Philippines urged to stop killings of mining foes

MANILA - President Benigno Aquino should move to stop the killings of anti-mining activists as the Philippines pushes to revitalise the mining sector, a global rights body has said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had documented three cases since October last year of three anti-mining and environmental activists allegedly killed by paramilitary forces who may have links to the military.

The victims had opposed mining activities that could displace tribal communities as well as destroy their communities, it said in a statement Tuesday.

"President (Benigno) Aquino has enacted decrees to encourage mining investment in the Philippines but has done little to stop attacks on environmental advocates," said HRW deputy director for Asia, Elaine Pearson.

"He should recognise that respecting human rights is crucial for economic development," she said in the statement.

Aquino issued a new mining policy early this month aimed at boosting revenues from mining and increasing environmental safeguards.

But Pearson said the policy was silent on the issue of alleged rights abuses by paramilitary forces deployed by the military to protect mining companies from attacks mostly by communist guerrillas.

Aquino spokesman Ramon Carandang said the government did not tolerate attacks against environmentalists or other advocacy groups.

He acknowledged previous cases of activists killed, but stressed investigations were being carried out to get those behind the attacks.

"We are doing what we can, and we do recognise the need for these cases to be resolved much more quickly than they are being resolved," he told AFP.

He said linking the deaths to the military was "a sweeping allegation" that could further incite tensions.

In October, Italian activist priest Fausto Tentorio was shot and killed by a gunman while inside his parish compound in the town of Arakan in the southern island of Mindanao.

Four suspects had been identified from a local paramilitary group, though no one has been arrested.

Two other activists were killed in March and May, while in January last year, an environmentalist broadcaster was gunned down in the western island of Palawan for his advocacy.

A former governor who is alleged to have planned the journalist's murder is in hiding after a court ordered his arrest.

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