RIO DE JANEIRO, RJ (FOLHAPRESS) — As he left for the Amazon in recent weeks, British journalist Dom Phillips, 57, sent a photo to his family in the UK. From the plane, above the clouds, a rainbow crossed the sky over the forest. This was the last time he had contact with his sister, Sean Phillips, and brother-in-law, Paul Sherwood.
The reporter travels in the company of indigenous Bruno Pereira, a member of the NGO Uniwaza and employee on leave from Funai (National Indian Foundation), which has already been the target of a series of threats.
The two were last seen on Sunday morning (5) in Valle do Javari, in the community of So Rafael.
An experienced correspondent who has been in Brazil for 15 years, Philips is researching and writing a book – “How to Save Amazon”. He was selected for a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to make this work possible.
The Vale do Javari indigenous land, the journalist’s destination, has been frequently invaded by miners, loggers, poachers and fishermen.
In a message to Folha de S. Paulo, his brother-in-law said that Phillips is dedicated to completing the research for the book he is writing.
“We want to emphasize how much he loves Brazil and the importance of the research he is doing on the Amazon and how to preserve it as a hope for the wild and indigenous peoples,” Sherwood wrote.
Phillips grew up in Babington, a town 8 km south of Liverpool, England. As a youth, he played in the streets in search of money. He began his journalism career covering the electronic music scene and was the editor of Mixmag magazine.
Britt wrote a book about the birth of DJ culture and in 2007 traveled to Brazil, attracted by colleagues in the field of music. According to a letter written by journalist friends, Phillips planned to stay in So Paulo for a few months, but felt so at home in the country that he decided to move in for good.
He also lived in Rio de Janeiro, where he loved biking and stand-up pedaling, and in recent months, he moved to Salvador, Bahia, the state of his wife, Alessandra Sampaio.
He wrote a letter and recorded a video in which he appealed to the government to speed up the search for the missing.
“We still have little hope of finding them. Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, I have to find them, please”, she said, shaken.
In a message addressed to the authorities, Alessandra also called for urgency in the search. “I want to tell you that my husband Dom Phillips loves Brazil and he loves the Amazon. He could have lived anywhere in the world, but he chose to live here.”
In Brazil, Phillips spent several years freelancing for the British newspaper The Guardian. He has also written for The Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times and The Intercept.
He knows Amazon very well and has devoted himself to this coverage since his arrival in Brazil.
Journalist Andrew Fishman, who contributed to the Intercept, told the report that Phillips has made many dangerous journeys and has extensive experience working with indigenous peoples.
“He has become very passionate about fighting to protect the Amazon, but he always has a very nuanced view of a difficult situation – it is never black and white for him.”
In a message sent to the report, he wrote, “He decided to write this book in a deeper depth and move on to the coverage that interests him most.”
Fishman says the friend is “extremely talented”, respected by many Brazilian and international journalists and environmentalists. He also claims that Phillips has “repeatedly turned down very prestigious and lucrative jobs to do what he loves.”
“Dom is one of the most ethical and courageous journalists I know. He has always been extremely rigorous in his work and decisive in his analysis.”
In 2019, Phillips became a target of supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro after being questioned at an event about increasing deforestation in the Amazon. The video was duplicated on the Bolsonarista network and viewed thousands of times.
“First of all, you have to understand that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, not yours. The first answer is this”, replied Bolsonaro.
“Dom was very shaken by this video. He felt it set a target on his back and made his job difficult. He was recognized as a ‘journalist’ throughout the Amazon and by all kinds of people in his daily life.” Bolsonaro,'” Fishman says.
He says that his friend expressed concern about the direction of politics in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States and that he likes to talk about the subject.
Fishman also claims that Phillips is very generous – “he has amazing sources and isn’t stingy about sharing them”.
“He helped many journalists understand Brazil, volunteered to teach English in Rio’s favelas and quickly found an NGO when he moved to Salvador. [Jovens Inovadores] where he taught despite the risks of Covid-19,” he says.
Journalist Cecilia Oliveira, founder of the forum Fogo Cruzado, visited Philips in February. She describes him as “a caring, kind and very helpful friend”.
“We went to the beach, had dinner and walked around Salvador doing what he already knew because he knew Rio: the best acarajé, the coldest beer”, he says.
Cecilia says that Britain is a man concerned with human suffering and that his work has a social purpose. “He likes to see the impact his work has on people’s lives. He loves doing journalism that changes something, that exposes abuse, that helps protect those who need protection. “