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Protestants’ Lenten call to Duterte: Care and compassion, not bullets

The country’s biggest group of Protestant churches urged President Rodrigo Duterte to feel care and compassion for the poor affected by his government’s island-wide lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its Lenten call to the president, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) said that the pandemic is a health crisis and that Duterte’s threat to arrest and shoot the desperate and hungry is uncalled for.

“Callous remarks and threats are not what are needed right now, especially as Holy Week is fast approaching. What is needed is food,” NCCP General Secretary Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza said.

The group of the Philippines’ mainline Protestant churches was reacting to Duterte’s surprise televised address Wednesday when he threatened he will order his police to shoot rioters.

Alam mo, we are ready for you. Gulo o barilan o patayan. I will not hesitate [to order] my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you,” Duterte said. (Disorder, gunfight or killings.)

“My orders are, sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead,” Duterte added. (To the police, military and the village officials, that if there is disorder and there is resistance and your lives are put in danger, shoot them dead.)

“Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil,” the president also said. (Do you understand? Dead. If there is disorder, I might as well bury you all. The burial is on me. Do not test the government, because this government is not inutile.)

Duterte was reacting to urban poor residents in Quezon City who were asking for food assistance after being put out of work since the government’s Luzon-wide lockdown started in March 15.

Officers of the Philippine National Police swooped down on the gathering and arrested 21 of the residents they allege refused to return to their hovels inside Sitio San Roque.

The residents later told reporters they were waiting for the food aid package they were promised by some local and national officials who were present in the area.

Later reports also clarified that the residents were not conducting a protest rally.

The NCCP said it is saddened and appalled with Duterte’s treatment of the people’s growing unrest brought by hunger amid the lockdown.

“The order of the President to ‘shoot those causing riot’ is sending a message that the government lacks genuine concern for our poor sisters and brothers who are growing desperate every day from hunger,” Marigza said.

Marigza added that it takes extreme conditions like hunger for people to brave the threat of Covid-19 and it was not for lack of discipline or being uncooperative.

“The people of San Roque simply need to survive. Going out in the streets is their desperate measure to call out the government that they are hungry. But instead of listening to their demands, they were met with violence and some were even arrested,” the prelate explained.

“What happened in San Roque is a painful proof that it is the poor who always suffer in any crisis such as now. The incident shows that enhanced community quarantine, without proper economic support to those severely affected, will not work,” Marigza added.

 Marigza said the residents of San Roque, located across NCPP’s headquarters along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, had long been struggling on a daily basis and deprived of basic social services even before the pandemic.

Originally part of a massive park project when Quezon City was created as the Philippines’ new capital during the American Commonwealth period, the area became a resettlement destination for victims of demolitions in Manila and Pasay cities.

Demolitions of the residents’ houses started when developments for a new Quezon City Business District in the area commenced. Remaining residents in Sitio San Roque refused relocation sites they described as “danger-prone areas” such as those in Rodriguez, Rizal.

“How do we want them to respond to a government measure that will make their already difficult lives even much harder?” Marigza asked.

The NCCP leader also raised concern over the government’s “fixation on arrests and imprisonment” in a time of a public health crisis.

He pointed out reports that more than 17,000 people arrested while there are around only 3,000 who were tested for COVID 19.

“Mass testing and a systematic distribution of food and other assistance are imperative right now. Again, our Lenten call, test more people and help the poor, do not arrest or shoot them,” Marigza said.

The country’s biggest group of Protestant churches urged President Rodrigo Duterte to feel care and compassion for the poor affected by his government’s island-wide lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its Lenten call to the president, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) said that the pandemic is a health crisis and that Duterte’s threat to arrest and shoot the desperate and hungry is uncalled for.

“Callous remarks and threats are not what are needed right now, especially as Holy Week is fast approaching. What is needed is food,” NCPP General Secretary said Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza.

The group of the Philippines’ mainline Protestant churches was reacting to Duterte’s surprise televised address Wednesday when he threatened he will order his police to shoot rioters.

Alam mo, we are ready for you. Gulo o barilan o patayan. I will not hesitate [to order] my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you,” Duterte said. (Disorder, gunfight or killings.)

“My orders are, sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead,” Duterte added. (To the police, military and the village officials, that if there is disorder and there is resistance and your lives are put in danger, shoot them dead.)

“Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil,” the president also said. (Do you understand? Dead. If there is disorder, I might as well bury you all. The burial is on me. Do not test the government, because this government is not inutile.)

Duterte was reacting to urban poor residents in Quezon City who were asking for food assistance after being put out of work since the government’s Luzon-wide lockdown started in March 15.

Officers of the Philippine National Police swooped down on the gathering and arrested 21 of the residents they allege refused to return to their hovels inside Sitio San Roque.

The residents later told reporters they were waiting for the food aid package they were promised by some local and national officials who were present in the area.

Later reports also clarified that the residents were not conducting a protest rally.

The NCCP said it is saddened and appalled with Duterte’s treatment of the people’s growing unrest brought by hunger amid the lockdown.

“The order of the President to ‘shoot those causing riot’ is sending a message that the government lacks genuine concern for our poor sisters and brothers who are growing desperate every day from hunger,” Marigza said.

Marigza added that it takes extreme conditions like hunger for people to brave the threat of Covid-19 and it was not for lack of discipline or being uncooperative.

“The people of San Roque simply need to survive. Going out in the streets is their desperate measure to call out the government that they are hungry. But instead of listening to their demands, they were met with violence and some were even arrested,” the prelate explained.

“What happened in San Roque is a painful proof that it is the poor who always suffer in any crisis such as now. The incident shows that enhanced community quarantine, without proper economic support to those severely affected, will not work,” Marigza added.

 Marigza said the residents of San Roque, located across NCPP’s headquarters along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, had long been struggling on a daily basis and deprived of basic social services even before the pandemic.

Originally part of a massive park project when Quezon City was created as the Philippines’ new capital during the American Commonwealth period, the area became a resettlement destination for victims of demolitions in Manila and Pasay cities.

Demolitions of the residents’ houses started when developments for a new Quezon City Business District in the area commenced. Remaining residents in Sitio San Roque refused relocation sites they described as “danger-prone areas” such as those in Rodriguez, Rizal.

“How do we want them to respond to a government measure that will make their already difficult lives even much harder?” Marigza asked.

The NCCP leader also raised concern over the government’s “fixation on arrests and imprisonment” in a time of a public health crisis.

He pointed out reports that more than 17,000 people arrested while there are around only 3,000 who were tested for COVID 19.

“Mass testing and a systematic distribution of food and other assistance are imperative right now. Again, our Lenten call, test more people and help the poor, do not arrest or shoot them,” Marigza said.

The mass arrest and Duterte’s speech made the hashtag #OustDuterte the top trend on Twitter for more than 24 hours since Wednesday. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BAYAN demands freedom of all political prisoners

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) joined UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the freedom of all political prisoners in the time of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to save them from possibly contracting the virus in the often crowded and inhumane conditions of jails worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The action was also in response to the online campaign of human rights group Karapatan this 7-8 pm ofTuesday, March 31.

Amid the intensifying dangers presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Karapatan and other human rights groups as well as religious leaders called on the Rodrigo Duterte the government to free the more than 500 political prisoners in the Philippines. They also called for the release of other prisoners, especially the elderly, pregnant, women and nursing mothers and those who are due for parole or pardon. # (Jek Alcaraz)

Groups urge Covid-19 testing in prisons, release of political detainees

Families of political detainees urged the government to follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and start mass testing in prisons after receiving reports that some prisoners are showing symptoms of the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The group KAPATID said that mass testing should start immediately as it has received reports that more inmates are getting sick despite denials by prison agencies and the Department of Interior and Local Government of confirmed cases.

Marami nagkakasakit, inuubo at nilalagnat,” KAPATID said, citing a report from relatives of political prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary at Muntinlupa City. (Many are getting sick, coughing and getting fevers.)

The group said three political prisoners are now reportedly ill with fever at the political prisoners’ wing at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 4 (MMDJ-4) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

KAPATID said the three unnamed political detainees are showing common Covid-19 symptoms like fever, headaches, cold, cough and body weakness—the same symptoms for the respiratory disease which has already killed 45 people in the country as of March 25, including nine doctors.

“KAPATID cannot emphasize enough why mass testing is imperative and why it must include the whole prison population comprising both inmates and prison personnel. Reports by other countries such as China and the US indicate that prison guards brought the sickness into prison facilities even with lockdowns in place and stricter health measures, including a forehead thermal scan of persons entering jail premises,” KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement

Lim cited scientific researches that early action through widespread testing has proven effective in controlling the rapid spread of the disease in South Korea and Germany which have managed to keep the Covid-19 death rate relatively low through extensive testing.

“Mass testing of both symptomatic individuals and all those who came into contact with them was crucial in catching the disease, isolating the carriers before they could pass it on, and providing more accurate figures of how many are really affected and how and where to limit contamination,” Lim said.

Free political detainees

Earlier, KAPATID called for the release of political detainees in line with reports that backchannel meetings between Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in The Netherlands have been discussing the matter.

The NDFP urged the GRP to release all political prisoners and a general amnesty be issued “as a matter of justice and necessity.”

The NDFP made the appeal when the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a unilateral ceasefire last Tuesday, March 24, in response to the United Nations appeal for all warring parties to temporarily lay down arms to concentrate on responding to the pandemic.

Kapatid cited the move made by Iran and Egypt to release tens of thousands of prisoners, including political detainees, in a bid to decongest their prisons and prevent Covid-19’s spread through overpopulated jail facilities.

“KAPATID continues to press the humanitarian release of prisoners in line with the new UN (United Nations) call as the most expedient solution to protect and save lives. Tao rin sila,” Lim said. (They are also humans.)

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), the largest group of mainline Protestant churches in the country, also urged the government to release all political detainees following the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on March 26.

“Let’s take it from the UN. There is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, especially now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to this pandemic,” Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, said.

“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases spike up, the most Christian thing to do is to leave no one behind. Don’t forget those in prison, especially human rights defenders facing trumped charges, who have staunchly worked for social justice and human rights. They need compassion, they need justice and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” Marigza said in a statement.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said in her appeal for political detainees’ release.

Karapatan poster.

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan announced it will lead an online campaign on Facebook and Twitter  to urge the freedom of prisoners with light sentences as well as political detainees on March 31, Tuesday, at seven to eight o’clock in the evening.

Citing the congestion of Philippine jails at 450%, Karapatan said the government must free the elderly, sick, pregnant and nursing women, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner-couples, and “accidental victims” of political arrests. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pimentel’s caper and this administration’s true legacy

A senator of the Republic is currently reaping the whirlwind after announcing he learned he is positive of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) while accompanying his wife to a hospital delivery room. The Makati Medical Center is livid with Senator Koko Pimentel for what it described as a breach of Covid-19 home quarantine protocols. Pimentel is also being pilloried online, and understandably so.

Pimentel’s ill advised caper followed widespread denunciation of reports that senators, other high government officials and their families pressure the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine to have their test kits processed ahead of everybody else’s, including those who display symptoms of the dreaded disease. Resentment is strong among the people who are being forced to observe the lockdown imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte despite the lack of a logical plan on how the lockdown should be implemented, save for the deployment of police and military personnel with assault rifles on checkpoints throughout Luzon island.

Pimentel’s gambol is not helping the government convince it is doing a good job in containing the spread of the virus. Aside from the utter lack of mass testing to pinpoint where the virus is spreading the fastest, what Pimentel and fellow senators Francis Tolentino, Imee Marcos, and others have demonstrated is their utter disregard for the people, particularly the poor, sick, elderly, and the frontline health workers who need to be tested first with the limited kits that are available.

This has led the people (at least those who have internet connections at home) to launch trending tweet campaigns that demand accountability, such that even this government’s well-oiled troll armies could no longer cover up. President Duterte’s obvious absence isn’t helping his spin doctors any. If he does go on television (often at ungodly hours of the evening) he could only manage rambling speeches that help very little in calming the nerves of an already nervous populace.

The populace’s nervousness is understandable. In communities, the people are afraid whether they would be able to feed themselves or whether there are still food items to be bought until the month-long lockdown ends. The fact that they are also humiliated—such as in Parañaque where those suspected of violating the so-called community quarantine are tortured by being forced to sit under the heat of the unrelenting sun or are harshly and publicly berated—contribute to the growing resentment.

I was in Switzerland and The Netherlands when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted to the region as its new epi-center earlier this month. Countries were also closing their borders and lockdowns were imposed one after the other. But there are no checkpoints in communities and the police do not carry assault rifles to terrorize the people into staying indoors. Only food stores and pharmacies are allowed to remain open but, pretty much, the governments rely on their citizens to comply with self-quarantine requests without unnecessary force. When I arrived back here, all I saw is the overwhelming exercise of state power through the police and the military. Even those who need to be at work because they are real frontliners in the fight against the virus are finding it hard to do their jobs because of the overly-strict and illogical edict of banning all forms of transport.

The Covid-19 crisis is the Duterte government’s Mamasapano and Hello, Garci crises of the past two administrations. If it slides through this one, it would only be through the heroism of the frontliners (doctors, nurses, hospitals, relief and emergency workers, and others) who battle through despite lack of supplies, absence of clear directions and plans, and even through thick-headedness and cheekiness of the likes of Pimentel. How this administration runs around like a headless chicken, albeit full-battle geared, in one of the country’s direst moments is turning out to be its true legacy to the people. #

Emergency should not curtail independence of media

March 23, 2020

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is concerned over the bill Malacañang has asked Congress to pass in special session today, Monday, March 23, declaring a national emergency on account of the COVID-19 crisis and allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to wield extraordinary powers.

While we recognize the gravity of the health crisis our country and people are confronted with, we are just as worried that the emergency may be used as justification to suppress basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of the press and of expression.

We cite, in particular, Section 4 (4), “Authorized Powers,” which provides:

“When the public interest so requires, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the CoVID- 19 emergency as determined by the President, including but not limited to, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public; and Provided, however, that to the extent feasible, management shall be retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, under the direction and supervision of the President or his duly designated representative who shall render a full accounting to the President of the operations of the utility or business taken over; Provided further, That whenever the President shall determine that the further use or operation by the Government of an such public service or enterprise is no longer necessary under existing conditions, the same shall be restored to the person entitled to the possession thereof; Provided, finally, That reasonable compensation for any additional damages or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor of the subject property solely on account of the take-over may be given to the person entitled to the possession of such private properties or businesses after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable;”

The open-ended phrase “including but not limited to” exposes all possible enterprises imbued with public interest, including the media, to potential takeover, while broadcasters, which are regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission, could be construed to be “telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public,” a function all media outfits perform.

We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists to be vigilant and close ranks against any attempts to prevent us from carrying out our duties. We also call on media houses to assert independence from government interference.

In this time of crisis, we owe it to our people to assure the continued and timely delivery of accurate information. #

The NUJP National Directorate

CPP reveals Baguio raid victim was top leader, vows justice

GENEVA, Switzerland—A victim of the Baguio City raid last Friday, March 13, turned out to be a top leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), statements by the underground revolutionary movement in the Philippines revealed.

In a statement, the CPP said Julius Giron, one of the victims in the early morning raid, was a stalwart of the Party’s Central Committee, its Political Bureau and Executive Committee member who served the party’s central organs over the past three decades.

The underground group said Giron played a key role in reconstituting the Party’s leadership in 2014 when alleged CPP chairperson Benito Tiamzon and secretary general Wilma Tiamzon were arrested in Cebu province.

It said Giron brought together more than a hundred Party cadres to hold the Party’s Second Congress in 2016 when he was elected to the CPP’s Central Committee, its Political Bureau and as one of the key officers of its Executive Committee.

The government announced Giron’s killing, along with one Lourdes Tan Torres/Ma. Lourdes Dineros Tangco and an unnamed aide in a joint military and police operation at about 3:30 AM in Barangay Queen of Peace in Baguio City last Friday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed Giron and companions “resisted arrest, prompting authorities to retaliate in a search warrant operation.”

The CPP however said there was no fire fight and the raiding party fired at the victims at close range in an execution-style killing.

“Claims made by the military and police that they were about to serve an arrest warrant are outright lies. It was a liquidation operation, a massacre, carried out at 3 a.m. with the clear aim of assassinating Giron and eliminating all witnesses,” the CPP said.

“The entire Party and all revolutionary forces are enraged over the murder of Ka Nars,” the group added.

Stellar revolutionary career

The CPP said Giron was among the young cadres who pioneered revolutionary work in the Cordilleras and other Northern Luzon regions in the 1970s.

The group said Giron helped forged Igorot unity, and in rousing, organizing and mobilizing the national minority groups in resisting national oppression, defense of their ancestral land, and in their fight for autonomy.

Giron was in the Cordilleras during the people’s epic struggle against the Chico River Dam Project, the CPP revealed.

CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison gave Giron high praises in a statement Tuesday, March 17, revealing the victim, like him, received religious tutelage from his mother and served as a sacristan to the Catholic priests in his grade school days.

Sison said Giron was a bright and sociable person in high school with plenty of friends.

“He was charismatic because he was intelligent and had a talent for singing and dancing. He also excelled at numbers and hoped to become an engineer. He enrolled in the course of Engineering in the University of the Philippines in Baguio but was able to finish only the first two years because of his heavy responsibilities as a leading activist,” Sison wrote.

He added that Giron joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1970 and was a product of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. Giron led the KM in Baguio City during the FQS.

“He often delighted and inspired the mass protests by reciting Amado Hernandez’s ‘Kung Tuyo Na ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan’ to the music of ‘Ang Gabing Mapanglaw’. He helped build the Samahan ng mga Anak Pawis (SaAnPa) in Baguio City in 1970. He became an outstanding activist of the national democratic movement as he engaged in organizing workers in the transport, energy, and mining sectors,” Sison recalled.

Sison added that Giron became a member of the CPP in 1971 and assumed major responsibilities, serving with its Trade Union Bureau, participating in the organization of the CPP’s Northern Luzon Regional Party group, being designated a staff member of the Instructor’s Bureau of the CPP under the Education Department, and serving as team leader of an armed propaganda unit in Ifugao province.

Giron then went to Isabela province to instruct Political Officers of the New People’s Army (NPA) for regional and national deployment.

Giron during CPP’S Second National Congress in an undisclosed location in 2016. (CPP photo)

“As Founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, I honor Comrade Julius Soriano Giron with the Red salute and express the highest respect and commendation for his martyrdom and for his long record as a communist leader and revolutionary fighter in the Filipino people’s struggle for national liberation and democracy,” Sison said.

He also condoled with his late comrade’s family and to all of Giron’s comrades, relatives and friends.

“I share with them profound grief over his demise and at the same the pride and joy for his lifelong and fruitful service to the people in their noble cause and struggle for national and social liberation from foreign monopoly capitalism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism,” Sison said.

“Comrade Julius served the people in the best way that he could and in the most exemplary way, died as a martyr and will therefore live forever in the hearts and minds of the people and in the continuance of the people’s democratic revolution with a socialist perspective. His murder in the hands of the armed minions of the traitorous, tyrannical, genocidal, corrupt and mendacious [Rodrigo] Duterte regime outrages the people and incites them to intensify their revolutionary struggle,” Sison said.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Negotiating Panel, its consultants, personnel and staff also extended condolences to the comrades, family, relatives and friends of Giron and his two companions.

“While in detention during the years of the Marcos dictatorship, we came to know of Comrade Julius’ artistry.  He was a good painter and headed the painting group inside prison. Indeed, his deep love for the Cordillera people is reflected in his paintings and poetry which are on display in his wake,” NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said.

“We render the highest salute to Comrade Julius for his selfless commitment and lifelong dedication to the revolutionary movement of the people for national freedom, democracy, social justice and genuine peace,” Agcaoili said.

Peace consultant

Agcaoili revealed that Giron was one of NDFP’s senior consultants in the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace talks on social, economic and political reforms, as well as end of hostilities and disposition of forces and was in fact designated as National Consultant Number 1.

“He was holder of Document of Identification (DI) number 978410 under the name of Arnold Cruz as National Consultant 1, which entitled him to protection and immunity under the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees),” Agcaoili said.

“The martyrdom of Comrade Julius and his companions inspires us even more to firmly pursue the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation and for genuine and lasting peace,” he added.

The CPP said it will exact justice on Giron’s killers.

“Giron was, in fact, murdered in cold blood. The perpetrators and masterminds of the assassination of the Girons are criminals. The Party and revolutionary movement will make sure that they will pay for their crime,” it said.

Giron was convalescing in Baguio due to illnesses brought about by his advanced age, the CPP said. He was 70 years old. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Love in the time of corona has left the group chat

By L.S. Mendizabal

You are now probably jaded with the barrage of information and opinions—some educated and quite helpful and others downright moronic—on “flattening the curve” circulating here on the Internets. I know I am. But there’s something we need to commit to memory as long as we still enjoy three square meals a day in the midst of this pandemic pandemonium. Repeat after me: We are the lucky bastards, the privileged stinkin’ suckers.

Philippines in lockdown

The working class whom some of us have called “tanga,” “pasaway” and even “motherfuckers” of late cannot afford steady internet connection to keep abreast of the latest developments in the national and global COVID-19 crisis. Most of them have only the Malacañang Palace to turn to for advice, which means that they are likely to ward off the virus by eating bananas and gargling saltwater. Those who reside outside but work in Metro Manila who don’t have a television or electricity at home might not have known about the enhanced community quarantine guidelines and found themselves stuck in Manila without any money to spare for food for the long walk back home now that mass transport has been suspended. People crossing the city boundaries experienced having to literally run in agitation over the armed authorities’ 30-minute countdown before lockdown. Meanwhile, thousands have been held up in the streets by a sheer number of AFP-PNP personnel in full battle gear pointing only two or a few more thermal scanners at people’s heads, interrogating their identities, who they were with, where they were going and why. Once the number of patients infected with COVID-19 began to rise in the Philippines, the administration’s knee-jerk response was militarization. “Obey first before complaining.” Groundbreaking.

Honestly, I was not the least bit surprised by the total lockdown, given that Duterte has been consistently grabbing every conceivable opportunity to maintain his fascist reign. Neither am I as dismayed by the exponential spread of COVID-19 as I actually am by the callousness of so many posts and comments, some of which are made by friends or acquaintances (or are they still?), on social media regarding the plight of the least fortunate—those who cannot afford to “work from home” and must brave the outside world to, I don’t know, probably earn money, find food and shelter maybe? It must also be noted that ironically but not surprisingly, the people who are calling the poor “pasaway” and “naghahanap ng sakit” are the same ones who called them “bobotante” after last year’s botched elections. How disgustingly swift some people have ceased to be humane after their #quarantinediaries selfies earning likes and follows are rudely disrupted by news of the poor struggling to continue living despite government’s orders for them to essentially stop doing just that. How sickening and revolting it has been to know how some of us might act in dire situations such as these, safely perched in their homes, watching TV, clicking and swiping on links in their smartphones or laptops while more than half of the Filipino populace are fighting for their lives in conditions more precarious than ever before, less fearful of the virus and more of hunger and ejection from their homes that may or may not have their own bathrooms and running water to begin with, if they had homes, that is.

The Philippines pre-COVID19

I wish I could write about something more optimistic to lessen our collective anxiety or a detailed objective analysis and critique of the nation’s healthcare system (a.k.a. an easy target for the trolls because apparently, they’ll defend anything their golden calf does), but what really keeps me up at night is not the shortage of 70% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol in stores but the seeming scarcity of empathy in many Filipinos I’ve encountered, at least online. Naturally, the prevailing people in power will do most anything in order to stay in power, while the powerless and exploited will always find ways to fight back. That’s just the kind of society we were born into, sadly. But I’m afraid that this element of “class struggle” has somehow left the consciousness of many a Filipino as we deal with this new unseen enemy they are so afraid of that they cannot be bothered about their fellow Filipinos, especially if in huge crowds in congested places.

In other words, y’all missing the context. Before Luzon went on lockdown, many things have happened in the Philippines besides Sarah Geronimo’s secret wedding. Here are the following, to remind you of a few:

  • The pending ABS-CBN franchise renewal;
  • Apart from non-remittance of taxes, reports of various crimes linked to POGOs, most of which have victimized Filipino citizens, have risen to an alarming rate;
  • Millions of Filipino drivers, operators, dispatchers, mechanics and their families and commuters face the impending jeepney phaseout as well as the inevitable fare hikes as the PUV Modernization Program pushes through in June this year;
  • Contractualization of workers remains rampant despite Duterte’s promise to end ENDO. Police offices have also been erected in Central Luzon industrial zones, a clear threat to workers’ rights to self-organize and fight for their basic interests and welfare;
  • Filipino farmers and millers are plunged further into bankruptcy because of the liberalization of rice importation which has resulted into the Philippines, an agricultural country, currently being the world’s biggest importer of rice;
  • Mindanao is still heavily militarized even after the lifting of martial law, where Lumads are driven to mass exodus as their lands get overrun by military and paramilitary forces, their schools being closed down, their leaders and allies harassed or killed. Meanwhile, Marawi remains in ruins as true rehabilitation has yet to take place;
  • Human rights violations keep recurring as elements of the state continue to redtag, file trumped up charges against, abduct and murder social activists, human rights workers, journalists, church leaders, lawyers, environmentalists and other critics. Last Tuesday, in the thick of the COVID-19 lockdown and Duterte’s incitement of ceasefire between the AFP and CPP-NPA, choreographer and activist, Marlon Maldos, was abducted and killed in De la Paz, Cortes in Bohol province; and all along,
  • The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is still underway, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, amending provisions to supposedly strengthen the government’s campaign against terrorism. Simply put, these amendments may lead to anyone getting accused of being a “terrorist” and punished for “terrorist crimes.” For instance, journalists in Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City campaigning for the ABS-CBN franchise renewal have been tagged as “communist-terrorists.”

It may sound like it but I am not reading all this as if it were the apocalypse. I only want you to understand that the nation has already been in a state of catastrophe even before the COVID-19 lockdown, and the two main takeaway points here are: 1) No matter how shitty, life goes on, especially for the working class because they have no other choice; and 2) Extreme militarist measures have caused us, notably the poor, more fatal harm than good. So to all those who dared repost photos of progressive groups holding placards that called for a medical solution to the national crisis, and saying that they deserved to be shot down by the military or hurt in any way, please know that persecuting people for fighting for ourrights only highlights your ignorance and apathy. They could have chosen to stay safe and quiet, indeed, but they sacrificed a day out in the streets before eventually bringing the protests online, albeit in masks and at arm’s length between each other, to speak out for you. And yet, you choose to not see the significance of protest in fascist times like these when so many are being terrorized, even slaughtered, into silence. You have neglected the fact that protest and dissent have taken you to where you are today, when you can call yourself a Filipino, enjoying unfiltered internet connection in your cozy house slippers and your soft couches with your Netflix subscriptions and smug faces. You lucky basturd, you.

One may credit this online idiocy to deindividuation, which social psychology defines as the loss of self-awareness because of the feeling of security that stems from anonymity or being in a mob or group like, say, Marcos apologists or passive-aggressive millennials who buck at anyone and everyone on Twitter but can’t bring themselves to ask for ketchup at the fastfood (just a personal observation, sincerely no offense meant). Deindividuation does not, however, make people any less liable for their actions. With or without the COVID-19 crisis, cheering on any human rights violation is just vile and an abuse in itself. If you disagree with the protests, fine. You do you. But please do not attempt to gag them just because you are in a position of privilege. I know you could not afford to house your entire family at St. Luke’s Medical Center if you caught the virus. Leave the discrimination and the bigotry to the elite.

Love in the time of COVID-19 and fascism

Now, more than ever, when the national setting is being engineered to be more conducive to isolation, deindividuation, individualism and segregation, when “social distancing” is the new norm, the Filipino people must strengthen social solidarity. We may not be able to physically link arms with one another, but there are many ways to fortify our unity and national spirit, as proven by:

  • The brilliant scientists and artists who have worked hard to create the COVID-19 test kits and sanitation tent design, respectively;
  • The doctors, nurses and health workers who actually respect human rights and tirelessly toil in and out of the hospitals in spite of the slashed health care funds and lack of facilities and resources;
  • The journalists, researchers and writers who keep us properly informed through the news, online public service announcements and statements;
  • The governors, mayors and other government officials and their staff who are present on the ground, making sure that their constituents are being looked after;
  • The government and bank employees, telecommunications workers, pharmacists and other agents who uphold their duties to secure the daily operations of our most important institutions and systems;
  • The responsible netizens who use social media as an effective platform to launch campaigns that extend all sorts of help to those in need such as petitions, donations and food distribution for the homeless who cannot self-quarantine, free rides for those who are forced to walk across cities because of the absence of public transit, and many other efforts; and last but definitely not the least,
  • Our farmers and farmworkers, some of whom are collecting harvest now as you read this, the workers in the factories, truck drivers, security guards, grocery salespersons, clerks and baggers, couriers, street sweepers, garbage collectors, vendors and the rest of the underprivileged but hardworking masses who are the main reason we are able to eat food that isn’t stale, have clothes on our backs, sleep soundly in relatively cleaner and safer neighborhoods, or for the smokers to even remotely have access to a pack of cigarettes.

The Philippines we woke up to this morning is a fascist authoritarian’s erotic fantasy— stifled press freedom, empty streets, no jeepneys, tricycles or public vans servicing commuters, no teachers or students in schools, no work, food and shelter for the poor, and no mass testing to keep people in the dark while we are being divided and conquered, slowly massacred, or in the case of those who dare criticize him, abducted and killed. Martial Law can’t even.

Our democratic space is constantly shrinking into a cramped cell and only the few and the powerful will not be held prisoners. So unless you see this as a bright future for yourself and your children, you might want to rethink if apathy and blind faith is indeed convenient for you and your fellow human beings. Perhaps now is the time to stock up on an unlimited supply of love, empathy, kindness and compassion, and courage partnered with critical thinking. If there’s anything our long history of Filipino social struggles have proven time and again, it is that nothing can defeat a united front—not an army of foreign colonizers, not a single viral sickness or a single tyrant.#

= = = = = =

Sources:

Socialite Cat Arambulo calls workers getting arrested on TV “motherfuckers” and other elitist reactions to COVID-19 lockdown:

https://www.rappler.com/rappler-blogs/254956-opinion-out-of-touch-elitist-gaps-lockdown

Panelo claims eating bananas is effective to combat COVID-19:

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/03/16/2001322/fact-check-panelo-says-korea-did-total-lockdown-eating-bananas-and-gargling-prevents-covid-19

People running to cross city boundary:

Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City journalists campaigning for ABS-CBN franchise renewal tagged as “communist-terrorists”:

Rights defenders tell UN of many rights violations in PH

GENEVA, Switzerland—A team of Filipino rights defenders here are preparing for another busy week calling for investigations by the United Nations (UN) on the state of human rights in the Philippines.

With three oral interventions one after the other last Friday, March 6, and another last Monday, March 2, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) strongly urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to pass another resolution in June to look into various reports of many rights violations by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

But contrary to the confrontational stance employed by the government Mission in the ongoing 43rd UNHRC session here, the four speakers from EcuVoice unanimously supported the reports presented by UN special rapporteurs.

EcuVoice delegation co-leader and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said last Friday that she welcomes the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders that noted “wide-ranging and cumulative violation of the rights of defenders.”

“This rings true in my particular case and that of human rights defenders of Karapatan. Twelve of my colleagues were killed by suspected State forces under the current administration, three have been arrested the past four months, and many more are facing trumped up charges. Women defenders face misogynist attacks, driven by discriminatory pronouncements of government officials,” Palabay said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

Johanna dela Cruz of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines said they are also grateful for the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and support his conclusions and recommendations.

Dela Cruz said church people’s rights in the Philippines are violated, primarily those “doing their Christian mandate and mission of ministering to the poor and the marginalized. Bishops and Parish priests, particularly from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), were red-tagged, harassed by soldiers implicating them as rebels.”

National Council of Churches in the Philippines’s Johanna dela Cruz addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

EcuVoice head and International Association of Democratic Lawyers interim president Edre Olalia for his part reported to the UNHRC that in the 44 months of the Duterte administration, at least 48 lawyers including judges and prosecutors have been murdered.

“Human rights lawyers like Ben Ramos as well as lawyers handling drug-related cases continue to be brazenly attacked in various forms. Orchestrated smear campaigns and vilification by red-tagging, labelling and reprisal charges against human rights defenders at every opportunity continue with impunity,” Olalia said.

The three defender’s reports Friday brings to four the successful oral interventions presented by EcuVoice before the UNHRC.

Last Monday, Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment reported that there are serious challenges to life, security and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, “which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environmental of communities, including that of indigenous peoples and peasants.”

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s Clemente Bautista addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

“It must be noted that the EcuVoice delegation have welcomed all the UN special rapporteurs’ reports presented thus far, quite different from the bellicose stance of the Philippine government in the ongoing debates,” Olalia said.

This week, the UNHRC is scheduled to hear reports and oral interventions on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as well as reports on minorities despite a growing scare of the spread of the corona virus disease (COVID) in this country brought about by 24 confirmed cases.

COVID has also spread in neighboring France and Italy, prompting overseas and migrant Filipino workers to express travel and work concerns that are likely to be affected by stringent measures imposed on border crossings.

All side events at the UN in this city have been cancelled that has severely affected restaurant and café businesses of Filipino expatriates in this city. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Why is the government picking fights at the UN?’ PH rights defenders ask

GENEVA, Switzerland—A group of Filipino rights defenders here criticized the approach being taken by the Philippine government to the ongoing 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council they said “consistently challenges recommendations made by UN experts.”

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation said that in its two oral interventions this week, the government challenged the report of both UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst “in a rather impertinent tone.”

“We are amused and amazed with the way the Philippine government is comporting itself in this arena of international dialogue and diplomacy by directly challenging not just the reports but the Special Rapporteurs themselves,” EcuVoice delegation co- head Cristina Palabay said.

“Madam Special Rapporteur, you have addressed in your report the need for due diligence policies within the UN system to ensure that practices on countering terrorism and extremism are compliant with international human rights law. However, do you also see the need for a similar due diligence review by the UN and international organizations to ensure that funding support are not channelled by organizations towards actors professing terrorism?” the government Mission said.

The government also challenged some of the concerns raised by Aoláin by saying her suggestions “merit a more serious thought and debate, to ask in particular, if these concerns can hold their weight against realities on the ground.”

Aoláin in her report concluded that many violent extremism prevention programmes worldwide are directly contributing to human rights violations and may even foster radicalization instead of preventing it.

Aoláin also encouraged the entire UN to review its entire counter-terrorism architecture to better protect human rights and the rule of law when they support and member countries’ programmes.

“But look at how the government acts so defensively at well-intentioned reports that it reacts so vociferously, violently even, to general recommendations that are not particularly directed at the Philippines. Such defensiveness often betrays guilt,” EcuVoice head Atty. Edre Olalia said.

Earlier last Wednesday, the government also challenged UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst’s report by telling him to investigate human rights defenders instead, EcuVoice said.

EcuVoice said Presidential Communications Operations Office secretary Martin Andanar set the tone last week for the government’s stance at the ongoing sessions by trying to mislead the international community with his “ludicrous if only it is not perilous” spins and slants on press freedom.

“Because the entire world now sees the many thousands of dead bodies on Philippine streets killed by the so-called war against illegal drugs and disapproves official hate speech and reprisals against critics and dissenters, it is apparent that the Duterte administration has chosen that the best defense is an offense in the UN,” Olalia said.

EcuVoice spearheaded the submission of several reports of human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government to the 43rd UNHRC Regular Session in this city in accordance with the Iceland-led resolution of July 2019 calling for investigations in the Philippines.

Commission on Human Rights chairperson Chito Gascon is also expected to attend the sessions here next week and to file his agency’s report on the state of human rights in the past 44 months of the Duterte administration. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[Disclosure: Aside from covering the regular session, the reporter, himself a victim of red-tagging, intended to present an oral intervention as an alternative and human rights journalist.]

EcuVoice: PH government exporting red-tagging in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland—A group of rights defenders called on the Philippine Mission to the ongoing 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council here to just answer questions about the human rights situation in the Philippines instead of engaging in red-baiting.

“The Philippine Government must focus on explaining to the international community why rights defenders are being killed and arrested, members of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation said.

Reacting to the government Mission’s statement Wednesday, March 5, at the Palais des Nations, EcuVoice said the government must also stop recklessly accusing killed and threatened human rights defenders as supporters of communists.

“How are vilifying human rights defenders as terrorists a justification to the fact that many of us are under threat of unjust arrests and are being killed by the security forces of the Duterte government?” EcuVoice delegation co-head and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

The group said that while paying lip service to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst’s report on the invaluable contribution of human rights defenders, the government accused rights activists in the Philippines of “[using] the cover of human rights defenders to protect, cover, or promote agendas of deceit and violence.”

The government further accused Filipino “communists” of benefitting from and exploiting the goodwill that the United Nations system endows human rights defenders.

 “Mr. Forst, you have mentioned the need to address impunity and provide effective remedy, what would you advice in such situation where unscrupulous groups are using the defender badge as an impunity blanket to evade accountability from gross human rights violations?” the government self-righteously taunted.

“This red-tagging spree being exported by the government in the august halls of the UN Human Rights Council is ad nauseam and reflects not only the paucity of its arguments but the bankruptcy of its moral ground in the community of nations.

“Enough already. Just answer the questions please, “EcuVoice team leader Atty. Edre Olalia said.

The EcuVoice delegation is in this city to follow up on at least written submissions related to the Iceland-led resolution in July 2019 calling for an investigation on human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment international networks coordinator Clemente Bautista successfully presented an oral intervention on the killings of environmental defenders last Monday, March 2.

Other delegation members include a human rights worker facing arrest when she returns home, a congresswoman whose partylist is villified, a widow of a slain human rights lawyera bishop who is facing death threats, a mother whose two sons were murdered in the “drug war,” a lawyer who is labelled and his group viciously smeared a journalist whose peers are being pressured, and this reporter whose colleagues are facing various threats. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)