Ledesma, Olalia on human rights violations, red-tagging and peace

Community News & Features May 24, 2019 at 8:08 pm

Ledesma-Olalia-2By Althea Manasan
The Philippine Reporter


Photos: Rene Sevilla

At the beginning of his presentation to a crowd in Toronto last week, Manila-based attorney Edre Olalia led a singalong. Dedicated to President Rodrigo Duterte, the song went to the tune of “The Great Pretender,” with the lyrics changed:
Oh yes, he’s a great pretender / Pretending that we’re doing well / His need is such he pretends too much / A tyrant, but no one can tell
As the audience laughed, Olalia, who is the secretary general of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, a group of pro bono human rights lawyers, reminded everyone of the gravity of the political situation in the Philippines.
P4_IMG_9714-X3“It’s really very serious because there are consequences” he said.
Olalia was one of the speakers at a public forum held on Tuesday, May 14, to discuss peace, development and sovereignty in the Philippines. Hosted by BAYAN Canada and the Filipino Workers Network in downtown Toronto, about 50 people were in attendance, including members of other leftist groups like the Canadian Communist Party of Canada, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, and Toronto Against Fascism.
Red-tagging and the peace processP4_IMG_9688-X3
Olalia spoke about red-tagging by the Duterte government, following accusations in The Manila Times earlier this month the members of the NUPL are involved in a conspiracy to oust the president.
“It’s a false narrative and they’re trying to paint us as if there’s something brooding…and it’s very dangerous,” he said. “Some of our friends’ lives are being put in danger.”
Forty lawyers have been killedP4_DSCF9641-X2 in the Philippines since Duterte took office in 2016. Most recently, lawyers Adilberto Golla Jr. and Val Crisostomo were shot dead by gunmen in two separate incidents on May 17. Judge Reymar Lacaya was killed just a few days earlier.
“Why are they red-tagging us?” Olalia said. “Because we are standing in the way.”
The forum also featured Coni Ledesma, a member of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Visiting from the Netherlands, where she is now based. Ledesma spoke of increasing militarization in the Philippines and the importance of continuing peace talks between the government and rebel groups.
P4_DSCF9832-X3“What [the Philippine government] wants is the surrender of the NPA,” Ledesma said. “They prefer to continue the civil war rather than address the roots of the armed conflict. For the military, it is that … they want a war and they want to win the war militarily. They don’t want peace talks, they don’t want to address the roots of the armed conflict.”
During the event’s question and answer period, one audience member asked whether the leftist cause was failing, a sentiment felt particularly strongly in the wake of recent Senate elections, which saw Duterte allies sweep the vote.
Ledesma insisted that failure is not the case, pointing out that leftist groups have been winning  more victories compared to during the Marcos regime in the 1970s.
P4_IMG_9672-X2“There is a growing political consciousness, even if the system hasn’t changed,” she said. She added that she believes “resistance is going to grow” because oppression will only intensify post-election.
“We are not failing because they are reacting,” Olalia added. “They are hurting.”
Meeting with Canadian officials
Ledesma’s visit to Canada also included a stop in Ottawa to meet with members of parliament and officials from Global Affairs Canada. She spoke P4_P4_DSCF9750-X3with them about the stalled peace talks and the position of the NDFP.
“We feel it’s important that different governments know what’s happening in terms of the peace talks,” she told The Philippine Reporter following the public forum. “I found that the parliamentarians and the people … that I talked to in GAC were very open and listened, and I find that very positive. I don’t often find that in parliamentarians of other countries.”
P4_DSCF9903-X3Ledesma also encouraged Filipino-Canadians to be more vocal and involved in the political process here in Canada, so that politicians are in a stronger position to take action against the abuses of the Duterte government.
“What [the Canadian officials] were feeling is that the Filipinos should make their voices as a group, as an ethnic group, heard in parliament, in elections here in Canada,” she said. “And I hope that as Duterte continues his regime, these Filipinos here will begin to see him for what he really is doing.”