The political significance of Atty. Neri Colmenares’s speaking tour in Canada
The political significance of Atty. Neri Colmenares’s speaking tour in Canada
September 11, 2023
By Jesson Reyes
More than a year into the administration of President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr., the political climate in the Philippines is currently characterized by significant polarization.
Despite the official significant electoral claim that Marcos secured 58.77% of the total votes in the previous national elections, the current administration has experienced a relatively early onset of political instability.
The Marcos and Duterte alliance, a formidable tandem in past elections, is exhibiting indications of strain as both factions and their respective supporters gear up for the upcoming midterm elections in 2025. Cracks within these factions surface from time to time as the Speaker of Congress, Marcos’s cousin Romualdez jockeys for position. This instability was widely evident after a highly publicized visit made by former President Duterte, father of Vice President Sara Duterte, to China. The purpose of this visit was to engage in discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping regarding the contentious matter of the West Philippine Sea. In contrast, Marcos Jr. has chosen to address this issue using a legal strategy by asserting the victory of the Philippines over China in a July 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling.
Attorney Colmenares, a three-term Party-list representative for Bayan Muna Party list is a widely regarded as a prominent advocate for marginalized communities and a vocal critic of the current administration, particularly regarding its stance on the West Philippine Sea disputes.
Despite losing its seats in Congress, Bayan Muna has remained consistent in raising concerns on the economic affairs of the country.
Most recent SWS survey shows that one year under the current administration, the inflation rate continues to persist as the most elevated among neighboring regions. As per findings of IBON Foundation, there has been a persistent rise in food prices, resulting in a growing lack of affordability among a significant number of Filipinos, particularly those belonging to the poorest households.
The rate of food inflation experienced a notable increase over the past year, resulting in a significant rise in 14 years at the start of 2023. This surge in inflationary pressures has positioned Southeast Asia as the region with the highest inflation rate in the present context.
Despite the government’s assertions regarding notable economic advancements, recent surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) indicate that over fifty percent of Filipino households perceive themselves as impoverished.
The focus of Atty. Colmenares’ speaking tour will revolve around the state of human rights and democracy in the Philippines. The country witnessed the erosion of human rights and civil liberties during the tenure of former President Duterte.
The three conflicts, commonly referred to as the war on drugs, the war on people, and the war on democracy, have paved the path for the acceptance of authoritarianism as the prevailing norm in contemporary Philippine politics. It catapulted individuals like former PNP chief De la Rosa to successfully attain a position in the Senate, as well as ensuring the continued existence of agencies such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC).
Given the Marcos Jr. twist, these norms remain intact under the current administration. The Marcos family has a well-documented history of engaging in significant human rights violations, undermining democratic principles, and perpetuating cronyism. The late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. played a pivotal role in designing and implementing Martial Law, a policy that resulted in a 14-year period of autocratic governance in the Philippines. This era is widely regarded as one of the most tumultuous and regrettable chapters in Philippine history. After a span of forty years, it would be an insufficient characterization to assert that the Marcoses have not only returned to Malacañang but have also reintroduced the Marcos style of governance.
The visit of Atty. Neri Colmenares to Canada represents a continuation of the established practice of progressive leaders, activists, and legislators visiting the country to enhance people to people connections and provide an objective assessment of the socio-political and economic situation of our country. This tour aims to strengthen the bond between Filipinos in Canada and their homeland. He will be joining esteemed previous visitors to Canada such as the late Party list representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, Luz Illagan, former Bayan Muna representatives Carlos Zarate, Eufemia Culiamat, and progressive people’s lawyer Edre Olalia, among others.
The Filipino Canadian communities possess a rich historical background of activism and assume a significant role in the promotion of peace and democracy within the Philippines. Progressive organizations, such as Bayan, Migrante, Anakbayan, and Gabriela, serve as political hubs for thousands of Filipino youths, migrants, and members of the diaspora, facilitating their connection with pertinent issues in their home country. Likewise, solidarity between the host peoples of Canada and the Filipino people has immensely contributed to the foundation of this people to people ties.
Organizations such as the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, the co-host of the tour along with Malaya Canada, play a crucial role in bringing attention to issues pertaining to the Philippines within the Canadian public sphere.
During the previous national elections, Filipino citizens in Canada actively participated in expressing their opinions and viewpoints regarding the future of the Philippines. The convergence of “kakampinks” (supporters of former Vice President Robredo and their broad allies) was seen in various cities and provinces in Canada, attracting significant attention from individuals who opposed the authoritarian regime led by the Duterte-Marcos tandem. The wave of the kakampink or as Atty Colmenares appropriately coined in “an electoral mass movement” brought together community organizations, businesses, and regional groups in support of VP Leni Robredo’s bid for presidency. Running as an independent candidate, Atty. Colmenares gathered significant support from the Robredo camp.
The tour of Atty. Neri Colmenares could serve as another flash point for Filipino Canadians and their allies to engage in discussions and strategize on their role in the fight towards human rights and democracy. These include the contentious Maharlika Investment scheme, the West Philippine Sea dispute, concerns related to Filipino migrants in Canada, and overall state of human rights in the Philippines.
During the national forum organized by Bayan Canada in July, Atty. Colmenares encouraged the attendees to focus their efforts on three specific domains: Korte, Kongreso at sa Kalsada! (the court, congress, and streets). In the realms of the judiciary, legislative body, and public spaces, significant actions and discussions take place. Likewise, lobbying plays a significant role among Members of Parliament in Canada, occasionally even assuming a primary role, to ensure that pressure from the international community is effectively exerted on pressing issues in the Philippines.
There is need to reinvigorate the broad anti-fascist, anti-dictatorial movement in Canada and the Neri Colmenares tour could very much serve this purpose.
Canada’s interest lies in the recently passed Indo Pacific Strategy, and its role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will form the basis for the Canadian government’s influence in the region. In a recent visit by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly in May, top Canadian diplomats met with their Philippine counterpart to discuss regional security and stability, maintenance of a rules-based international order. Attorney Colmenares, being a former member of the House of Representatives and a strong advocate for the protection of Philippine sovereignty, possesses valuable expertise that can shed light on complex geopolitical situation in the region.
The three-week tour will begin with a town hall event on Sunday, October 1st in Toronto, ON and will be capped off in series of town hall meetings and events in Vancouver, BC. Members of the community could learn more about the tour by reaching out to Malaya Canada and ICHRP Canada.