Did Duterte Just Endorse Campaign to End US Support of Duterte?”

On Wednesday January 29, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he will not allow any member of his Cabinet to travel to the United States. This announcement came just a few days after he ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a 1998 military pact between the Philippines and US which accords legal status to US troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and other operations. The termination order was given after Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa was canceled by the US. Dela Rosa is well known as President Duterte’s close confidant and leader of his bloody war on drugs.

It is clear that Duterte’s blatant abuses of power, leading to the egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines over the past 3 years, are ringing alarm bells for some US legislators. While the US has given Duterte’s regime 550 million dollars in military aid since 2016, the US Senate and House of Representatives have also both passed resolutions condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima, Senate resolution 142 and House resolution 233.  The “threat” to terminate the VFA, as well as the barring of his Cabinet members’ travels to the US, function as Duterte’s test of the loyalty of the US government, his closest military ally and most ardent supporter. 

ICHRP-US welcomes the termination of the VFA, and sees it as a key step in end support of Duterte, if it is actually enacted. Since its inception, the Filipino people have protested and pushed back against it, and against any presence of US troops in the Philippines. ICHRP-US  welcomes any action taken by the US government to withdraw its ongoing support for human rights violations in the Philippines vis-a-vis military support for Duterte’s state forces.  

As the murderous war on drugs continues in the cities, we also see the heightening of abuses against human rights defenders, in Negros and throughout the country, through Executive Order 70 and Memorandum 132 with the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC), and the brutal Oplan Kapanatagan and “whole of nation approach.”  While these are sold to the people as peacekeeping and stabilizing efforts, in reality, they are nothing more than fascistic crackdowns on legal activist organizations and terror-tagging of individuals who disagree with Duterte’s policies and practices, modeled from from the 2009 U.S. counterinsurgency guide.

While Duterte tests the level of public support he can receive from the United States, it is ever more urgent we register our dismay and outrage towards ongoing U.S. support of the regime and to win over those who support human rights in the Philippines to become even bolder in advocacy. We hold strong in our support for genuine sovereignty and self-determination in the Philippines, which necessitates freedom from U.S. military intervention in the country.

Portland Human Rights Commission Votes in Favor of Resolution to Suspend Military Aid to Duterte Regime

Portland, OR — In the evening of January 8th, the Portland Human Rights commission voted to submit a historic resolution to the Portland City Council to suspend U.S. military Aid to the Philippines. Since 2016, the U.S. has provided the Philippines with over 550 million dollars in military aid, despite Philippine President Duterte’s infamous and widespread human rights violations that have resulted in over 30,000 killings in the country.  

Dozens of Filipino human rights activists and community members joined the Portland Human Rights Commission meeting to support the resolution and testify about the effects of Duterte’s “war on drugs” and crackdown on human rights defenders.

“Youth should not have to grow up looking down the barrel of a gun” said Veronica Porter from GABRIELA Portland and the Malaya Movement, describing the situation of many youth growing up in the Philippines who are facing indiscriminate harassment from state forces. Porter recently returned from a delegation to Panay island in the Visayas, Philippines. 

Dr. Crystallee Crain, Portland Human Rights Commissioner and author of the resolution, stated, “I believe that it’s important to use our voices for change and to impress upon the leaders of the city, state, and country that we do not support these violations of human rights.”

Clearly moved by the constituent testimonies, the Commission voted 6-1-1 to push for the resolution at the level of Portland City Council. The Commission also voted to write a public statement of support. The current draft of the resolution will be submitted for a vote at Portland City Council on a later date yet to be determined. 

“While this is a big step in the right direction, I encourage leaders in Congress to divest unnecessary military aid that are being unjustly utilized. We should not allow our elected officials to squander tax dollars to dictatorships that aim to bolster their own power. We need massive review and reform of appropriations on the federal level. Our local work is meant to catalyze the movement in that direction,” continued Dr. Crain. 

Sam Miller, Regional Coordinator for the Portland Chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, added, “In a progressive city like Portland, this is an important move forward in living those progressive values on an international level. I applaud the members of the Human Rights Commission for recognizing the interconnectedness of their advocacy for human rights in Portland and the global struggle for freedom, democracy and justice.”

The Portland resolution is a part of growing diplomatic pressure against Duterte and a contribution to the U.S.-wide campaign to suspend military aid to the Philippines. In 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation of the human rights situation in the Philippines, and in September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution, which calls for the suspension of military aid to the Philippines. On the same day of the Portland Human Rights Commission vote, the U.S. Senate passed Resolution S142, which condemns human rights violations in the Philippines and the detention of Senator Leila De Lima and harassment of journalist and Time Magazine Person of the year Maria Ressa. 

Support the Filipino People’s Struggle, Not U.S. War

On December 10th, Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson announced the President would lift martial law in Mindanao two years after its initial implementation. This is a welcome development; however, under a President who has authored 30,000 killings in a war on drugs and unleashed endless attacks against human rights defenders, the move to lift martial law in Mindanao neither absolves Duterte’s guilt nor indicates a change a halt to the Presidents growing list of crimes against humanity. 

The news brings further attention to the fact that Duterte has not needed to declare martial law over the whole country in order to carry out military rule; Duterte has instead implemented Executive Order 70, the National Task Force to End Local communist armed conflict, and Memorandum 32, a redeployment of state forces to “suppress lawless violence.” According to Karapatan, Duterte’s program of harassment and violence have resulted in 293 political killings, at least 204 people tortured, 429 victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 94,075 threatened and harassed and the arrests of 382 of the 629 political detainees in the country. As long as Duterte can continue such a level of repression with impunity, he has no need for any formal declaration of martial law. 

But whatever guise Duterte uses to try and obscure his dictatorship, his attempts to dupe people in the Philippines and abroad are failing. As evident in the UN Human Rights Council investigation on human rights in the Philippines, the International Criminal Court movement towards its own investigation, the recent statement from U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders against repression of workers and unions in the Philippines, and in the growing number of people protesting Duterte worldwide, international dissent against the regime continues to grow. Even Bono is calling Duterte to accountability.  

Still, there are those who lend support to Duterte. Since 2016, the U.S. has supplied $554.55 million in defense assistance to the regime. Furthermore, In a recent report from the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines, “47 major companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Total, could be found legally and morally liable for human rights harms to Filipinos resulting from climate change.”  Whether it is President Trump or multinational corporations, only those who seek to profit from the exploitation of Filipinos align with Duterte. In the end, those who do win financial gains from political repression are far outnumbered by those of us who support and uphold human rights in the Philippines; what remains for us is to organize more broadly and boldly. 

On International Human Rights Day, ICHRP-US declares our unequivocal solidarity with the Filipino people, and we voice our support not only for individual and civil rights in the Philippines, but to the Filipino people’s collective right to self-determination and national liberation. While millions of dollars flow to U.S. defense assistance and multinational corporations that exploit people and their land, we call on people in the U.S. to join the solidarity movement for the Philippines and support the Filipino people’s struggle, not U.S. war and exploitation! 


As Attacks Against Activists Increase, Fight Like Brandon Lee! Advance the Solidarity Movement for the Philippines!

Brandon’s Return to the Bay Area

This past week, just days before arrests of 57 activists in Negros, multiple police and military raids of Bayan and Gabriela offices in Manila, and the disappearance of a human rights worker, Honey Mae Suazo — family, friends, activists and city officials welcomed Brandon Lee home to the Bay Area. Brandon is the first United States citizen to be caught in the cross hairs of an extra-judicial assassination attempt by the regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

The protection and safe return of Brandon — the fundraising of thousands, community vigils, passing resolutions, and lobbying for Brandon — are evidence of the impact of Brandon’s life dedicated to community and justice. But even more so, the response to Brandon’s shooting is evidence of a mass movement — of international scale — amidst a worsening human rights crisis in the Philippines.

Brandon Lee’s Solidarity

ICHRP-US is one of the organizations contributing to the mass movement for peace & justice in the Philippines; as a solidarity formation, we uphold Brandon’s life and example as a model to us. 

Before moving to the Philippines, where Brandon married his wife, raised his young daughter and established permanent residence, Brandon was an active member of the League of Filipino Students at San Francisco State University.  Brandon, a Chinese-American, born and raised in San Francisco, was always deeply integrated in the Filipino community. As many know now, Brandon dedicated his life to fight for indigenous and land rights as a community activist and paralegal and published facts and stories of people’s struggle as a journalist under a fascist regime. Even in the face of surveillance and harassment from state forces, Brandon did not waver in his cause. 

Like Brandon, many people of faith and activists from outside the Philippines have taken up the call to organize and live in genuine solidarity with the oppressed people under the Duterte regime. Along with Brandon, Sister Patricia Fox, Adam Shaw, Tawanda Chandiwana, and Miracle Osma are some of the most recent who faced persecution, including deportation, under Duterte. Many solidarity activists before these, like Father Pops and WIlliam Geertman, were killed while struggling for people’s rights and self-determination in the Philippines. 

Whether it was Martial Law of the Marcos era, the hundreds of enforced disappearances of the Arroyo Regime, the negligence of the Noynoy Regime during natural disasters, or the ever-worsening human rights crisis of the Duterte Regime under which 30,000 poor people have been slaughtered in the name of the war on drugs, the human rights situation and people’s movement in the Philippines has moved many to take action around the world.  Brandon continues that legacy of international solidarity and we call on people in the United States to follow Brandon’s lead. 

U.S. Support of the Duterte Regime

In 2018, the US gave at least $195 million in military aid to the state forces responsible for the shooting of Brandon. In addition, 5 million rounds of ammunition was given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines by the US government.  The bullets that remain in Brandon, a US citizen, and the many bullets used to enforce Duterte’s tyranny, are very likely to have been provided by US taxpayer money. Despite the overwhelming proof of grave human rights violations by the Duterte Regime, the US government continues to violate the Leahy Law which prohibits the US government from using funds to assist foreign security forces that commit torture, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance

While the United States has yet to take decisive action in response to Duterte’s crimes, the situation in the Philippines worsens. Duterte imposes de-facto martial law across the country through widespread killings, surveillance, and the raids.

As Brandon’s mother, Louise Lee, reflected on the human rights situation:

“My son, who like many innocent people in the Philippines, was senselessly shot for speaking out for those who have no voice, for those who are marginalized, and for those who are being taken advantage of.

Let’s not permit this failed assassination attempt on my son’s life be in vain.

Unlike Brandon, there are tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines who remain unknown because they do not receive the same international attention as Brandon. My son would say, his fight for justice is for them too.”

Brandon fights because the Filipino people are fighting back: lawyers pursue justice for trade unionists jailed with trumped up charges, activists rally in the streets, indigenous people defend the environment, farmers create collective cooperatives to ensure enough food in crisis, and some even choose to take up arms to defend threatened communities. ICHRP-US calls community members and organizations to join with the Filipino people: Fight like Brandon Lee! Advance the solidarity movement for the Philippines! End U.S. Support of the Duterte regime!


US Congressional Hearing: An Important First Step Forward

Towards Accountability over “Appalling” Human Rights Situation in the Philippines

On Thursday, July 25, members of the Malaya Movement and ICHRP-US joined Chairman Brad Sherman and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation for a hearing on Human Rights in South East Asia, featuring the Philippines. 

While Duterte’s administration has been vocal in its feedback to foreign governments who criticize his regime, Chairman Brad Sherman was blunt in his opening remarks, calling the human rights situation in the Philippines “appalling.” 

“This hearing is an important first step in the road to accountability over the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” states Drew Elizarde-Miller of ICHRP-US. “Our advocacy towards ensuring not a single US tax dollar is spent towards any form of human rights abuse in the Philippines does not end here. We will continue to advocate our lawmakers to stand with the Filipino people, especially the tens of thousands of victims of these abuses under the Duterte government and their families. This is just a beginning, there is more work to be done.”

At the hearing, Congressman Sherman recognized Beverly Longid, Chairperson of the Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation. Longid, one of the activists listed on Duterte’s terror list that vilified human rights defenders, explained the human rights situation in the Philippines in an interview prior to the hearing: “One killing is one killing too many, especially if it’s done in the context of violating due process of law . . . it speaks of the danger human rights defenders or activists or anyone critical of the Philippine government face, where you can find yourself in a situation where you are arrested, incarcerated or probably dead.”

Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous People

Francisco Bencosme, the Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International, testified at the hearing. Bencosme’s testimony highlighted the recent killing of a three year old, Myka Ulpina, in the war on drugs, as well as the regime’s attacks on human rights defenders, including death threats on Cristina Palabay and other Karapatan human rights workers. Bencosme shared, “There is an urgent need, particularly in the context of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, to make this a priority.”

Ann Wagner, Congresswoman from Missouri, raised the problem of threats on indigenous people. Wagner stated, “I am especially concerned about the plight of indigenous people in the Philippines. In Mindanao, which has been under Martial law since May of 2017, the Duterte Administration has committed these extrajudicial, illegal killings, illegal arrests, and attacks on indigenous schools set up in partnership with NGO’s.” 

Bencosme elaborated on government attacks on the indigenous people and human rights defenders: “The way the Philippines government acts is it red-tags them — legitimate organizations — or it brands them as communist fronts, which has led to an increase in harassment or attacks by unknown individuals against them.”

During an interview, Longid further explained the impact on indigenous people: “The attacks have been relentless because we have been facing intensified intrusion into our ancestral lands because of the government’s ‘Build Build Build’ policy that would bring in destructive projects like mining, corporate energy projects and plantations. Alongside the ‘Build Build Build’ policy is Duterte’s ‘kill kill kill’ policy against people who are resisting, dissenting, or critical to his policy or programs.”  

US Aid to the Philippines, Call for Investigation 

Deemed a “a major non-NATO ally” by Congressman Sherman, the United States maintains strong economic and military interests in the region, sending 193.5 million dollars in aid to the Philippine military and police in 2018 alone.  Even this amount is just one aspect of military aid to the Philippines — this number does not include arms sales, donated equipment of unreported worth, nor the costs of annual joint trainings like the Balikatan exercises. In a statement, Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, made recommendations on how to deal with U.S. support of Philippine military and police.

Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia noted the importance of U.S. opposition to Duterte’s crimes, saying, “by not speaking out, he [President Trump] has, in fact, sadly encouraged Duterte and his vigilantes to persist, if not expand, their gross violations of human rights.”

“Now that US lawmakers have posed their questions, it’s time to investigate what is happening on the ground to get the answers,” states Yves Nibungco of Malaya Movement. “A US Congressional investigation on how exactly US aid to the Philippines, particularly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, is spent should be conducted, in order to make certain such aid is uplifting the lives of the Filipino people and safeguarding human rights and democracy. Until then we call on US aid to the Philippine be withheld or for a temporary moratorium pending such an investigation.”

Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council  (UNHRC) in Geneva passed a resolution to conduct an independent investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines, the findings of which would be included in a comprehensive country report.