Written by Fr. Shay Cullen, founder of the PREDA Foundation.
He was in his mid-twenties, young, dedicated, a defender of the trees and the ecology of his native Amazon rain forest and guardian of his community. Paulo Paulino Guajajara is the latest of many indigenous people shot and killed in a cruel and treacherous murder by illegal loggers. His companion, Laércio Souza Silva, was also seriously wounded but he survived. It happened in the Arariboia reservation in Maranhao State, Brazil.
The indigenous Guajajara community of the Amazon have organized themselves as forest guardians to stop the encroachments of loggers and agri-corporations on their ancestral lands and rain forests.The corporate elite covet the land for growing monocrops like soya and cattle-raising and mining and try to drive away the indigenous people.The people in these remote regions are also victims of Coronavirus and many have died infected no doubt by the invaders and exploiters of the forests.
Forest trees are chain-sawed to death and burnt on a funeral pyre of devastation and greed. What the exploiters deliver is death and destruction. What the indigenous communities want is life, peace and solitude and what is rightfully theirs.
In the Philippines, 46 land defenders and protectors of ancestral rights of Filipino indigenous people have been murdered in 2019 on Negros Island and in Mindanao. They have been wrongly branded subversives by government officials out to crush dissent and silence opposition by indigenous people.
The intensity of the incursions has greatly increased since the dismissal and death of environmental campaigner Gina Lopez who, as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), cancelled dozens of licences and permits for mining firms for violating environmental protection rules and failure to respect the rights of the indigenous communities. Since then, the murder rate of environmentalists has greatly increased to 46. Previously, in 2018, the number of land defenders killed was 29. The Philippines was declared the world’s most dangerous place for environmental protectors.
The sacred rights of indigenous people that have occupied and peopled the Philippine lands and forests for thousands of years, while clearly stated in the Constitution and law, are trampled upon and ignored. The indigenous people are disgracefully considered inferior human beings subjected to racist slurs and humiliation and their rights continually violated. The environmental NGOs, Mongabay and Kalikasan, keep records of number of environment defenders killed. They said that, “63 percent comprise agribusiness workers and farmers, followed by government officials and forest rangers (35%), indigenous peoples (20%), and lawyers and church workers (4%).”
In Brazil, the campaign of President Jair Bolsonaro to open up the Amazon and allow agri-business to destroy the forests for soya production and cattle farmers has been called genocidal of the indigenous people. The people will lose their lives, families, culture and way of life. They risk their lives every day to protect their rights and the environment. Paulo Paulino Guajajara is the most recent victim. Millions of unique wildlife will also perish and disappear from the face of the earth as the land grabbers cut and burn the trees and destroy the wildlife habitat. A July 2019 report by NGOs stated that over 7,200 square miles of the Brazilian rainforest has been deforested and burnt between 2017 and 2019.
With the destruction of the rain forests around the world, the absorption of CO2 has greatly decreased causing greater global warming. The more than 1 billion beef and dairy cattle on the planet emit methane gas that is even more destructive to the atmosphere than CO2. The global warming dries the forest and woodlands around the world and they are devastated by wildfires. More than a billion creatures and many people were killed in the massive bushfires that raged across Australia recently. The Guardian newspaper reported that a royal commission was told by a professor that “…96,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including 35,000 children, were affected by the fires…….. That amounts to 29 percent of the indigenous population in affected states, and 12 percent of the national Indigenous population.”
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 set a standard for national laws to follow. Philippine laws protecting indigenous are weak and mining and agri- corporations run by local elites exploit loopholes to violate indigenous ancestral land rights.
Indigenous people are the original inhabitants and occupiers of the lands and they have natural rights over the mountains, forests, seas and lakes. They ought to be honoured, respected, and affirmed in dignity and the first beneficiaries of wealth generated from the natural resources, as original owners of the sources of wealth stolen from them everywhere.
A great wrong perpetuated by the invaders and never righted. The Aeta of the Philippines, the original occupants of the islands for some twenty or thirty thousand years, have been driven into poverty. Most indigenous people have practically no representation, few spokespersons and are victims of systematic racism, rejected and treated as throwaway people. When and how can such gross social and racial injustice and selfishness be overcome? How will the world change for the better?
Great social and environmental change to undo wrongs and injustice, to restore human dignity and to overcome evil and poverty so people can live in peace, respect and trust each other can only happen when inner change comes in the people as a whole.
That change can only be when one of the greatest and most profound virtue, a heart-felt feeling of the human person is offered, accepted and lived. That is compassion. This is a strong feeling of empathy and concern for the plight and suffering of others. It empowers and creates a desire to help strangers. It is a spiritual force that inspires and compels a person to take effective action to alleviate the suffering, deprivation, oppression or exploitation of any kind and it never seeks a reward or imposes conditions.
To bring about compassion that will transform the unjust and uncaring world, we need to have compassion ourselves and to act upon it so that by example we will inspire it in others and cause it to spread. Then, the people of compassion can change the world for the greater good of all people.