Over the past year, ICHRP-US and its members have conducted engaging and high profile activities throughout the US and in the Philippines. ICHRP-US has reached a broadening base of people amidst the deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines under the Duterte regime. This past year has strengthened the commitment of existing members and garnered the support and commitment of new members to support the Filipino people engaged in fearless struggle against rising fascism and tyranny in the Philippines.
Near the one year anniversary of its 2017 launch, the ICHRP-US Network gathered at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon on December 1, 2018 to:
- Discuss the latest developments in the Philippines under Duterte’s Regime and the U.S. role in aiding the worsening human rights crisis.
- Develop a 2019 plan of political action, particularly the campaign to End US Support for the Duterte Regime.
- Strengthen the leadership and coordination of regions, working groups and the National Coordinating Committee of ICHRP-US and expand our membership.
There were 34 organizations represented by 54 participants who studied the economic and political situationer of the Philippines to ground themselves in the current conditions and to best inform the campaign development process.
In addition to discussing the 2019 campaign plan, the group reviewed ICHRP-US’ gains and challenges over the past year.
Working groups were assembled during breakout sessions to build a stronger media strategy, follow up on the campaign for Justice for Jerome, develop congressional targets, and to build broad movement and pressure, as well as a social media strategy.
Recognition of Martyrs
In honor of the upcoming International Human Rights Day on December 10th, the convening honored a few recent martyrs.
Ben Ramos was 56 years old and was a founding member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers. Despite limitations, he was the “go-to” pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros Occidental. Earlier this year, he was maliciously and irresponsibly tagged in a public poster by the Philippine police as among the so-called personalities of the underground armed movement. Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the 2-year administration of President Duterte. Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed and the 8th in the Visayas region. He was passionate, dedicated, articulate and yet also amiable and jolly. He remained fearless in the pursuit of justice, and brought that same determination and character into everything he did.
On the night of October 20, 2018, nine sugarcane workers were massacred while they were resting by more or less 40 armed men in Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental over land dispute. This is not the first time in our history that farmers were murdered to preserve the interest of landlords. Time and time again violence were used against peasants in response to their pleas for genuine land reform. Such horrific event only further shows the maltreatment of the country’s lifeblood. From unfair policies to actually spilling their blood on the land that they tilled, farmers have long been victims of systematic oppression. The massacre of Sagay 9 reinforces what has long been proven: the lending ears for the plight of farmers are not just deprived, the farmers and their struggles are continuously grinded down by those in power, forever attempting to sweep under the rug their crimes towards them.The blood of farmers will continue to shed until the government pushes for genuine agrarian reform. The people who put food on our table will continue to starve until we stop landlords from stealing what is rightfully theirs. For as long as our people are deprived of their rights, their sufferings will never end.
Elisa was the coordinator for the human rights organization Karapatan in Negros Oriental Province in the Philippines. She also served as an organizer of urban poor communities in Cebu Province, and worked with Desaparecidos, an organization of families of the disappeared. Elisa and two of her colleagues were killed on November 28, 2017 by two unidentified men at Barangay San Ramon, Bayawan city in the Negros Oriental province during a mission to investigate alleged land rights abuses in the area.
Had Obello Bay-ao not gone home to Talaingod, Davao del Norte to help with the farming, the Grade 7 student of the Salugpongan Tu Tano Igkanogon-Community Learning Center Inc., a lumad school, might well be alive still, his cousin Rorilyn Mandacawan said. The 19-year old Manobo was actually one of the lumad who had journeyed from Mindanao to Metro Manila in the Lakbayan 2017and set up camp, including a “bakwit” (evacuee) school set up by the Save our Schools Network, at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Rorilyn said. “He was actually here with us, when we first came to the bakwit school here in Manila. He went home to help with the farming. How I wish he had gone back here,” said Rorilyn. As it was, Obello, 19, was shot as he walked home after harvesting his cornfield, allegedly by cousings Ben and Joven Salangani, members of the both the government’s Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit and the military-backed militia Alamara, the afternoon of September 5. He made it home despite his wounds but died that evening in the hospital where he was rushed.
The international opposition against the U.S.-backed atrocities of the Duterte administration is reaching new heights. In the past year, grassroots organizations, U.S. Senators, and international governing bodies have condemned the killings of the Duterte Administration. In response, the Duterte Administration has rejected foreign criticism, even threatening to offer foreign activists as targets for the Philippine National Police (PNP) if such scrutiny continues.
Duterte’s administration has shown it will spare no one in its wars against the poor, the Moro (Muslim) and the defenders of human rights. Recently, agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP have shot a ten year old lumad child, Aboy Mandaget, murdered Attorney Benjamin Ramos of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, and carried out a brutal massacre in Sagay against nine farmers including women and children. In addition to these recent atrocities, Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs” targeting the poor and the violent repression of labor unions and worker picket lines continues. Furthermore, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao has resulted in the displacement of 436,517 people and widespread harassment of women by the Philippine military and police. In the two years of Duterte’s Presidency, the death toll at the hands of Philippine Military and Police has risen to over 23,000 killings. Despite these ruthless acts of violence, the United States has allocated 184.5 million dollars in aid to the Philippine Military and Police.
A big year awaits, as ICHRP-US’ campaign has ambitious goals. ICHRP-US aims to educate the US public broadly on the role and impact the US has on the Philippines human rights situation across various sectors and cases. Such issues like military aid to the Philippine National Police, the detention and torture of Jerome Aba, the plundering of indigenous land and the exploitation of workers in the Philippines will continue to be highlighted. Over the next year, ICHRP -US will agitate and involve key organizations and people in helping to end U.S. support of the Duterte Regime, including raising congressional awareness and action to help end U.S. aid to the AFP & PNP. ICHRP US expects that the ability of the network to wage and win congressional advocacy campaigns for the Philippines will be strengthened over the next year.
In discussing how to develop this work, a lively debate occurred around the language of “cutting military aid” and “US support of the Duterte Administration.” Some believed pressuring Congress on military aid would not be strong enough because of the other forms of economic and political support the Philippines receives from the U.S. Some believed using the word administration might mislead people into thinking that once Duterte is no longer in power, the human rights crisis would be resolved. Ultimately, the group reached a unanimous decision to demand to “End US Support of the Duterte Regime,” to demonstrate the systemic aspect of the situation in the Philippines and to build a comprehensive campaign to stop human rights violations that is not only focused on legislative advocacy, though it is a crucial piece of the campaign.
More breakout group sessions discussed ways to connect with environmental and indigenous peoples issues, the trade union movement, and efforts to build a broad anti-war/peace movement. There was also fruitful discussion on lobbying plans and how to mobilize people for next year’s International Solidarity Mission to the Philippines.
The day of planning ended on a high note with an action in downtown Portland. Putting commitment into action, the delegates raised awareness about the absurd amount of money the US has given the Duterte Regime in the form of US aid to the Philippine Military and Police. People passing by were shocked to hear that 184.5 million dollars of US taxpayer money was being allocated to a government that committed grave human rights violations. When asked what they would rather spend the tax money on, they voted for healthcare, education, housing, and the environment.
The gathering and action forecast a challenging but exciting year ahead. The delegates deepened their understanding of the gravity of the human rights situation in the Philippines and the urgent need to ramp up support for the Filipino people’s struggle against the Duterte regime.
Solidarity is our Duty! Uphold human rights in the Philippines!