A local legal research and policy advocacy group working for the protection of indigenous peoples and local communities urged the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to reconsider funding authoritarian regimes who do not tolerate civil-society groups, noting that some of the massive infrastructure projects funded by the multilateral lender have historically impacted on the lives of indigenous and poor upland communities.
Legal Right and Natural Resources Center/Friends of the Earth Philippines Executive Director Norly Grace Mercado also stated the need for a meaningful consultation between the civil-society groups, specifically the marginalized and the ADB.
“Also in our analysis, we said that transportation and infrastructure have been directed in massive superhighways ports and airports. [Such] megastructures sometimes span several regions [that] cut across key biodiversity areas and culturally important heritage sites or indigenous territories and ancestral domain,” she said, adding that the ADB had also admitted that around half of the total number of public-sector loans projects funded by the bank inflicted involuntary displacement of communities.
The ADB, Mercado added, also failed to consider among its proposed strategic priorities one important worsening trend in the region, which is shrinking democratic space for civil-society organizations and communities.
“This is evident in the growing incidence of human-rights violations, which results to chilling effect in terms of communities in civil-society groups,” she said.
Mercado also urged the ADB not to only focus on infrastructure but, more important, on governance and in pushing for the environmental and social safeguards, which will give way to ensure a sustainable and inclusive growth that will consider social justice and human rights.
Responding to Mercado, ADB Vice President Stephen P. Groff said that although the ADB believes strongly that infrastructure is a critical component of development and inclusive growth, they are “very well aware of these challenges.”
“We are constantly engaging with the countries in which we work to ensure that we are doing the utmost to minimize those risks,” he said.
On broader sustainability concerns, Groff said the ADB is also paying very close attention to the fiscal framework of these countries, including their debt management.
“What we also implore all countries to do is to be extremely transparent around the kind of debt that they may be accumulating in their efforts to finance these large infrastructure projects,” he said.
“That kind of transparency is absolutely critical to ensuring that this is done in a sustainable manner and that kind of investment brings the benefits that it can possibly can,” Groff added.
The ADB, he said, is helping countries position their economy to grow faster when they partake on debt to invest in infrastructure projects.
“But if you are not doing the proper analysis on each individual project to ensure that you are maximizing that economic benefit, you’re putting the economy in a position in the future to pay backwards, leading to inefficient cycle of debt and inflation and currency depreciation, among other things,” he said.
Malacañang, meanwhile, condemned the killings of Fr. Mark Ventura in Cagayan and radio broadcaster Edmund Sestoso in Dumaguete.
Ventura, known to be critical of mining and an advocate on the welfare of indigenous peoples of Cagayan, was gunned down last Sunday by a still-unknown gunman in Tuguegarao after he held Mass.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also condemned the killing of the Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao, calling it an “evil act.”
Dumaguete radio broadcaster Edmund Sestoso, on the hand, also killed on Monday while he was on his way home, drawing condemnation from international watchdog groups who have expressed their dismay in the fatal shooting, calling the murder “appalling.”
“We are condemning those killings and we are assuring everyone that the government is doing the necessary steps to fulfill its responsibilities. We are going to investigate it and hold those killers accountable,” Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. said in Filipino.
For the slain media practitioner, Roque said Presidential Task Force on Media Security headed by Undersecretary Joel M. Sy Egco will prioritize the resolution of the case.