The Philippines has experienced a precipitous drop in basic human rights standards since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year, resulting in large, mass mobilizations across the country for the occasion of December 10, Human Rights Day.
At least 12 rallies were held across the archipelago on Sunday, with human rights group KARAPATAN and progressive alliance BAYAN taking the lead alongside a range of like-minded groups calling for an end to what they describe as the U.S.-Duterte regime.
In addition to over 13,000 small-time drug dealers and addicts killed during Duterte's “war on drugs,” Karapatan has documented 113 victims of political killings, 81 victims of torture, 54,573 victims of threat, harassment, and intimidation, 364,617 who have suffered due to indiscriminate firing and aerial bombing, and 426,170 internally displaced who were subject to forced evacuation. However, Karapatan has warned that the figures only reflect data voluntarily given to its monitors and human rights workers.
Following the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, the Manila government terminated peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on Nov. 23. Duterte accused the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army – whom the NDFP represented in peace talks – of being “criminals” as well as “terrorists.”
The famously volatile president also promised to crack down on progressive groups like BAYAN, Gabriela Women's Party, and various social movement and working-poor mass organizations that sympathize with the CPP's calls for an end to the rule of “U.S. Imperialism, Bureaucrat Capitalism, and Semi-Feudalism” in the country.
“Duterte labels revolutionaries terrorists but it is Duterte himself who sows terror with his extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, harassment of legal activists and mass murder of 13,000 drug suspects in his bloody drug war,” said Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
“Backed by U.S. imperialism, local oligarchs, and big Chinese capital, Duterte now represses people’s struggles to ram anti-people projects and neoliberal economic policies down the Filipino people’s throats.”
In the past few weeks alone, a number of human rights monitors and peasant organizers have been killed or subject to arbitrary detention, political prisoners released on humanitarian grounds have faced rearrest, and even members of the clergy have been murdered by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or by unnamed killers.
“It is infuriating how the U.S.-backed Duterte regime has escalated its fascist attacks on the Filipinos in the past two weeks before International Human Rights Day,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
“Peasant leader Apolonio Maranan was killed in Davao City on November 26. A human rights defender and a peasant activist were killed on November 28, followed by the killing of a Catholic priest in Nueva Ecija and a pastor in Mindoro Oriental. Duterte’s bloodthirsty hounds also massacred eight T’boli and Dulangan Manobos in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato on December 3. Most recently, a leader of a fisherfolk organization, Aldrin Sese, was gunned down in Masbate on December 8 and yesterday, the lifeless body of youth cultural worker Bernardo Clarion was found in Davao City, after reports that the house he was in was raided by soldiers,” she added.
“The military is shameless in denying its atrocities. On the other hand, its Commander-in-Chief – when sober and comprehensible – admits to killing the poor and wears the crown of a dictator wannabe proudly."
The Lumad Indigenous people, whose children's schools Duterte has threatened to bomb, continue to face mass displacements and a food blockade resulting from anti-communist counterinsurgency operations by the AFP.
On Sunday, the president's office used the occasion of Human Rights Day to float its plans to extend martial law by a full year – despite destroying the prosperous Muslim-majority city of Marawi after the "Islamic State group"-copycats in the Maute Group launched their failed insurgency.
"Clearly, Duterte has more sinister motives. By extending martial law in Mindanao, Duterte takes the country one more step towards open dictatorial rule," said Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo. "The real target are government critics tagged as rebels and terrorists to satiate Duterte's tyrannical hunger for total power. Martial law extension is a license to intensify fascist state terrorist attacks against the people," said Crisostomo.
The human rights commemorations in the Philippines were marked by a solemn tone, especially due to the president's looming crackdown on the country's legal left.
“This may be the last human rights commemoration without the nationwide declaration of martial law, but with an impending martial law extension in Mindanao. The recent frequency of fascist attacks foreshadows what is next to come from Duterte, the dictator wannabe," said Palabay.
“We have no need for a government that kills, maims and attacks its people. The U.S.-backed Duterte regime relentlessly sticks to its fascist policies that have massacred, bombed, and imprisoned people especially those who oppose his neo-liberal economic policies and repressive programs, all the while mouthing that it is ridding the country of criminality. As far as we are concerned, this oppressive and exploitative system, this fascist regime and its infamous henchmen are the ones that need to be disposed of,” concluded Palabay.