The Coal Death March: Limay, Bataan’s Case for Climate Justice
by Beatrice Tulagan, ClimateStories.ph
Once upon a time, there was a fifty-seven-year-old grandmother with kind eyes. She was loved dearly in her community for leading the charge against a coal stockpile in her neighborhood. In her spare time, she manned her family’s karaoke bar and joked around with her eighteen grandchildren.
One night, just before eight in the evening, a gunman slowly walked inside and unceremoniously shot her dead.
This man will never be caught, and the moment he straddled his masked companion’s motorcycle will be the last anyone will ever see of him. The case will be dismissed for lack of suspects. The plethora of all the other things that went wrong that night would dawn on everyone too late only to sear themselves into the memory and perpetual regret: the frantic chase that ended when the perpetrators turned off their lights and went into the night undetected, the failure of the police to set up checkpoints, the shrapnel that grazed the shoulder of a child who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, like she was.
This is the story of Gloria Capitan, the leader of Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Lucanin (SNML). In March 2015, Capitan led a petition addressed to the Lucanin village council, the government of Mariveles and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to shut down the coal facility. She had no known enemies and had no other political activities other than campaigning for a healthier, safer home for her and her family. For many environmental activists, her story is an all too familiar tale following years of intimidation, of death threats and of bribe attempts in exchange for silence set against a dark time of impunity making the daily headlines.
The Philippines was named the deadliest in Asia for environmental activists in 2017 by London-based watchdog Global Witness, putting forward an even steeper price on activism against environmental degradation, such as the country’s continued reliance on coal-fired power plants. But Capitan’s fellow activists in the Coal-Free Bataan Movement continue her legacy, up in arms still against existing and new coal plant projects in the region.
“Why won’t we fight?” the activists say. “It’s our lives.”
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