By Romeo Japson, Vice-President of the Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG), Member of the ICCA Consortium, and Panglima Charlie Cudog.
In November 2019, CALG representatives participated in a workshop on environmental defenders, which was organised by Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide and the Philippine Earth Justice Centre in Cebu, Philippines. This contributed to the ICCA Consortium’s policy and thematic area of work on defending territories of life and their defenders, and arose from the Consortium’s involvement in the Defending the Defenders Coalition.
The Environmental Defenders Workshop on 8 November was the first opportunity we have had to share and compare our experiences with those of defenders from other regions – and it was extremely helpful and enlightening! Specifically, we were very interested in learning about the strategies that other defenders have been implementing in order to reduce and prevent violence. For instance, we learned that when a defender begins to receive threats, she or he should gather all the evidence and information at hand before taking any action (such as bringing the case to concerned authorities and institutions). Data and evidence gathering is crucial, but not the easiest thing for a defender to do, especially at a time when he or she is also facing serious risks.
Several ‘risk-reducing strategies’ were discussed during the workshop, such as informing relatives, friends and colleagues before entering an area where risks are considerably high. Before leaving for the field, one should provide all possible details about the exact locations he or she is going to visit. These suggestions might appear to be plain common sense and obvious, but, in reality, we defenders are often too busy with our activities and so well acquainted with the areas in which we travel that we often fail to share our ‘itineraries’ and plans with others.
During the workshop, we discussed the need for protection not only for individual defenders, but also for their close family members. We totally agree with this and hope that all the institutions sustaining our work will include our family members as recipients of possible assistance, especially during these difficult times when we may be either ‘on the run’ or unable to return to our communities because we need to avoid ambushes and other forms of harassment.
Of course, we will try our best to amplify and spread the lessons learned during the workshop with our community members. But it would be very useful to plan and carry out this kind of workshop in the field, too, and in the locations where our advocacy actions are implemented. Such workshops could provide great encouragement to our local communities, and would let them know they are not alone.
Unfortunately, on the last day of the workshop, our planned visit to a landfill did not materialise. Guards allegedly employed by the municipal Mayor – who is also the owner of the landfill – stopped our team. To our surprise, the guards stopped us while we were walking on public land, which is an illegal act on their part. Once again, we were confronted with the level of abuses that continues to set the trend in Palawan, Cebu and elsewhere in the Philippines. This is one more reason for all of us to remain united, and for us in CALG not to lose touch with the inspiring, courageous people of goodwill we met during the workshop. Thank you again to the ICCA Consortium for giving us the opportunity to interact so productively with such a lively and enthusiastic group.
Featured image: Romeo (on the left) with Sarong community representatives while preparing a mangroves’ nursery for the replanting of illegally cleared coastal areas © CALG.