Contributed article by By Alab Mirasol Ayroso, National Coordinator, Youth Advocates for Climate Action PH (YACAP), an alliance of individuals & youth formations that advocates for climate justice. #FridaysForFuture PH
On September 16, the day before the start of the third Asia Pacific Environmental Human Rights Defenders (APEHRD) Forum, Jhed and Jonila, two young Filipino environmentalists abducted two weeks prior, surfaced in a press conference by the Philippine military. Here, they went off script and revealed the truth of their abduction– charges which the authorities denied. Fortunately, the two environmentalists were freed thanks to the efforts and clamor of the community of environmentalists and activists, but not all are so lucky. This act of enforced disappearance is a kind of human rights violation that has been taking place as a way to silence dissenters since the Martial Law more than 50 years ago.
This is both a personal and political issue for a climate activist like me. My father is also a victim of enforced disappearance, similar to what happened to Jhed and Jonila, and unlike them, was never surfaced. Participating in this year’s forum was an opportunity to highlight the continuation of this kind of silencing tactics under our current administration in the Philippines. I highlight this as the campaign for peace and social justice remains integral to forward our goal for climate justice.
This year’s APEHRD Forum’s theme gave focus on data collection and the importance of reporting incidents of the different types of attacks to environmental defenders. Lack of evidence for a lot of cases were brought up as a large factor in the continuing impunity that many in the Asia Pacific region experience. Interestingly, it was noticeable how Filipinos dominated the space, but not for any fun reason: as the Philippines remains to be the worst country for environmental and land defenders in Asia, according to Global Witness, reporting 11 activists killed in 2022 alone.
Taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, the Forum gave opportunities for intergenerational exchange from the first day to the last. I was able to meet and talk to delegates from the host country who have worked on environmental advocacy for decades with experiences on violations in their homes as they fight for their land and life near the Mekong River. Similar to the experience of fellow defenders from Indonesia, the problem is manipulation of information for citizens to be kept in the dark of the reality of projects or to blindly agree to destructive extraction. These projects include megadams and large-scale mining which displace indigenous women and youth.
Along with fellow young climate activists from Malaysia, Vietnam and India, I was able to join discussions on topics like media engagement and tools to help with data collection and dissemination. One of our reflections on the issues of Asia Pacific is the common theme of the lack of Just Transition– how large corporations and powerful countries can use the guise of being “renewable” as a way to destroy ways of life in different communities through these projects. Acknowledging this, our informal talks grew into discussions on campaigns and actions regarding decarbonization and decolonization.
Despite the grim and heavy topics discussed, by the last day of the forum, there was a strong sense of solidarity and community built within those three days of workshops and conversations. We have all built new networks and strengthened the ones we had before. I felt closer to my Filipino companions that were also present, and I’ve made new connections with fellow young defenders who I would have not met if not for this gathering. However, this is only the beginning, as the strength of the community that we build is the key for justice and the protection of environmental defenders!