Environmentalist Murdered in the Philippines

by Roger Alford

The Philippine press is abuzz with news that an environmental activist by the name of Elipidio “Jojo” de la Victoria was murdered last week in apparent retaliation for his outspoken efforts to protect the Visayan Seas, one of the richest marine eco-regions in the world. According to an editorial in the Philippine Sun Star, “[c]ommercial fishing is big business, and the view is that [Jojo’s] killing … was a small price to pay for continued profitability.” A 1 million Philippine peso ($19,400) bounty reportedly was put on his head, and then on Tuesday news broke that a police officer, Marcial Bacudo Ocampo, has been arrested after numerous witnesses linked him to the killing.

Now there are fresh reports that one of Jojo’s colleagues, Anthony “Tony” Oposa, Jr., has a 1 million Philippine peso bounty on his head as well. Oposa is best known as the name plaintiff in the Philippine Supreme Court case of Oposa v. Factoran, available here.

A group of environmental law activists and law professors have circulated emails indicating that Mr. Oposa is appealing “to his friends and allies across the world to help him in requesting immediate assistance to protect him and his family and to
encourage action by local, national, and international authorities.” They have initiated a letter writing campaign to the Philippine authorities, made overtures to the MSM to highlight Oposa’s plight, and offered Oposa temporary sanctuary in the United States.

I am not privy to any of the details of this case, but the facts reported in the Philippine press together with the information garnered across a network of international environmentalists give rise to serious concerns for the safety of a world-renown environmental activist.

If you are interested in more information contact Zygmunt Plater at the Boston College Law School or John Bonine at the University of Oregon School of Law.


3 Responses

  1. Thanks to Hari Osofsky for contacting Roger and getting this out there.

    Detailed information is at this site, set up by Land Air Water, our environmental law group (world’s oldest such student group): http://www.pielc.org

    Volunteers around the world have translated the alert into Russian (thanks Svitlana Kravchenko), Bahasa Indonesian (thanks Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere), Spanish (thanks Nicolas Lucas), and Portugese (thanks Guilherme Purvin) so far.

    Taking the laboring oar on the law professors’ letter are David Hunter at American University and Zygmunt Plater at Boston College. Durwood Zaelke and Scott has been helping from INECE. In Spain, Adriana Fabra has been alerting people particularly in the oceans community. In Germany at IUCN, Tomme Young. In Brazil, Guilherme José Purvin de Figueiredo. Many others have alerted networks, and I apologize for not listing them here at this point.

    Obviously, we cannot be certain of the motive behind Jojo’s assassination until all evidence is collected, but the threats to him and Tony Oposa have certainly been all too real.

    Tony has made the protection of the Visayan (Sula Sulawesi) Marine Triangle the focus of his work at this stage in his life. How important is that to all of us?

    A recent opinion piece included this:

    The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Triangle, which covers a wide swath from the Philippines to Indonesia, is supposed to be the richest marine eco-region in the world and is home to the largest variety of marine life-fishes, coral, sea grasses, etc., in the whole world.

    In the bosom of the Sulu-Sulawesi Triangle is the Visayan Marine Triangle found in Central Philippines. It is “the center of the center, the beating heart of marine biodiversity on Earth. At the apex (of this Visayan triangle) is the Visayan Sea, once so rich and seemingly limitless in marine life abundance it was described as the Alaska of the Philippines. If carefully managed, the Visayan Sea alone can feed the entire Filipino people the whole year round.”

    There are 12 eco-regions within this Sulu-Sulawesi area. Two are in Indonesia and one is in Malaysia; but according to environment lawyer Tony Oposa, God blessed the Philippines with the remaining nine of the richest marine waters in the world. A scientific finding, he said, identified the Philippine Sea as the “epicenter” of marine biodiversity on Earth.

    According to Oposa, the Philippine Sea is home to the greatest number and variety of coral reefs and underwater forests. Of the 700 or so coral species found in the whole world, 500 are in the Philippines. A single coral garden dive site in Anilao, Batangas and a single marine sanctuary in Bantayan Island in Cebu, with a combined area of 10 hectares, have more variety of corals than what can be found in the entire Caribbean put together.

    Information from two years ago about Tony Oposa’s Visayan Sea Squadron enforcement efforts can be found at this INECE website: http://www.inece.org/newsletter/9/regional_asia.html

  2. has more background information.

    Soon I hope to have the non-English versions on that page.

    John Bonine

    Professor of Law

    University of Oregon


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