A known environmental advocate particularly fighting against mining and environmental plunder in Palawan, Gerry Ortega was a journalist who was not scared to fight for the people and their land through his radio program. Despite the risks, he knew that someone had to make a point in order for the collective voices of the people be heard. He was assassinated on January 24, 2011 after continuously exposing corrupt practices in Palawan. Though his voice may have been silenced by his death, it only made the clamor for environmental justice be heard even more.
Seven years after Ortega was assassinated, justice is yet to be served. His case was a manifestation of the culture of impunity in the Philippines; a rather terrifying situation that puts people who voice out their opinions at risk. Worse, government officials are responsible for his death. What does this say about our country?
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According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, at least 150 journalists were murdered since 1986. On the other hand, the Center of Environmental Concerns – Philippines notes that around 67 environmental activists have been killed in 2012 – 2013 alone. This is even more aggravated by the slow pace of justice system in the Philippines. The number of casualties continues to rise, but the number of justice served remains stagnant.
Meanwhile, large-scale mining in the Philippines, which Ortega was keen on opposing, has always been a serious issue in the Philippines. Albeit proven to be not beneficial to local communities and rather destructive to the country’s natural resources, it has been supported by certain government officials and even institutionalized through Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
However, the anti-people and anti-environment orientation of Philippine policies towards the environment only pushes people to be more vigilant in observing the state of Philippine environment. It also becomes the basis for people to organize to push the advocacy for environmental justice. Thus, one of the best legacies Ortega left is for the people never to be scared even in the face of adversity, especially if the collective good is the context. Just as justice remains elusive especially for the victims, the call for the end of impunity and killings escalates to higher grounds.
It has already been seven years since Ortega’s death. But the situation remains the same. People are oppressed; the country’s natural resources are ravaged by capitalist greed; and traditional politicians dominate majority of our political landscape.
Amidst the vast array of social ills, now is not the time to be disheartened. But, this is the perfect time to intensify our calls, and for our activities pushing for genuine change to be bigger. History would always prove that when the government turns a deaf ear to our cries, the people’s movement will decide.