Philippine indigenous activist shot dead in 'increasingly hostile climate'

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities must thoroughly investigate the murder of an indigenous activist in the Philippines, where defenders of land and environment are increasingly under attack, said a group of Southeast Asian lawmakers on Monday.

Ricardo Mayumi was shot dead March 2 in his home in Ifugao Province in the country’s north. He was one of the leaders of the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) and had opposed a hydroelectric dam project, according to IPM.

His killing requires “a prompt and thorough investigation”, said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a group of politicians from countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The killing highlights the increasingly hostile climate faced by activists in the Philippines,” APHR said in a statement.

“It is also deeply distressing that the government appears actively hostile to the idea of protecting human rights defenders,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a board member of APHR.

An investigation is underway, a spokesman for Ifugao police told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that no witnesses had been identified.

Mayumi and others in IPM had received several death threats, the group said in a statement.

Mayumi’s killing comes as the Philippine government faces international criticism after it filed a court petition seeking the declaration of more than 600 people, including activists and a United Nations special rapporteur, as “terrorists”.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, who is on the government list as a member of a Maoist rebel group, has denied the allegations and said she feared for her safety and that of other activists.

The Philippines was the deadliest country in Asia last year for defenders of land and resources amidst a government crackdown on rural communities, according to advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific.

The country accounted for a fifth of nearly 200 defenders killed worldwide in 2016, according to U.K.-based Global Witness.

APHR member Walden Bello said the government’s petition was a “deeply dangerous move”.

“In a context where indigenous people put their lives on the line each and every day to defend their rights, labeling them as ‘terrorists’ ... further undermines their security and basic rights,” said Bello, a former Philippine Congressman.