Group of people from Cordillera Peoples Alliance holding a large protesting sign. (Photo: Cordillera Peoples Alliance)

Philippine environmental rights defenders under threat

IUCN NL is concerned about the intimidation and threats at the address of several staff members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in the Philippines. Not only staff members have been targeted, but also their families, including children. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance has been a partner of IUCN NL in protecting nature and human rights in the mountainous Cordillera region since 2007, focusing on advancing indigenous people’s rights and self-determination.

Over the past few weeks the leadership of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has received threats and smear campaigns on social media about their alleged ties to terrorist groups. IUCN NL highly condemns these allegations that are meant to tarnish the reputation of the individuals and the organisation.

‘CPA has a long track record in promoting environmental and human rights, standing up for the defence of indigenous people’s ancestral domains,’ says Antoinette Sprenger, Senior Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL. Several of its members have received international recognition for their work in environmental and human rights defence.

Increasing violence

‘We see an increase in harassments of activist leaders in the Philippines,’ Sprenger says. ‘And it is not just threats.’ According to Global Witness, in 2018, the Philippines was the deadliest country in the world for people defending their land and environment.

Last year, CPA member Brandon Lee was shot in front of his house, after picking up his daughter from school. Lee is committed to conducting education and information dissemination on pressing peoples’ and environmental issues in the Philippines, including large dam projects, effects of climate change and human rights violations. ‘His shooting followed only a year after a lethal shooting of another staff member, Ricardo Mayumi,’ Sprenger says. ‘We fear for the lives of our partners. The red-tagging of environmental and human rights defenders and violence against them has to stop.’

Alarming trend

Also in September 2019, we called for solidarity with environmental defenders in the Phillipines. ‘We see an alarming trend of shrinking civic space,’ Sprenger says. ‘The voices of vulnerable groups are being silenced and overruled.’

This alarming trend is also stressed by Global Witness, who sounded the alarm about the criminalization of environmental defenders and their communities in their latest annual report on the killings of land and environmental defenders. The report shows that governments and companies are abusing laws and policies to silence environmental defenders who threaten their power and interests.

No let-up amid COVID-19 lockdown

The wave of human rights violations directed at Filipino land and environment defenders continues even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, also a long-standing partner of IUCN NL, calls for urgent action regarding the ongoing human rights violations targeting environmental defenders in the Philippines amid the global pandemic.


CPA started a petition to hold those responsible for the intimidations and threats to against the CPA, its leaders and their families, accountable and to have them prosecuted without impunity.

Antoinette Sprenger
Senior Expert Environmental Justice