The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet produced a report in June 2020 documenting thousands of extra-judicial killings and wide spread human rights abuses There are now growing calls for an independent UN investigation.
To increase the pressure for such an investigation human rights organisations and international NGOs set up an independent investigation to produce human rights reports throughout 2021. This effort was coordinated through the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) of which CHRP is a member.
End UK Government support for state terrorism in the Philippines
In September 2020 the Philippines Government passed an anti-terrorism law which enabled the government to classify almost any act of opposition or dissent as terrorism. President Duterte launched a systematic programme of labeling lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists and others as terrorists. This frequently lead to their arrest or murder. Despite this, the UK Government provided military and “counter-terrorism” assistance to the Duterte Government. CHRP called for an end to such support while murder and human rights abuses are perpetrated under the guise of counter-terrorism. A programme of engagement with UK parliamentarians and non-governmental bodies of influence was undertaken.
In June 2020 a new president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, was sworn in. Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law is still firmly in place and being acted upon by the Marcos Government and its agencies with ruthless intent. CHRP continues its parliamentary work to try to end UK Government support to this regime.
In November 2020 CHRP and PHRG (All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group) jointly organised a webinar about the Anti-Terrorism Act linking UK parliamentarians with lawyers and human rights defenders in the Philippines. The event was chaired by Stephen Kinnock the shadow minister for Asia.
In February 2021 a second webinar was organised jointly by CHRP, PHRG and the Great Britain Section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The event was organised to mark the fourth anniversary of Senator Leila de Lima’s illegal imprisonment by the Duterte Government. Attendees included FCO officials and civil society representatives from the UK and Philippines. Chaired by Rt HonDame Diana Johnson MP, Defending Democracy in the Philippines: International Support for Parliamentarians under threat focussed on attacks and intimidation against parliamentarians in the Philippines. Speakers included Fhilip Sawali, Senator de Lima’s Chief of Staff; Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party; and former congressman Satur Ocampo. A video message was sent to the event from Congresswoman Sarah Elago. Following this event 27 MPs across the UK political parties signed a joint letter to the Philippine Government demanding the immediate release of Senator de Lima. De Lima was arrested in 2017 to stop her investigations into violations committed as part of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, including the extrajudicial execution of thousands of suspected drug offenders, claimed by Amnesty as possible crimes against humanity.
CHRP continues to maintain a dialogue with UK government to oppose the UK’s military, surveillance and counter-terrorism exports to the Philippines. As well as the key civil servants responsible for implementing UK Government policy in the Philippines these now involve UK embassy staff in Manila responsible for human rights. A primary focus of these meetings has been UK arms exports and counter-insurgency cooperation with the Philippines, along with UK Government’s proclaimed commitment to media freedom in the Philippines.
Karapatan, a leading human rights organisation in the Philippines, is now one of the organisations consulted by the UK embassy on human rights issues.
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Support the Lumad Schools
Lumad indigenous peoples in Mindanao have been resisting the incursions of large mining companies onto their lands. The Philippines Government accuses the Lumad of supporting communist rebels. In July 2017 President Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad communities. Since then they have been under regular attack by the military. Lumad schools have been very strongly targeted. According to the Save Our Schools Network 178 Lumad schools have been shut down since 2016, and from March to May 2021 there were 32 attacks on Lumad schools.
In 2018 CHRP member Dara Bascara visited some of the Lumad schools. When she came back she raised money to support them. Following her tragic death in 2021, her family set up the Dara Bascara Memorial Fund to collect donations to support Lumad schools.
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Extra-judicial killings and the “war against drugs”
After his election in 2016, President Duterte launched his so-called “war against drugs” which Amnesty International has dubbed a war against the poor. With estimates of over 30,000 extra-judicial killings, the International Criminal Court is launching an investigation against the President for crimes against humanity.
CHRP supported film producers making a BBC Storyville documentary on extra-judicial killings. CHRP and Amnesty International UK organised a special pre-broadcast showing of the film and a question and answer session with producer James Jones. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0009m86.
In 2019, CHRP and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) brought the Philippine theatre production Tao Po to London. The play featuring Mae Paneer gives a human face to the victims and even the assassins involved in the extra-judicial killings. The event also brought the mother of one of the victims to speak to the audience.
CHRP also gave showings to two short documentaries – ‘The Mortician of Manila’ and ‘The Nightcrawlers’. Both covered President Duterte’s war on drugs but from different angles.
Attacks on civil society
The election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr in June 2020 marked a continuation of the murderous regime established by Duterte whose ‘counterinsurgency program’ – the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) – is behind Marcos Jr’s aim to suppress working people’s right to life and to their freedom of association and right to organise. Illegal and inhumane attacks on human rights defenders and advocates, including teachers, trade unionists, environmentalists, lawyers, farmers, church workers and the press continue.
CHRP’s current programme for 2023/24 includes pursuing further engagement with UK parliamentary bodies and to forge new links and renew old links between Philippine and UK trade unions.
Supporting environmental activists
The Philippines is reckoned to be the third or fourth most at-risk country in the world from climate disasters. It is the most exposed country in the world to severe tropical storms, while drought is also becoming a severe problem.
Like most countries in the South, the Philippines is suffering from climate change effects which have been mainly caused by the economically powerful countries whose industrialisation was built on the exploitation of their old colonial empires. Western affluence continues to be fuelled by the exploitation of poorer countries.
The elite politicians in the Philippines have been made rich through their eager facilitation of such exploitation. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr continues to represent these interests, in the same mould as his brutal predecessor Rodrigo Duterte whose “Build, build, build” national development strategy, opened up the country to foreign investment in open cast mining, hydroelectric dams, and supersize plantations, while further destroying fragile and environmentally valuable habitats.
Yet British mining companies and banks continue to make profits from environmental destruction in the Philippines, while the UK Government (along with the US and Australia) provides funding and assistance to the Philippines military which implements Duterte’s repressive “anti-terrorist” campaigns.
It is the aim of CHRP to support the passionate and life-threatening work of a new generation of environmental activists in the Philippines. To help bring Ohilippine environmental threats to COP26 in 2021 CHRP contributed the following:
- CHRP helped two young environmental activists, Mitzie Tan and Jonathon Bonifacio, in attending COP 26 so they could bring their messages of protest from the Philippines, a country already in the grip of a climate crisis, to the governments gathered in Glasgow.
- CHRP supported a workshop on the environmental threats in the Philippines held in London led by Jon Bonifacio of YACAP and [dialling in] Reywynx Morgado of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which was organised by Anakbayan on 29 October just prior to COP 26.
- CHRP supported a pre-COP Defund Climate Chaos demonstration at Standard Chartered, as well as a later workshop on the environmental threats in the Philippines held in London.
- CHRP supported an event sharing the experience of environmental defenders in the Philippines and Indonesia. Speakers were: Triana Kurnia Wardani, chairperson of Indonesian Women’s Organisation (Seruni Serikat Perempu) and International Coordinating Committee Member of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle at the Filipino Chaplaincy.