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Environmental lawyer killed in the Philippines

  • Mia Mascariñas-Green, a lawyer with the NGO Environmental Legal Assistance Center who also handled civil and criminal cases, was ambushed in broad daylight.
  • Police believe her death was connected to her work on a property-dispute case in the resort island of Panglao.
  • The Philippines is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environment and land defenders; according to tallies by rights groups, more than 100 have been killed since 2002.

Environment and human rights advocates in the Philippines gathered Tuesday to honor their colleague Mia Mascariñas-Green, who was shot dead Feb. 15.

Mascariñas-Green, a lawyer for the NGO Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) who also worked on civil and criminal cases, was ambushed while driving her three young children in Tagbilaran City, on Bohol Island in the Central Visayas region.

“We condemn the unspeakable cruelty and act of sheer cowardice by the murderers and the masterminds who shot Mia more than 20 times in front of her .. daughter and her two-year-old twins and their nanny,” her colleagues at ELAC said in a press statement. “Such ambush in broad daylight by still unidentified assassins riding motorbikes fits the pattern of violence that has become an all too familiar scene that has petrified our nation.”

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environment activists. At least 100 environment and land defenders were killed between 2002 and 2015, according to data collected by Global Witness. According to local rights groups, 10 Filipino environment activists were killed in the seven months following the inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte on June 30, 2016.

A banner demands justice for Mia Mascarinas-Green. Photo courtesy of LezGrIB New Gen Unlimited, one of the many groups that attended a Feb. 18 mass held on the stretch of road where the 49-year-old environmental lawyer was assassinated. A public memorial service was also held in Manila on Feb. 21.

A dangerous profession

Investigators believe Mascariñas-Green’s death was linked to her legal work on a property-dispute case in Panglao, a resort island off Bohol. Police have pointed to the opposing party in that case, Lloyd Lancer Gonzaga, as the alleged mastermind of her murder and raided Gonzaga’s property on Friday. Gonzaga and an alleged accomplice remain at large.

Mascariñas-Green’s family and supporters recall her as a devoted advocate for the environment and for women’s and children’s rights. “From a young age, Mia always believed that everyone, young or old, rich or poor had rights and that ultimately the legal system would work for them,” her family said in a statement.

According to her family, Mascariñas-Green had received death threats in the past as a result of her work, reflecting the extreme risks facing activists in the Philippines. “She said that getting a death threat was to some extent just part of the job of being a lawyer … But she never backed down from any situation, dutifully doing her work and faithfully following the creed of her profession as a lawyer,” they recalled.

Mourners lay flowers for Mascariñas-Green on Feb. 18. According to her family, “thousands of people from all walks of life – the fishers, farmers, tricycle drivers, community workers, public servants, civil society members, religious groups, the young and old, men and women,” paid their respects. Photo courtesy of LezGrIB New Gen Unlimited.

The murders of environment and other rights activists in the Philippines occur within a broader climate of impunity. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 7,000 Filipinos have been killed in a brutal anti-drug campaign launched during Duterte’s presidency. As of last month, HRW was not aware of any police officers being prosecuted for extrajudicial executions or other crimes related to the campaign. Under previous administrations, the country was also gained notoriety for un-punished killings of left-wing activists and journalists.

Mascariñas-Green’s ELAC colleagues said her death will not deter them from their work: “We honor Atty. Mia’s death with a renewal of our own vows to pursue the passion for the environment that she had left, and more than that, to fight the culture of impunity that has blanketed our society today.”