Fleur-de-lis Centre for Peace, Inc. and Greenwatch Phils., Inc. Joint Press Statement
November 17, 2010
Peace advocacy and environmental groups condemn killing of top Filipino botanist
We join environmental and other advocacy groups in condemning the senseless killings of environmental scientist Leonardo Co, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and peasant Julius Borromeo who were caught in a cross-fire between the Phil. Army and the NPA while gathering specimen seedlings of endangered trees in a forested area in Kananga town, Leyte.
They were part of a 5-man environmental research team commissioned by the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. (EDC), who hired Co as a Binhi project consultant to conduct a study on tree biodiversity in the area and to collect seedling specimens of wild trees for replanting. Co was a staunch advocate of forest conservation and restoration using native tree and plant species.
The untimely death of Leonardo Co is a big loss to the scientific community and the cause of environmental conservation in the country. Leonard Co is a known figure in the environmental community for conducting pioneering and trailblazing studies in Philippine biodiversity. He is hailed as the country’s best plant taxonomist. Rafflesia leonardi an endemic parasitic plant specie, one of the biggest flower in the Philippines, was named after Leonardo Co.
The reported crossfire also raised so many questions. Fleur-de-lis Centre for Peace, Inc. and Greenwatch Phils., Inc. join the call of relatives and friends for a thorough and independent investigation and demands that no white wash be allowed, since it involves powerful corporations as well as the military.
The Philippine Army 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) under the 802nd Infantry Brigade should be held responsible. They should have prioritized the protection and safety of the civilians present in the area, especially since the environmental research team was said to have gotten clearance from the military to conduct the research.
The Lopez-owned Energy Development Corporation (EDC) should also be equally held accountable for the incident. According to the 802nd Infantry, it was EDC who informed them of the presence of the rebels in the area. Since the EDC was the one who commissioned the study in the first place, it was incumbent upon them to secure the safety of Co and his research team.
The death of the three marks the first case of killing of environmentalists under the Aquino administration. It put the number of environmentalists killed in the country to a total of 36 since 2001.
Most of the killings of environmentalists are allegedly done by military and paramilitary elements 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 are often found in these areas.