For 25 years Filipino Lawyer Gerthie Mayo-Anda has tirelessly campaigned for the better legal protection of the environment.
She is often called a forest hero.
In the 1990’s she established the the Environmental Legal Assistance Center or ELAC.
They use the courts to try and stop environmental destruction.
“I thought it was important to establish a public interest environmental law group where my knowledge and skills as a lawyer can be utilized to help the poor and marginalized communities.”
They have filed dozens of cases against illegal logging, fishing and mining.
“For now the most difficult field is mining and coal because the parties involved are economically and politically powerful. So they have links to powerful people in the government and they have the financial capacity to hire lawyers and as a result turned a few communities against us.”
In 2011, her friend anti-mining activist and radio journalist Gerry Ortega was killed.
Many believe he was killed because of his work against a large mining company in the area.
According to international watchdog Global Witness between 2012 and 2013, a total of 77 environmental activists like him were killed in the country.
This makes the Philippines the most dangerous country in Asia to be an environmental activist.
“It’s very disturbing…It can send a chilling effect to environmentalists. You have a legal framework that seeks to protect human rights, social justice, that seeks to help the poorest of the poor but then on the ground, you see the reality is on the opposite.”
Palawan where she works is often described as the Philippine’s last ecological frontier—it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, rich in fish and forests…but also mineral resources.
This makes the province a battleground for fellow environmentalists Cynthia Sumagaysay.
But she says she is not afraid.
“Aren’t we supposed to live life fearlessly? It is the natural thing for me to live an authentic life and I’m not scared of death. No. Everybody dies anyway. To live for something I think is the goal of everyone.. I’m like a piece of the puzzle and I’m doing a role in the big scheme of things.”
Cynthia is currently campaigning against a planned coal-powered plant near the UNESCO Biosphere reserve.
She says she has no plans to stop even in the face of death threats.
“So long as my contribution is needed, so long as I’m making a positive impact on the anti-coal movement, so long as it still threatens Palawan.”
Environmental lawyer Gerthie Mayo-Anda says with a legal system that remains open to corruption and abuse environmentalists will continue being killed with impunity and the forests destroyed.
“You have the laws but it’s not enough to have good laws. You need to implement those laws. And implementation requires political will. If your local officials are corrupt and government officials are equally corrupt, they can easily be paid off by the people who destroy the environment.”