At a lunchtime debate in CITIM, the Information Center of Action Solidarité Tiers Monde (ASTM), at Friday March 11, Ms. Estrella Catarata, director of ASTM’s partner organization Philippine Network of Food Security Programs (PNFSP), spoke about the problems faced by development workers and human rights defenders in the Philippines.
She updated the public on the situation in Caraga in the South of the country, where the director of a school for indigenous youth and two members of a local indigenous people’s organization were murdered in September 2015. Ms. Catarata was accompanied by Ms. Michelle Campos, the daughter of one of the victims of the September killings and Dr. Naty Castro of the Philippine human rights organization Karapatan.
Listen to the interview on radio 100,7 Luxembourg, made during her visit in Luxembourg about the subject with Maxi Pesch
PNFSP – ASTM’s partner organization since 2011
For decades a multitude of civil society organisations throughout the country have been fighting for the rights of small and landless farmers, helping them to organize to demand their land titles, to improve their production and marketing of their products as well as to ensure basic health care and education where the state fails to provide it. PNFSP is one such organization. It is committed to address the diverse causes of food insecurity in the Philippines, facilitating trainings and exchanges of experience between its 30 member organisations with a view to improving agricultural production methods. At the same time, through political advocacy work, they challenge issues such as land use conversion, landlessness, import liberalization and aggressive commercial development projects that constitute a threat to food security.
However, development workers and human rights defenders who work with the marginalized sectors are increasingly under threat. PNFSP is alarmed at the frequent cases of attempts to obstruct the socioeconomic projects implemented by development NGOs and the harassment faced by development workers in the form of threats, trumped up charges, physical violence and in some cases disappearance and murder.
The Philippines – a short update
The Philippines is a country marked not only by regular natural disasters, but also by massive inequality, poverty and food insecurity, especially in the rural areas. Between 1999- 2014 the number of Filipino families who considered themselves as suffering from hunger rose from 8 % to 18%.
Access to land and adequate infrastructure is one of the underlying causes of hunger in the rural areas; despite an agrarian reform program introduced in 1988 only 30% of farmers own their own land, most of it remain in the hands of a small number of elite families, who also hold political and economic power in the country. The current president Benigno Aquino belongs to one such family.
Pressure on the land has increased dramatically in recent years as the Government has encouraged the development of large-scale commercial projects that have led to land use conversion and led to the displacement of many small farmers and indigenous people from their land.
Mining activities constitute a particularly grave problem. As a result of the liberal policies introduced by the Government, in particular the Mining law of 1995, many of the world’s biggest mining companies have been attracted to the Philippines to access the country’s vast supplies of mineral wealth, much of which are to be found in areas inhabited by the indigenous people.
In its recent report on Sustainability, Human Rights and Good Governance in the context of its Generalised Scheme of Preferences, the European Commission gave a specific mention to the need for serious improvements on human rights: “The major problem of the Philippines remains the culture of impunity as cases of grave human rights abuses, including extra judicial killings and torture, remain largely unresolved. This includes not only cases of major human rights abuses which occurred before the current administration took office, but also the killings of human rights activists and media workers that happened while this administration was in office. The situation of indigenous people and of human rights defenders is of concern.”