We are heartbroken and outraged by the heinous murder of our dear friend and colleague in the Philippines. On the night of August 17, amidst a heavy downpour, Zara Alvarez, 39, a single mother of an 11-year-old, was mercilessly gunned down by an unidentified assailant on a motorcycle while she was on her way home in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. This is only days after the senseless killing of Randy Echanis, a prominent land reform and peace advocate. Their assassinations are just the latest string of ruthless attacks linked to the Philippine government’s crackdown on dissent.
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.
Need to conduct high-level mission to Philippines to uncover brutal truth of Duterte dictatorship --KMU
A Statement of the Centre for Philippine Concerns on the killing of Human Rights Defender Atty. Benjamin Ramos
Known to many, Atty. Ramos was also a champion of numerous human rights cases of political prisoners, and that of the enforced disappearances and killings of peasants and activists.
Prior to the shooting incident, Atty Ramos was a victim of red-tagging, with public posters identifying him as a member of the New People’s Army. “These beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on. Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding missions,” the NUPL said in a statement.
“Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the two-year administration of President [Rodrigo] Duterte.” NUPL said.
Atty. Ramos was also the lawyer for six young activists accused and arrested of being New People’s Army fighters last year in Mabinay town in neighboring Negros Oriental. The father of three was also a peasant advocate and had founded the farmers’ organization Paghiliusa Development Group.
Targeting human rights lawyers by killing and listing them as enemies of the state makes it evident that the Duterte administration is going on an all-out war against human rights defenders who dare to fight against rights violations and the prevalent culture of impunity in the Philippines.
We stand in solidarity with his friends and colleagues, and the communities he served. His fellow lawyers at the NUPL describe him as a “passionate, dedicated and articulate yet amiable and jolly” person who was, for the longest time, “the run-to pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros.”
As a solidarity organization for the Philippines advocating various battles at the national and international levels, we call on the other Human Rights groups in Canada and in other parts of the world to join in the clamor for justice for Atty. Ramos and other human rights defenders in the Philippines who have been killed by police or military authorities while doing their service to the people.
The CAP/CPC joins with the other Canadian members of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Canada) in calling on the Duterte government to:
· Order an immediate and independent investigation in to the assassination of Atty. Ben Ramos and prosecute the perpetrator of this heinous crime;
· Prosecute the military and police perpetrators of human rights crimes;
· Stop the counter insurgency program and the campaign of terror and impunity that have resulted in the killings of farmers, indigenous leaders, anti-mining activists, human rights defenders and other social activists;
· Implement genuine land reform and eliminate one of the fundamental bases of social conflict in the Philippines;
· Restart the Peace Process with the National Democratic Front.
We call on the Canadian Government to end support for the Duterte regime and:
· Issue a public statement condemning the assassination of Atty. Ben Ramos and calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to take immediate action to end the killings and Human Rights violations against Human Rights Defenders;
· Stop all military and police cooperation and assistance;
· Stop ongoing support for the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency program including socio-economic programming;
· Stop all arms sales to the Duterte regime.
The Centre for Philippine Concerns (CPC) vehemently condemns the brutal killings of nine sugar farm workers in Hacienda Nene, Sagay City, Negros Occidental. We stand in solidarity with the peasant masses and land rights defenders of Negros Island at this time of crisis.
On the night of October 20th, while having dinner inside their tents, the farmers were brutally shot to death by several gunmen. Their bodies were then doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Before the massacre, the victims were peacefully engaging in “bungkalan” activities or the preparation and cultivation of idle land where they can grow crops to ward off hunger during the "tiempo muerto" or the dead season of the sugar industry. All nine members which include 3 women and 2 minors were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NSFW). The group assertively occupy idle lands as a "response to resonate their campaign for genuine agrarian reform and free land distribution”. This practice also reflects “the failure of the government's land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers”.
Sagay City Police identified the victims as:
• Eglicerio Villegas, 36, from Barangay Bulanon
• Angelipe Arsenal, from Barangay Bulanon
• Alias Pater, from Barangay Plaridel
• Dodong Laurencio, from Barangay Plaridel
• Morena Mendoza, female, from Barangay Bulanon
• Neknek Dumaguit, female
• Bingbing Bantigue, from Barangay Plaridel
• Joemarie Ughayon Jr., 17, from Barangay Rafaela Barrera
• Marchtel Sumicad, 17, from Barangay Bulanon
This heinous act highlights the continuous injustice faced by landless farm workers in the Philippines. As long as the peasants are held chained in the exploitative semi-feudal hacienda system and the oligarchic families perpetuate their power through force, the Sagay 9 victims will not be the last farmers to shed their blood fighting for survival and genuine agrarian reform. Inequality and injustices will continue to push workers to resist and find ways to sustain themselves.
Many of our members who have visited Negros Island have witnessed first-hand the struggles of the farm workers in these sugar plantations. Earning a meager salary while working in slave-like conditions, many families in sugar plantations suffer from severe malnutrition and hunger especially during tiempo muerto. “While I was there, I was shocked to see workers out in the sugarcane fields even under scorching heat or torrential thunderstorms. Despite working from dawn to dusk, it still wasn’t enough to feed the whole family. Children are forced to stay at home and learn how to wield a cane knife early in their lives so that they can help contribute to the household income. In demonstrations, I saw young and old side by side demanding basic rights to a government who remains blind to their plight. Due to their unbearable situation, farm workers resort to conducting agrarian reform activities on their own, without the government's assistance, putting their lives at risk,” said Sheryl Anne Montano, a member of CAP-CPC who went to Negros early in 2018 for her internship on community-based health program.
Many workers have been killed asserting their rights to land they have tilled for decades. Between 2000 to 2004, under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government, 15 agrarian reform beneficiaries were killed and 57 wounded due to land conflicts in Negros Occidental.
The killing of the nine farmers in Sagay City brings to 45 the number of farmers and farm workers killed in Negros island under President Rodrigo Duterte’s two-year term, according to the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the NFSW.
We echo the call of human rights defenders in the Philippines for:
• An independent and thorough investigation by the Commission on Human Rights;
• Justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings and an end to impunity;
• Resumption of the Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the
National Democratic Front of the Philippines;
• Genuine land reform and redistribution;
We further request that the Canadian Government halt funding and cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and other organizations who have been linked to human rights violations.
Sheryl Anne Montano
|Members of the IFI from Toronto join IFI members from Montreal, and solidarity friends, at the Monthly Migrant's Mass, to celebrate the 116th anniversary of the IFI, Sunday, August 19, 2019 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Montréal.|
Le Centre d’appui aux Philippines / Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP/CPC) joins you to celebrate the 116th anniversary of the IFI - Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
CAP/CPC is a solidarity group active since 1983 and is made up of Filipinos and non-Filipinos here in Montreal. We are connected to many people’s organizations in the Philippines and in the migrants’ community in Canada. We have long admired the courage and the work of the IFI in providing an alternative place of faith and spirituality that is based on social justice and human dignity.
Born out of the struggle against Spanish colonialism and American imperialism, progressive nationalist priests rose up against the collusion and participation of the Roman Catholic church in colonial domination. The Roman Catholic clergy and friars were some of the largest landowners in the colonial Philippines, and participated in the plunder of the country, committing all kinds of abuses against the local population and Filipino priests.
The formal establishment of the IFI was prevented by the intrusion of the United States of America in the revolutionary war against Spain in 1899.
It was during this period, when the institutional and missionary churches were cooperating with the colonial government, and patriotic Filipinos continued to sustain the struggle for national democracy, that the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was born in 1902.
The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and even Reformation churches did everything they could to try to stop Fr Gregorio Anglipay and his progressive nationalist church from surviving and thriving.
The traditional churches have the monuments, wealth, land, institutions and resources gleaned in large part during the colonial plunder of the Philippines.
But the IFI, despite the adversity, has managed to set itself apart and thrive. It is the church of the poor and the oppressed, of those who thirst for justice and for the respect of human dignity. It has formed alliances with other progressive churches around the world.
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente has played a key role in the national democratic movement in the Philippines over the years. The church was with the people in their struggle against the Japanese occupation in 1940’s and during the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970’s. The IFI has had many martyrs in this struggle over the years
I remember the morning of October 3, 2006 when my partner Malcolm and I were living in the Philippines and we were taking Tagalog lesson from a church worker, Agong, and she received an urgent text message. Her face crumpled in tears when she read the news that Bishop Alberto Ramento, a bishop of her church in San Sebastian, Tarlac City, had been slain.
Faceless assassins had broken into the rectory and stabbed the Bishop in his sleep. The police initially said it was a mere case of robbery with homicide. But there was nothing to steal at his home, which was a simple house with no objects of wealth whatsoever. The brutal killing was clearly politically motivated; Bishop Ramento was an advocate of a just peace, and part of the Monitoring Group in the Peace Talks between the Government and the National Democratic Front. His killing was the consequence of his principled engagement with the people and their struggle for the fullness of life.
Today, the IFI bravely takes a stand against the growing tyranny of the Rodrigo Duterte government.
It advocates actively in favour of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
The lack of material wealth and resources means IFI priests have to support themselves, and are often worker-priests, like our own Fr Art. This makes it difficult to build a congregation, but on the other hand, means that this church experiences first-hand the lives - the oppression, exploitation and struggle - of ordinary working people in the Philippines and the diaspora.
The IFI has over two million members and thousands abroad who carry on the rituals; the church is a beacon of comfort and spiritual support to the thousands of migrants abroad.
It is a church which has distinguished itself as the church of the migrants... and their struggles. Members of le Centre d’appui aux Philippines – Centre for Philippine Concerns are proud to be here to celebrate the IFI’s mission and history and wish it a bright future.
|Participants at the community dinner held after the Migrant's Mass at St Paul's Anglican Church, Côte de Neiges, Montréal, Sunday, August 19, 2018. The Migrant's Mass is held monthly.|