This June, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) of the Philippines kicked off a speaking tour across the United States in an attempt to gain support for Duterte’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Kapanatagan, a recently initiated joint operation plan between the Philippine military and police.

The timing of President Duterte’s tour comes at no coincidence.

Last Thursday, Iceland led over two dozen countries in submitting a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation on the Duterte regime’s war on drugs. The resolution comes just a week after the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines hosted its Global Assembly in Hong Kong, and less than a year after the International People’s Tribunal in Brussels, Belgium, found Duterte guilty of gross human rights violations. The Human Rights Council is set to vote on the resolution by July 12.

In response to growing international scrutiny against Duterte, the PCOO has paraded a group called the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders (MIPCEL) across the United States, a collection of tribal dealers and leaders of paramilitary groups who are wreaking havoc on Mindanao’s indigenous (Lumad) communities. The said “Council” have collaborated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines since 2003 to recruit Lumads into the regular armed forces and paramilitary groups to conduct counterinsurgency, as outlined in a Memorandum of understanding with the Mindanao Eastern Region Command.

Since the declaration of Pres. Duterte’s Martial Law 2 years ago — which spurred further U.S. military support in the form of Operation Pacific Eagle — 31 Lumad leaders have been killed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, its gunmen, and paramilitary groups. More than 400,000 have been forcibly evacuated under Duterte’s Martial Law in Mindanao. Under Oplan Kapanatagan, joint operations between the military and police have resulted in more massacres, especially against farmers and indigenous people.

Mindanao, where the Lumad reside, holds the world’s second largest known gold reserves in addition to copper, nickel, and other minerals. Those who resist the encroachment of private business on their ancestral domains are subject to “clearing” operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and paramilitary groups. Through Ancestral Domain Management Systems, Inc., MIPCEL cooperate and collude with private corporations aiming to exploit the natural resources in the ancestral domains, receiving hefty financial kickbacks. MIPCEL is no advocate for indigenous rights, but a mechanism of Philippine government to exploit indigenous people for the benefit of the Philippine elite and foreign corporations.

“Clearly the purpose of this MIPCEL tour is not to create dialogue, but rather is a desperate propaganda stunt to create a semblance of international support for Duterte’s bloodbath. No matter what antics the Duterte administration undergoes to justify its blatant disregard for human rights, the facts are indisputable,” said Drew Elizarde-Miller, National Coordinator of ICHRP US.

While Duterte seeks to consolidate the Philippine military and police to strengthen his hold over armed and security forces, the Philippine government also grows more defiant in its attempt to cover its attacks against the Filipino people. The Presidential office attributes increasing international pressure to false news, claiming that no other government could know the Philippines as well as its own government. Such pleads to Philippine sovereignty from the Duterte regime hold little weight when the Philippine government continues to sell the lands of indigenous people to foreign companies, increase its debt to the U.S. and China, and do nothing to defend the West Philippine Seas while China violates international maritime law. In this vein, the Presidential Communications Operations Office’s Lumad tour does not make our solidarity waver for the Lumad and the Filipino people’s struggle. In the face of the Duterte regime’s growing propaganda in the United States and across the world, we hold strong in our call to end U.S. support of the Duterte Regime and cut aid to the Philippine military and police. We urge the U.N Human Rights Council to pass the recently tabled resolution and investigate the sins of Duterte.

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