The following speech was delivered at SONA ng Bayan (People’s SONA) in Toronto on July 26th, 2020. The event was part of a series of coordinated actions around the world which drew attention to the worsening conditions in the Philippines, and the Duterte administration’s failure to address the concerns of the Filipino people. The actions were held simultaneously with President Rodrigo Duterte’s own State of the Nation Address.
ICHRP-Canada is an organization that stands for the individual human rights and collective people’s rights in the Philippines.
Included among these are the rights to political and economic self-determination, as well as their right to defend their self-determination through all forms of struggle, by any means necessary.
Despite the false narrative that is being pushed by the Duterte administration, the last few months have seen the suppression of some of the most basic rights of the Filipino people.
But at the same time, we recognize that the Philippine movement to defend their rights and push for a better future is growing stronger every day. We stand in solidarity with that broad people’s movement for a just and lasting peace.
We’d like to discuss violations of the rights of the Filipino people in three areas.
The first violation of the rights of the Filipino people is in the Philippine government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 72,000 Filipinos have reportedly been infected, and the testing and reporting of cases leaves out those most vulnerable to the virus: poor and working class Filipinos. Much of the government funding designated for COVID testing and PPE is being misappropriated by politicians for personal gain.
Beyond this negligence and corruption, the government’s response to the pandemic has been heavily militarized. On March 9th, Duterte and his government declared a state of public emergency and rushed to consolidate police powers to enforce “de facto” martial law. The right of the Filipino people to healthcare has been consistently denied by mismanagement, greed, and violence.
Armed Philippine military troops roam around communities, enter homes and accuse residents of being members or supporters of the NPA. In one village, they arrested five civilians, brought them to the river and shot them. They arrested 21 hungry people in San Roque (row-kay), Quezon (keh-zon) City, who were demanding food and medical aid. In a televised speech, Duterte speaking about protesters told the police, “Shoot them dead!”
The Filipino people exercised their right to resist their government’s handling of the pandemic. Worker- and peasant-led aid initiatives have provided education, protective equipment, and relief to a wide range of people. Their dissatisfaction has been expressed through public mobilizations demanding the right to food, resources, and health care.
The second violation of the rights of the Filipino people that we’ll discuss is in the dire situation of the working classes, and the exploitation of the Philippine economy by foreign powers.
Poverty, homelessness, landlessness, and unemployment are widespread across the country. The worsening economic conditions, as well as the labour export policy of the Duterte administration, continue to drive Filipino workers to seek precarious employment overseas. In Canada alone, overseas Filipino workers make up a large proportion of migrant workers, and are vulnerable to exploitative recruitment agencies and unsafe working conditions.
As well, foreign investors dominate much of the Philippine economy. In March, the Duterte administration made it legal for foreign entities to take 100% ownership of public utilities. This opened up the possibility for an entirely profit-driven incentive for the maintenance of basic goods such as water and electricity.
The Filipino people again exercised their right to resist the exploitative economy. Organizations of workers, peasants, land defenders, and others have fought for their rights to freedom from exploitation and economic prosperity. Strikes, land occupations, and mass mobilizations demonstrate the collective power of the Filipino people to forge their own economic path.
The third and most recent violation of the rights of the Filipino people that we will discuss comes from the Anti-Terror Act.
Duterte, along with a congress and senate infamous for rubber stamping his human rights violations, railroaded the Act through the Philippine legislature. In the context of a decades-long counter-insurgency war, the state has given itself the power to arbitrarily designate any opposing organization as a terrorist group. Arrests will now be issued without warrants, and any suspected ‘terrorists’ will be detained without cause or charge for a period of up to 24 days. They could potentially be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison if they were judged to be guilty of terrorism by a panel hand picked by Duterte.
We know why Duterte needs a law like this. His state needs to be able to respond to the people’s righteous resistance. In the face of the people’s discontent regarding the COVID militarization and the economic plunder, the killings with impunity, the poverty and landlessness – Duterte is sharpening his weapons of war.
And in response, the Filipino people have heroically exercised their right to resist this act of terror and puppetry. In the face of intense repression across the Philippines, and even overseas from Hong Kong to Toronto, the Filipino people have stood up to say: “Junk Terror Law!”
Across the board, the rights of the Filipino people to political and economic self-determination have been consistently violated by Duterte and the system he represents. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, exploitative economy, and signing of the Anti-Terror Act are confirmation that the Duterte administration does not serve the basic interests of the majority of Filipinos.
We have also seen that despite this disregard for human rights, the Filipino people have found a way to determine their own destiny. There has been mass resistance against the suppression of the Philippine state.
The crackdown on political dissenters, including peaceful protestors and activists, has intensified in recent months. Arrest and detention of protesters and activists have greatly accelerated this year as the Filipino people continue to resist and demand that their rights be met. Currently, over 600 political prisoners are languishing in the most over-capacity prisons in the world in the middle of a global pandemic.
As an organization concerned about the protection of human rights and people’s rights in the Philippines, ICHRP Canada will be launching a campaign to call for the release of all political prisoners in the Philippines later this summer.
Going forward, we will be working together as a network across Canada to raise political and material support for Philippine political prisoners and the organizations that support them. We invite you to take part in our campaign and advance the movement for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.