Justice.

Of the 67 murders investigated and documented by Global Witness in the Philippines, only 2 perpetrators have been imprisoned for their crimes. The vast majority of perpetrators appear to enjoy impunity due to the weakness of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Allegations of security service involvement in killings are a feature of many cases.

In the Philippines, the biggest drivers of conflict over land are disputes over ownership and rights in relation to mining projects and agribusiness. In 41 of the 67 cases Global Witness documented, the activists killed were opponents of large-scale mines by both international and domestic mining companies. 

Juvy Capion and her two young sons were among them. Capion, an indigenous woman whose husband had taken up arms against the Tampakan gold and copper mine in Mindanao, was killed when soldiers of the 27th Infantry Battalion peppered her home with gunfire and then dragged the bodies outside.

Filipino protest high res.jpg

Student environmentalist protesters in front the gate of Department of National Resources protesting against the Tampakan gold and copper project in southern Mindanao, The Phillipines. Photo: Herman Lumanog/Demotix/Corbis.

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