Democracy is under siege in the Philippines. The arrest of peasant leaders, trade unionists, human rights defenders, cultural workers, journalists, women’s rights activists as well as minors over the past few days in Negros and Metro Manila represents an escalation of repression and impunity in the country. We vehemently condemn these outrageous attempts to eliminate critics of the Duterte regime and curb the peaceful struggles of the marginalized groups.
On the night of October 31, like thieves in the night, state forces barged into the homes of activists disrupting their peaceful remembrance of All Saint’s Day. The offices of people’s organizations, including the partylist Bayan Muna, the local chapter of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), and women’s rights group Gabriela, were also raided. The groups targeted have been critical of the anti-people policies and the human rights violations of the Duterte administration including the government’s ongoing “war on drugs”. According to a BPO Industry Employees Network representative, “the arrests of the unionists in Negros is a desperate tyrannical move of the Duterte government to silence groups that have been airing legitimate demands of the workers for secure jobs, higher wages and workers rights”. Amnesty International expressed concern about the use of malicious tactics like “red-tagging” by security officials to “discredit the groups and undermine the credibility of their claims”.
Among those arrested are Romulo Bito-on Jr of Bayan Muna and his wife Mermalyn; John Milton Lozande secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW); Noli Rosales of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU); Anne Krueger of Paghimutad; Proceso Quiatchon of Karapatan; Aldrin Dela Cerna of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Danny Tabura of NFSW. Others include 6 minors who are members of Teatro Obrero.
Many of the activists, whose résumés include helping workers to unionize, speaking out against landlords’ abuses and promoting the rights of marginalized and under-represented Filipino women, work with constant threats hanging over them. Despite the climate of fear instilled by Duterte’s oppressive regime, they continue to organize the masses. As long as the workers in Negros are held chained in the exploitative semi-feudal hacienda system and the oligarchic families perpetuate their power through force, inequality and injustices will continue to push them to resist and assert their rights.
Many members of the Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP-CPC) who have visited Negros Island have witnessed firsthand the perilous struggle of peasant leaders and trade unionists. “To quell their resistance, they are often branded as terrorists or dangerous criminals by the state and slapped with trumped-up charges. They relentlessly fight for the rights and welfare of the oppressed despite receiving death threats every day,” said Sheryl Anne Montano, CAP-CPC member who visited Negros in early 2018 as part of an internship on community-based health program.
Another CAP-CPC member, Sherilyn Recinto, recounted her 2016 visit with political prisoners in Negros. “They were incarcerated on various trumped-up charges by the Philippine government,” Recinto said. “Their age ranged from late teens to late 50s. They had spent from a few months to, in some cases, a few years without any hope of bail. In the vast majority of cases, almost all were found not guilty due to trumped-up charges. Activists and leaders of various grassroots organizations in the Philippines representing youth, women, farmers, and indigenous communities are being arrested for the fine work they do in those sectoral communities,” she concluded.
Since Duterte came into power, Negros Island alone witnessed 85 victims of extrajudicial killings, mostly farm workers and their families who have been fighting for their land. The island has consistently made headlines for a spate of bloody attacks against farmers, human rights defenders, lawyers, doctors, and politicians as state security forces implement the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.
We demand an immediate stop to the regime’s attacks against community activists, farmers, trade unionists and human rights workers in Negros. Canada must pull its support from this rising dictatorship. We call on Centre for Philippine members and allies along with concerned citizens everywhere to protest in front of Philippine embassies and consulate.