Philippine Rainforests Under Siege, Eco Activists Say on Rainforest Day

June 24, 2024

Environmental Defenders Congress
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environmen
News Release
June 22, 2024

Militant green groups to Marcos Jr. government: Stop bombing Key Biodiversity Areas now. Conduct urgent ecological research and ban aerial strikes in fragile regions. Resume peace talks for lasting solutions that prioritize human rights and environmental conservation.

On this year’s World Rainforest Day, the Environmental Defenders Congress collectively denounced the routine bombing and airstrikes by the Philippine Armed Forces on protected environmental areas during counterinsurgency operations.

Philippine rainforests, vital for biodiversity and ecological balance, are under dire threat due to “military aggression” by our very own armed forces under the Marcos Jr administration, revealed Jonila Castro, the environmental defender who survived abduction by soldiers, and who is now Kalikasan People’s Network for Environment’s Advocacy Officer.

“These tropical rainforests are not just landscapes; they are sanctuaries housing almost 100 endemic species,” declared Castro. “But these ecologically critical areas are now under severe threat due to the use of bombings and air strikes,” she added.

Dr. Jean Lindo, ENVIDEFCON spokesperson and Mindanao representative said that “under the Marcos Jr. administration, Kalikasan PNE documented, across the country, 17 cases of AFP bombing which temporarily displaced over 100,000 civilians and endangered 11 ecologically fragile areas, including eight Key Biodiversity Areas. Kalikasan PNE is an ENVIDEFCON founding member. Characterized by high species richness, unique ecological features, and susceptibility to threats, KBAs are sites identified by global experts to be crucial for conserving biodiversity. There are 229 KBAs in the Philippines.

According to Kalikasan PNE data, bombing and aerial strikes occurred in Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in Kalinga Province; near the Northeastern Cagayan Protected Landscape and Seascape in Cagayan Province; Dinadiawan River Protected Landscape in Aurora; Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park and the Mindoro Biodiversity Corridor on Mindoro Island; Mobo-Uson candidate Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Masbate; Ilog-Hilabangan Watershed Forest Reserve in Negros Occidental; Ban-Ban Forest Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Negros Oriental; the Iloilo Strait marine KBA; in Mount Kitanglad Range in Bukidnon and Mt. Hilong-Hilong in Agusan del Norte.

“Most of these areas, except for two, one of which is a marine protected area, contain vast tracts of rainforest ecosystems,” Lindo revealed.

“Crucial for global biodiversity and ecological harmony, our rainforests host 80% of terrestrial plant species and diverse wildlife habitats that support hundreds of animal species, including many unique to the Philippines, noted Lia Mai Torres, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Concerns, another ENVIDEFCON founding member.

“By supporting thousands of species, a healthy rainforest ecosystem enhances resilience to climate change. It also buffers against environmental disturbances and promotes adaptation,” Torres said. “But not only — rainforests also play a vital role in mitigating climate change itself. Rainforests sequester carbon, regulate climate by absorbing solar radiation and releasing moisture, contribute to cooling through the albedo effect, and maintain the water cycle essential for global climate stability,” the head of the environmental think tank said.

John Vincent Quiobe, ENVIDEFCON’s Visayas representative, voiced outrage over the two bombings that occurred on Negros Island early in the Marcos Jr. administration, on October 2022: first on October 6 to 8, 2022 in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental, found within the Ilog-Hilabangan Watershed Forest Reserve, and later that month on October 31, 2022, in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, near the Ban-Ban Forest KBA. “These airstrikes did not only jeopardize precious biodiversity but also disrupted the lives and livelihoods of local communities reliant on these natural resources,” Quiobe emphasized. The evacuation of residents of the hinterland villages of Mahalang and Carabalan in Himamaylan due to the bombing and strikes had been reported by news agencies Rappler and

Merwin Jacob Alinea, representing Kalikasan Southern Tagalog and ENVIDEFCON Luzon, highlighted the military actions in Luzon. “In Balbalan, Kalinga, we’ve documented three bombings—two last year and one in June. Other areas targeted include Mindoro Island, Baggao in Cagayan, with one aerial strike each in 2022 and 2023, and a recent bombing in Dipaculao and Maria Aurora in Aurora province,” Alinea revealed. “In just the first year of Marcos Jr.’s administration, the lives of 28,261 civilians were disrupted by military operations on Mindoro Island,” he said.

He condemned the routine use of aerial strikes, criticizing these as part of the country’s ‘whole-of-nation’ counterinsurgency approach, which he and the other environmental activists deem “simplistic and militaristic responses to social unrest and activism” since the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict’s establishment in 2018.

“This strategy targets activists and environmental defenders, infringes on community rights, and worsens social injustices. Tragically, this strategy also led to the deaths of 23 environmental defenders under the Marcos Jr. administration alone,” lamented Lindo.

United in their demand for immediate action, all ENVIDEFCON and KALIKASAN PNE officers called on the Marcos Jr. administration to “cease all indiscriminate bombings and aerial assaults, especially within protected rainforests.”

All five environmental advocates urged the government to “initiate thorough and independent ecological assessments of bombing and aerial strikes,” saying that “bombing and aerial strikes on rainforests devastate habitats, contaminate soil and water, and pollute the air, disrupting vital ecological processes and threatening biodiversity.”

“And what about the rights and welfare of Filipino Indigenous people whose ancestral lands are found in these rainforests that they have protected for centuries with their sustainable traditional resource management practices? Every bombing and aerial strike violates so many of their rights — their rights to life, security, land, resources, health, culture, self-determination, and legal recognition and protection.

“Bombing and aerial strikes perpetuate long-term environmental degradation, jeopardizing both wildlife and indigenous communities dependent on these critical ecosystems,” ENVIDEFCON’s Dr. Lindo noted.

“Until the ecological impacts are conducted, unchecked aerial bombardments in our ecologically sensitive regions must be unequivocally outlawed,” CEC’s Torres said.

The environmental activists also urged the government to renew peace talks with rebel groups to address the root causes of armed conflicts. “Let’s champion sustainable peace solutions that prioritize environmental stewardship and social justice,” Lindo ended. ##