MONTREAL: The escalating human rights violations in PH

Community News & Features Feb 9, 2018 at 4:50 pm
Cultural performance by Merelyn Aguirre (Sining Laya) with Nick Aguirre and Edgar Calgo.

Cultural performance by Merelyn Aguirre (Sining Laya) with Nick Aguirre and Edgar Calgo. (Photos and captions by Joyce Valbuena)

By Joyce Valbuena
The Philippine Reporter

Human rights violations have been an ongoing issue in the Philippines even since after the Marcos martial law regime. Thus, when President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016, one of his first promises to the people was to address the human rights issue.

Recognizing that counter-insurgency war as a main cause of human rights violations in the country, Duterte initiated the resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. He also promised to release all political prisoners.

However, the number human rights violations in the Philippines is still now escalated.

At a forum entitled “The Urgent Human Rights Situation in the Philippines” held at the Université de Montréal last January 27, speakers from the grassroots and the academe provided updates to about 50 students and solidarity allies in Montreal about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines and the south-east Asian region.

The forum was organized by the Centre for Philippine Concerns (CPC) in collaboration with the Comparative and Transdisciplinary Southeast Asia Studies Group (ECTASE) at Université de Montréal.

Bern Jagunos is based in Toronto and is a member of the Global Council of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) working with solidarity organizations, ecumenical organizations.

Bern Jagunos is based in Toronto and is a member of the Global Council of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) working with solidarity organizations, ecumenical organizations.

Bern Jagunos of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines(ICHRP), a network of organizations, institutions and individuals promoting human rights and peace in the Philippines, said “Duterte has created three policies that cause human rights violations - drug war, counter-insurgency war, and the Martial Law in Mindanao.”

“Extra judicial killings caused by the drug war captured international attention and criticisms. About 13,000 extra judicial killings in the Philippines were drug war-related with most of the victims coming from poor communities,” she said citing reports from Karapatan, a human rights advocacy group in the Philippines.

Jagunos explained that brutality and outright killing of suspected drug addicts and small time dealers did not uphold due process.

Jagunos, who also hailed from Davao, the same province where Duterte ruled as city mayor for 23 years, said “Duterte still fails to address the root of drug problems – poverty stemming from inequality and lack of jobs and broken system of governance and law enforcement. Local government officials and police are themselves involved in the drug trade.”

Jagunos also lamented that the killings of activists, leaders of community and peoples’ organization, human rights defenders, and government critics are not getting international attention. There have been 126 political killings in the Philippines within 18 months of the Duterte presidency where the principal targets are peasants and indigenous people from Mindanao.

She also recounted what led to the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao. According to her, Duterte declared martial law in Marawi City in June of last year to defeat the ISIS-backed terrorists group called Maute. Duterte declared Marawi liberated in October, but in December, the Philippine government has voted to extend martial law in the southern island of Mindanao.

Another speaker at the forum, Malcolm Guy said, “One of Duterte`s many contradiction is his stand on the peace talks. After four rounds of negotiation process, all of a sudden, in November 2017, Duterte proclaimed that he is terminating the peace talks and vowed to crackdown on the New People`s Arm.”

He said that the termination of peace talks was also used as a justification for the extension of martial law in Mindanao. He warned that with the end of the peace talks was the expansion of the all-out war policy with the New People`s Army and human rights violations are expected to rise.

Malcolm Guy is active in immigrant rights and international solidarity organizations as well as in the independent film community. He has produced several documentaries about the Philippines and is a founding member of the Centre for Philippine Concerns. He is also the General Secretary of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.

Malcolm Guy is active in immigrant rights and international solidarity organizations as well as in the independent film community. He has produced several documentaries about the Philippines and is a founding member of the Centre for Philippine Concerns. He is also the General Secretary of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.

Guy is the General Secretary of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), an alliance of anti-imperialist and democratic organizations. He shared his story when he personally interviewed Duterte when he was just freshly elected. He reminisced how Duterte was hopeful about the peace talks acknowledging that this would address the root cause of poverty and will bring genuine peace and development in the country.

When asked why Duterte backslid on his stand on the peace talks and the release of political prisoners, Guy’s answer was, “Duterte is not crazy; he is a President with fascist edge who needs to pay back his elections supporters.”

A professor from Université de Montréal provided the political context in the Southeast Asian region. Prof Dominique Caouette said, “The Philippine human rights repressions and arrests can also be witnessed in other neighbouring counties such as Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia where human rights violations are perpetrated among small sectors of the community such as farmers, fisher folks, and indigenous people.”

Caouette is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at Université de Montréal. He further explained, “Happening in these counties is the culture of ‘fear of terrorism’ tactics. “ He cited that Duterte labels activists as terrorists. He also noted that Duterte allies campaign for federalism movement.

Dominique Caouette is an Associate Professor with the Department of Political Science and Coordinator of Comparative and Transdisciplinary Southeast Asia Studies Group (ECTASE) at Université de Montréal where he teaches international relations and Southeast Asian politics. His current research interests include food sovereignty, land and natural resources use, transnational social movements, and armed resistance in Southeast Asia.

Dominique Caouette is an Associate Professor with the Department of Political Science and Coordinator of Comparative and Transdisciplinary Southeast Asia Studies Group (ECTASE) at Université de Montréal where he teaches international relations and Southeast Asian politics. His current research interests include food sovereignty, land and natural resources use, transnational social movements, and armed resistance in Southeast Asia.

According to Caouette, Duterte has three strategies to keep him in power. “One is that he is supported by the oligarchs. He is not attacking the middle class, including the diaspora, which make him still popular. And third, he has an army of trolls, who monitor news and social media articles and comments, and attack Duterte’s detractors.”

Recently Duterte revoked the licence of online news Rappler, a very popular site that has released many articles criticising Duterte policies.

As Jagunos put it, “Martial law is just one of the steps that the Duterte government is taking to consolidate power and move to authoritarian rule. There is a fear that martial law will be extended to whole of the country. With martial law extension and growing resistance, the target will be activists, resisting communities and critics.”

Jagunos criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that in his November visit to the Philippines, he only raised the drug war victims but did not bring up the issues of political killings, harassment of human rights defenders, victims of mining violations and activists under attack.

Another speaker related her story on how she witnessed the impact of the political situation on the rural poor, fisher folk, and farm workers in Negros Island. Fresh from her recently concluded exposure trip in the Philippines, Sheryl Anne Montano said, “Due to government’s inadequate budget for health, many Filipinos suffer from poor health conditions.” She further described, “There is higher mortality and morbidity rate in the rural areas. People die younger because they rarely have chance to be seen by a doctor and they have no access to health care at all. The top cause of death is due to infectious diseases, which should be treatable but because people could not afford to buy medicine, thousands of Filipinos die each year of illnesses such as tuberculosis.”

While in Negros, Montano looked into the human rights of vulnerable population groups and how it affects their health. According to Montano, her family’s migration journey and first-hand experience to the disparities of health and poverty in the Philippines shaped her global perspective and propelled her to study global health.

A cultural presentation was rendered by a newly reunited couple Merelyn and Nick Aguirre. The song called “Batingaw” which means bell is being used in the communities to relay messages to the people, for festivities, funeral, when there is an incoming danger, and to call for defense. When there is human right abuse in the community, the bell would ring to call for justice. The couple was separated for seven years when Merelyn had to leave the Philippines to work as a caregiver in Canada while Nick continued to be a community artist and organizer. The couple was joined by Edgar Calgo who arrived in Canada a few years ago to be with her wife who has been in Canada for several years working as a domestic helper.

The panel all agreed that there is now a growing people’s movement against Duterte’s regime and tyranny. Guy said with optimism, “The Philippines has ousted several Presidents in the past. The Filipinos can do it again.”

Marie Boti facilitated the forum. She is also a founding member of the Centre for Philippines Concerns as well as an active member of the International Women’s Alliance.

Marie Boti facilitated the forum. She is also a founding member of the Centre for Philippines Concerns as well as an active member of the International Women’s Alliance.

 

Sheryl Anne Montano is a recent graduate of Nutritional Sciences and Global Health at the University of Toronto and  recently completed an internship with the Council for Health and Development in the Philippines.  She is also a  member of  Anakbayan Canada.

Sheryl Anne Montano is a recent graduate of Nutritional Sciences and Global Health at the University of Toronto and recently completed an internship with the Council for Health and Development in the Philippines.
She is also a member of Anakbayan Canada.