Press release | Dec. 19, 2018

Filipino defender receives prestigious Alexander Soros Foundation Award – as indigenous activists mark a year since army massacre

Rene Pamplona wins this year’s Alex Soros Foundation Award for his tireless work to protect indigenous people and their land in the Philippines – documenting environmental destruction and human rights abuses linked to industries like mining and agribusiness.

Thursday 13th December 2018 – Filipino defender Rene Pamplona has today been announced as the winner of the Alex Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism in recognition of his tireless effort to seek justice for indigenous communities fighting to protect their land from large-scale mining, coal fired power plants and agribusiness projects. 

Working for the Convergence of Initiative for Environmental Justice (CIEJ), Rene documents human rights violations and advocates for indigenous communities in the Southern region of the resource-rich island of Mindanao. Because of his work, he has faced intimidation, surveillance and is said to be on a hit-list. According to latest data by Global Witness, the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Asia for land and environmental defenders, with at least 48 activists killed in 2017.

The announcement coincides with the anniversary of the TAMASCO massacre, where a year ago eight indigenous villagers were killed by the Philippines army, following opposition by members of the Taboli-Manubo Sdaf Claimants Organisation (TAMASCO) to a coffee plantation on their ancestral land. The massacre led to over 200 people evacuating the area.

Rene works alongside activists like Sr. Susan Bolanio, the director of the OND-HESED Foundation – a long-time Development Partner of TAMASCO – to document the abuses suffered by the community and to advocate for the coffee company’s eviction from indigenous land.

Rene Pamplona, Filipino defender and winner of the Alex Soros prize, said on the TAMASCO massacre:

“When I got there, empty bullet shells were scattered around the Datal Bonlangon community, and it made me think: all these indigenous people wanted was to be able to reclaim their ancestral land and live in peace.” 

“They rely on this land for their livelihoods and traditions and I will not just stand by while indigenous communities are brutally cut down for defending their way of life. This is the motivation for my activism, but I know that I am one of thousands in a global movement of defenders working on the frontline to protect human rights and the environment. Winning the Alex Soros Prize is not just a recognition of my activism, it is a recognition of the work of all defenders. The international support that this prize represents is vital in ensuring businesses and governments are held to account for cases like the TAMASCO massacre.”

“A year after the killings, we at the Task Force TAMASCO are launching a legal battle against the coffee plantation owners and the government departments that support them. We call on the international community to support our legal fight to bring justice for those murdered.”

Rachel Cox, Campaigner, Global Witness said:

“The current climate of violence in the Philippines is exacerbated under the toxic rhetoric of the Duterte government’s ‘war on drugs’ and their ambivalence to human rights. Perpetrators of violence, threats and intimidation are exploiting high impunity rates to push the agenda of large-scale mining and agricultural projects, at the expense of indigenous communities and defenders of the natural world.”

“With the increase in climate and weather related destruction like September’s super typhoon Mangkhut, environmental devastation and loss of life will continue until the government works with activists to protect communities, their environment and their land. They should be placing the interests of Filipinos above the businesses and individuals benefiting from the exploitation of the Philippine’s natural resources, and by seeking justice for all Filipino citizens murdered and by prosecuting their killers.”

Against this backdrop of violence, Rene has continued to bravely document human rights violations and seeks justice for indigenous people and local communities like the Blaan, who are affected by the Tampakan mine in South Cotabato. Rene is also advocating for the protection of the Marbel-Buluan Watershed and promoting the rights of indigenous people over their ancestral domains.



Notes to editor:

  • The Alex Soros Foundation Award is an annual prize presented to activists campaigning on environmental and human rights.
  • After the killings of the TAMASCO 8, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), a government department in the Philippines, issued an En Banc Resolution cancelling the Certificate of Pre-condition (CP) that was used by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as their basis to award the permit to the coffee plantation company. However, operations continue and there is still no justice for those that were killed by the army. 
  • Interviews are available by contacting [email protected].
  • Pictures of Rene and the work he does can be found here: 
  • To find out more about Land and Environmental Defenders please click here.
  • Task Force TAMASCO is a group of twelve organisations, including the Convergence of Initiative for Environmental Justice (CIEJ), committed to bringing justice for the killers of the TAMASCO 8:
  • Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
  • Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KsK/Friends of the Earth-Philippines)
  • LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights)
  • Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ)
  • Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
  • Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice (CIEJ-SOCCSKSARGEN Region)
  • OND Hesed Foundation
  • Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
  • In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity (IDEFEND)
  • Medical Action Group (MAG)
  • Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI)

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