Green activist killings worry Philippine church leaders

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Members of a tribal group in Mindanao call for justice for victims of human rights abuses during a protest rally in Manila. (File photo by Vincent Go)
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Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines have condemned a spate of killings targeting environmental activists in recent weeks, saying the government is not doing anything to prevent them or bring the killers to justice.

“We must stop this impunity,” said Father Edwin Gariquez, executive secretary of the social action, justice and peace secretariat of the bishops’ conference.

“We strongly condemn these acts and we really want the government to resolve this as soon as possible,” Father Gariquez told ucanews.com.

He was speaking on Feb. 2 following the death of an anti-mining activist, who was shot in the town of Pantukan in Mindanao’s Compostela Valley province last week.

Teresita Navacilla, 60, convener of the Save Pantukan Movement, a group of artisanal miners opposing large-scale mining corporations in Mindanao, died Jan. 30, three days after the shooting.

“We do not know who really is to blame,” said Navacilla’s daughter who asked not to be named for security reasons.

“We are scared because the killers might target us next,” she told ucanews.com.

Navacilla was the fourth person killed in southern Mindanao in January.

In Palawan province in the central Philippines, Jean Marc Messina, a French national known for environmental activism, was found shot dead with his wife and son on Jan. 28.

The environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said if Messina’s death was related to his advocacy, he would be the fifth environmental activist murdered in Palawan since 2005.

Human rights group Karapatan said Navacilla’s murder was linked to her opposition to large-scale mining companies in the province.

“The attack on Navacilla could happen to other organizations and individuals strongly against environmental plunder and destruction,” Hanimay Suazo, Karapatan’s secretary-general in the region said.

During the International Eucharistic Congress last week, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu told ucanews.com that to fight the killings of activists, “people of goodwill,” including nongovernmental organizations should unite to address the issue of injustice.

“I hope that somehow, we would have a listening ear. I think more sincere coordinated efforts should be made,” the prelate said.

A 2015 report by London-based Global Witness said almost a third of 25 environmental activist killings related to mining projects in 2014 happened in the Philippines.

“This continues a pattern of Philippines defenders being targeted for their opposition to the country’s mining industry — a sector that operates with very little transparency and regularly fails to consult local communities,” the report said. | Mark Saludes in Manila and Jefry Tupas in Davao City, Philippines

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