Tell It to SunStar: Brandon Lee, water protector

By Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment

THE shooting of Cordillera-based rights defender Brandon Lee was the final act in a four-year orchestration that sought to depict him as an “enemy of the state.”

Brandon, a 37-year-old US citizen who left the proverbial American Dream in San Francisco to live an unparalleled life of being a paralegal for the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), has faced harassments, intimidation, and red-tagging since 2015 largely from elements of the 54th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA). His wife, Bernice, could think of no other entity to harbor such a vile motive against Brandon.

It is no coincidence that “Enemy of the State?” is the title of the latest Global Witness report on land and environmental defender killings. The report shows that 40 of the 164 environment-related killings monitored last 2018 were linked to state security forces.

Global Witness also observed “an escalation of killings of defenders struggling for the protection of water sources, rising from four in 2017 to 17 in 2018.”

The report goes on to observe an emerging trend of criminalization of environmental defenders through harassment lawsuits, vilification and other tactics that sought to discredit their work and justify attacks against them.

All these trends have come together as a perfect storm that has inundated the lives of Brandon and the IPM. They have extensively worked with indigenous Ifugao farmers to oppose proposed hydro power projects of Sta. Clara and SN-Aboitiz companies and a geothermal power project by Chevron subsidiary PRC-Magma Energy.

These projects not only undermine the Ifugao people’s right to free, prior and informed consent, but also threaten to divert and deplete their rivers and groundwater. For farmers whose irrigation relies on the rivers to continue to flow free, these projects are a non-negotiable no-go.

One of their IPM comrades, Ricardo Mayumi, was a prominent representative of the Ifugao communities who rejected the entry of the Sta. Clara hydro power project in Tinoc Municipality, Ifugao. In 2018, Mayumi would die on the spot from 45-caliber bullets of a death squad. Earlier in 2014, IPM’s former human rights officer William Bugatti was murdered in similar fashion after attending a court hearing.

We thus demand the Duterte government, which has responded to the past three iterations of the Global Witness with denial or deflection of accountability, to face the music.

They must allow independent probes to look into the case of Brandon and other environmental defenders, and to investigate the military and big businesses that benefit from their impunity. They must also prioritize the passage of a new policy recognizing and protecting the rights of environmental and other human rights defenders.

We demand justice for Brandon Lee. We demand justice for Filipino environmental defenders.


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