Killings will scar a generation of Filipinos

Community News & Features Mar 9, 2018 at 4:45 pm
Carlos Conde at York University

Carlos Conde at York University

Human Rights Watch’s Carlos Conde:

By Althea Manasan
The Philippine Reporter

President Rodrigo Duterte continues to wage his drug war in the Philippines, something that one human rights expert says will “scar a generation of Filipinos.”

But even while warning of the lasting damage the violence will leave behind, Carlos Conde, a Manila-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, says he’s encouraged by the growing activism among Filipinos at home and around the world.

“Resistance, obviously, is key, which is why I’m heartened by the fact that the usual activists in the Philippines have really increased their criticisms of the Duterte government and the regime and the killings,” he told an audience of about 20 students and academics at York University in Toronto last month.

The event, titled The Philippines: A Human Rights Calamity Under President Duterte, was held on February 23 and presented by the York Centre for Asian Research and the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security. It was moderated by Philip Kelly, a professor of geography whose research focuses on Filipino migration.

EJKs are ‘damaging the Filipino psyche’

During the hour-and-a-half-long discussion, Conde spoke about about the state of the Philippine drug war and the impact it has had on human rights since Duterte rose to power in the summer of 2016. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 12,000 drug suspects have been killed in the anti-drug campaign with poor communities being the primary targets.

“You don’t see a lot of outcry, especially from the middle class and upper middle class of Filipino society, because these are really, really politically insignificant people who are being victimized,” said Conde. “They are zombies, the government says.”

The psychological impact of these extrajudicial killings (EJKs), he argued, will cut across all sectors of Philippine society, not just on those who have been victimized by the violence.

“From a human rights perspective, there is no way [these EJKs] could not scar a generation of Filipinos,” Conde said. “There’s just no way this war could continue without damaging the Filipino psyche in the way that, for instance, what happened in South Africa during apartheid has damaged a whole generation of South Africans.”

Prof. Philip Kelly moderating the forum.

Prof. Philip Kelly moderating the forum.

From reporter to human rights researcher

Before Conde joined the Human Rights Watch, he spent 20 years as a journalist, reporting for publications like The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Much of his work covered politics, human rights, communist and Islamic insurgencies, terrorism and labor migration.

Born in Mindanao, Conde lived in Davao City for 10 years during the era of the Davao Death Squads, when vigilante groups linked to Duterte targeted and killed petty criminals.
“I witnessed first-hand the methods that he used in that city,” Conde said. “I am just aghast that this is something that is now done in the whole of the country.”

He argued that Duterte’s reign is worse than even the brutal dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos. The key difference, he said, is that Duterte was voted into power and had the support of the nation behind him, even while embracing the violence he was being accused of.

“From the get go, Duterte had that affirmation, had that support, had that imprimatur of the public … Now he’s using this affirmation for political purposes,” Conde said. “We asked for this. We knew exactly what we were going into.”

OFWs’ role in the resistance against Duterte

Conde fielding a question. (Photos: A. Manasan)

Conde fielding a question.
(Photos: A. Manasan)

Conde hypothesized that overseas foreign workers (OFWs) were Duterte’s primary political base during his presidential campaign. His promises to rid the streets of drugs and crime resonated with Filipinos abroad who had families back home whom they were concerned about.

“Duterte was the first political leader to embrace OFWs as a political cause,” Conde said.

But despite playing a key role in Duterte’s rise to power, Conde hopes that OFWs will also come to play a role in the resistance.

He acknowledged that OFWs around the world tend to keep their heads low and avoid being overtly political, but Conde said there are groups that are becoming politically aware, if not active.

He talked about a “civic group of young Filipinos” he spoke to last year in California. The group initially came together to discuss issues within the community, but after Duterte started making headlines, they began to discuss what was unfolding back home. Now some members are heading back to the Philippines.

Conde said he’s also been invited to speak to Filipino groups in Switzerland, something that wasn’t happening even a year ago.

“Despite what we think sometimes of the OFW communities, really, if their situation warrants it, they come together and discuss,” Conde said. “I hope that develops.”

The usual left-leaning political groups, like Gabriela, Bayan and Migrante, which have bases around the world, will also play a crucial role in challenging Duterte, Conde said. But he also acknowledged that it won’t be easy.

“As long as Duterte keeps promising to do what he promises to do, and as long he remains popular back back home, it could be a tough ride for Duterte dissenters — but you just have to do it.”