We strongly condemn the senseless killing of environmental scientist Leonardo Co, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and peasant Julius Borromeo. We demand an immediate and independent investigation of the incident. The loss of the three, particularly Leonardo Co is a big loss not only to the scientific community but also to the cause of environmental conservation in the country.
The three are part of the five-man environmental research team studying biodiversity in the Manawan Kananga Watershed in Leyte. The team was commissioned by the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. (EDC).
The Philippine Army 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) under the 802nd Infantry Brigade should be held responsible for the death of the three. Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the 19th IB, admitted that the soldiers have the vantage position and started the firefight. Given the situation, the Philippine Army should have prioritized the protection and safety of the civilians. They apparently did not conduct desired protocols to validate and secure the presence of civilians in the area, especially since the environmental research team was said to have gotten clearance from the military to conduct a research.
The Lopez-owned Energy Development Corporation (EDC) has also much to account for in the incident. According to the 802nd Infantry, the EDC was the one informed them of the presence of the rebels in the area. Since the EDC was the one which commissioned the study, it was incumbent upon it to secure the safety of the research team.
The report has raised too many questions on the reported crossfire. Family and friends call for a thorough and independent investigation of the issue, especially since it involves powerful corporations as well as the military. The Kalikasan PNE joins the calls for thorough investigation and demands that no white wash of the issue be allowed.
The death of the three has put the number of environmentalists killed in the country to a total of 36 since 2001. The incident marks the first case of killing of environmentalists under the Aquino administration. Based on the monitoring of Kalikasan PNE, most of the killings of environmentalists are allegedly done by military and paramilitary forces. The incidences of the killings are also in areas where there is high concentration of military forces or intense militarization. Controversial projects which are environmentally destructive such as commercial logging and large-scale mining most often than not are found in these areas
Leonard Co is known in the environmental community to have done pioneering and trailblazing studies in Philippine biodiversity. He is hailed as the country’s best plant taxonomist and staunch advocate of forest conservation and restoration using native tree and plant species. Rafflesia leonardi an endemic parasitic plant specie, one of the biggest flower in the Philippines, were named after Leonardo Co.
Press conference at the UP Institute of Biology, Diliman, QC, Nov. 19. Dr. Ong is its director.