by MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — About three weeks ago, environmentalist and newspaper columnist Sherwin de Vera posted on his facebook account the text frame from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan: “I am an activist,” followed by the call to #ResistCrackdown. This, from a man who agrees with another writer from Mindanao that labels are dangerous.
“Labels kill,” says Mindanao writer Tyrone Velez. It renders you open to attacks, said human rights watchdogs. Since December 5, President Duterte has been labeling the government critics and dissenters as ‘legal fronts’ of groups which, in turn, he labeled also as “terror” groups.
It turns out Sherwin de Vera should know about the hazards of being labeled. Just a week after the Duterte administration formally tagged the revolutionaries as ‘terror’ groups, and certain legal mass organizations as ‘legal fronts,’ policemen seized de Vera on a bus bound for Candon on Tuesday, December 12. The police reportedly boarded the bus at a checkpoint and went straight for de Vera.
Kalikasan PNE said de Vera is detained as of presstime at Camp Elpidio Quirino, Bulag, Bantay, Ilocos Sur. He faces charges of rebellion.
In a statement condemning his arrest, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment offered more appropriate labels to match de Vera’s daily life activities. These labels include the following:
– coordinator of Defend Ilocos, a network of environmental advocates in the Ilocos region.
– co-organizer of the People’s Summit against the environmentally destructive mining activities of Cordillera Exploration Co. Inc. (CEXCI) in Cervantes.
– co-organizer of mobilizations against the proposed construction of dirty fuel-based coal-fired power plant in Luna, La Union.
– participant in last October’s Lakbayan for justice and self-determination of the National Minorities in Metro Manila.
Defend Ilocos, the network which de Vera coordinates, “played a key role in leading the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM), which rallied against the detrimental effects of the continued operations of the Lepanto Mining Company on downstream communities in Ilocos Sur,” said Leon Dulce, spokesperson of Kalikasan PNE.
Dulce said de Vera is an environmental advocate and a critic of government policies that promote destructive mining and energy projects. Dulce added that they have received reports that even before de Vera’s illegal arrest, he was already receiving threats and intimidation from state armed forces in connection to his work for the environment.
The Kalikasan PNE demanded the immediate release of de Vera as well as the junking of what they call as trumped-up charges against him.
“We call on our fellow environmental advocates to unite and resist the creeping dictatorship of the Duterte regime,” Dulce said. Their group recognizes and strives to avoid the chilling effect that Sherwin’s arrest may cause among “other environmental advocates who dare stand up against natural resources plunder and government negligence and indifference to people affected by environmental issues.”
Before De Vera’s arrest and detention, 16 other environmental defenders are already in prison. Last December 5, over 100 non-government organizations raised concern over the plight of environmental defenders. Not only are there 225 trumped up charges lodged against these defenders, there were also forced evacuations, killings and harassments by militarymen of people labeled as critics of mining and landgrabbing.
“It is not a crime to defend the environment,” said a statement last week of 116 non-government organizations, social movements and other groups from 25 countries.