Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Kill the Greens"

We, in Western Europe have a tendency to take for granted our right to speak and protest. We tend to forget that the vast majority of humankind does not enjoy the same level of freedom.

We also tend to take for granted the right to stand up for the environment. And we are shocked when peaceful environmentalists in other parts of the world are jailed or killed.

Today we have an opportunity to help protect the life of an environmental advocate in a developing country. Before it is too late.

Environmentalists from all over the world are mobilising today through the Internet to protect the life of Philipino environmental activist and lawyer Tony Oposa, under threat as a result of his fight to ban fishing in the Visayan Sea to protect marine biodiversity and alleviate poverty.

Antonio "Tony" Oposa Jr., is a Philippine environmental lawyer and activist who has devoted his life to the protection of the Philippines' natural resources.

Active at local, national, and international levels, Tony Oposa was awarded The Philippines' Outstanding Young Man Award and honored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Tony Oposa made headlines worldwide for his role in the landmark case Oposa v. Factora, where the Philippine Supreme Court held that a group of minors had the right to sue on behalf of succeeding generations because every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve nature.

Tony Oposa, who runs the Law of Nature Foundation and is the chairperson of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines/National Environmental Action Team, routinely organizes and leads environmental enforcement actions, most recently against illegal fishing practices in the Visayan Sea.

Tony Oposa's crackdown on illegal fishing practices and, in particular, his position that the Visayan Sea should be closed to commercial fishing, has lead to repeated death threats in recent months, both to him and several of his colleagues, one of whom, "Jojo" De la Victoria was murdered last week.

Killing the Greens

Elpidio "Jojo" de la Victoria, a Cebu City government official and one of Tony Oposa's closest friends, was brutally shot three times outside his house, in the presence of his family, on Wednesday, April 12. He died early the next day.

The murder followed numerous death threats in conjunction with his and Oposa's work to curtail illegal fishing and over-fishing practices in the Visayan Sea.

Cebu City Police Superintendent Mariano Natuel was quoted in local media as saying that the murder was "work-related," referring specifically to De la Victoria's signature on a petition to close the Visayan Sea to commercial fishing.

Days before his murder, De la Victoria told reporters that a friend had alerted him to a P1-million bounty on both his and Oposa's heads. According to local reports, the hit was ordered about one month after both men signed the petition.

Commercial fishing threatening Visayan Sea

The proposal to close the Visayan Sea to commercial fishing resulted from a University of the Philippines study demonstrating the extent to which the area has been over-fished.

A petition addressed to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to ban commercial and other forms of destructive fishing activities, championed by Oposa and De la Victoria, has gained broad support.

The Visayan Sea lies at the heart of the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Triangle – one of the Philippines' most threatened and biologically rich natural resources. The triangle is so rich in fish and coral life that one square kilometer of its coral reef contains more species of coral than all the coral of the Caribbean Sea!

But harmful, unsustainable practices now threaten the area's biodiversity, bringing it to near total collapse. Blast and cyanide fishing methods and general overfishing have irreversibly depleted the Visayan Sea by as much as 95 percent of its marine life and 99 percent of its coral.
Oposa launched the Visayan Sea Squadron in January 2004 to protect the Visayan Sea and educate local populations on sustainable fishing practices.

An emergency appeal is now circulating. You can download it on the website of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

And take action.

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