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Defending lands and forests: NGO histories and extraordinary violence in the Philippines.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Rogelio Luque-Lora.

Across the Global South, a surge in authoritarian rule and extractive agendas have intensified the harassment and murder of activists protecting remnant forest frontiers. In 2017, Global Witness (2018) documented the brutal murders of 207 so-called ‘environmental defenders’, the deadliest year on record since first documenting the killings. In the Philippines, particularly, the harassment and violence against environmental defenders have recently accelerated under the authoritarian regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. Excluding drug-related extra-judicial killings, the same NGO documented 30 murders in the country in 2018, the highest number of killings of any country globally that year. Fifteen deaths were linked to agribusinesses. Largely due to expanding plantations and mines, the frontier province of Palawan has experienced an associated surge in land grabbing and illegal logging, driving defender harassment, intimidation, and death. While several studies have explored the broader context of defender activities and violence in Southeast Asia (Grant and Le Billion 2019), few have considered how and why the rural poor emerge as activists, the role of NGOs in the process and how defenders negotiate activism with everyday life and livelihood. This paper fills this gap by examining the role of NGOs in forging networks, mobilizing communities and driving social movements that recruit, invest in, and shape defender practices on Palawan Island. I focus on how NGOs facilitate rural networks among indigenous defenders, why defenders do what they do, and how they negotiate life and livelihood as threats mount against them, their loved ones, and their comrades. I elaborate on defenders’ lived experiences and narratives of survival that emerged before and during Duterte’s rule and what these killings mean for the rule of law and activism in the Philippines.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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