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Groups cynical of gov’t promises to UN rights body

Human rights groups said they are “reasonably cynical” of the statements made by the Rodrigo Duterte government in response to the damning report on the state of human rights in the Philippines submitted to the United National (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) last Tuesday, June 30.

Reacting to justice secretary Menardo Guevarra’s reply to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle’s Bachelet’s submission, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) said the Duterte administration appears to be on damage control and pre-empting further accountability on the thousands of anti-illegal drugs deaths.

“Saccharine statements at appeasing widespread condemnation and creating yet another government body to address unabated impunity and support self-serving claims that domestic remedies are adequate, prompt and credible become soporific in the face of previous experience and present realities,” EcuVoice said in a statement.

RELATED STORIES: UN submits Duterte’s rights record

UN official slams rights violations in PH

The group noted that the government’s reply was delivered in “more sober and studied tones,” a departure from the combative manner it contested various reports by UN experts in Geneva, Switzerland during the HRC’s 43rd general session last March.

EcuVoice however said Bachelet’s findings of massive human rights violations and the near-impunity by which it happens in the country warrant an in-country independent investigation as well as “options for international accountability measures” should the government refuse to cooperate.

‘Transparency mechanisms’

In his speech delivered online at the opening of the UNHRC’s 44th general session, Guevarra denied impunity exists under the Duterte government, adding Duterte has discharged his campaign promises “faithfully.”

“Our President ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where our people are safe and their rights protected,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra said the government’s monitoring mechanism called RealNumbersPH ensures public transparency and full accountability” on drug-related killings.

“We have also established an inter-agency panel, chaired by my office, that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred. The Philippine National Police is obliged by its internal mechanisms to conduct motu propio investigations — whether or not there are complainants — on all law enforcement operations that result in deaths, and take action on this basis,” he said.

Guevarra added that the government system in the country provides “every avenue to examine, establish and pursue of wrongdoing by State actors.

The justice secretary did not reply to Bachelet’s recommendation that UN investigators be allowed into the Philippines.

Earlier, President Duterte has threatened to deport, imprison or slap UN experts who dare come into the Philippines to conduct human rights investigations.

‘Empty promises’

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said Guevarra’s statements are empty promises in light of the government’s “relentless attacks against freedom and democracy.”

“[U]ntil the government of President Rodrigo Duterte takes seriously the facts-based findings of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Report and cooperates with the UN office for an independent, international probe these promises are nothing but empty,” the group said in a statement.

“It is hard to believe that President Rodrigo Duterte’s government is sincere in its claims of promoting and uplifting the dignity of Filipinos as Mr. Guevarra claims. Harassments, arrests, and killings of civilians are still happening on the ground with impunity,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN official slams rights violations in the Philippines, urges ‘options for int’l accountability’

A United Nations (UN) high commissioner urged the international body’s Human Rights Council (HRC) to mandate her office to continue monitoring and reporting on thousands of human rights violations in the Philippines.

In her remarks at the start of the UN HRC’s 44th general session in Geneva, Switzerland Tuesday, June 30, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said violations are “very serious” that requires the Council’s consideration of “options for international accountability measures.”

“I urge the Council to remain active and vigilant on the situation in the Philippines, by mandating my Office to continue monitoring and reporting, as well as through support for technical cooperation to implement the report’s recommendations,” Bachelet said.

Bachelet was introducing her 26-page report mandated by the Council’s Resolution 41/2 of July 2019 on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The high commissioner said Philippine laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights.

“They have resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions and the vilification of those who challenge these severe human rights violations,” Bachelet said.

She added that their investigations found more than 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists were killed between 2015 and 2019.

“This includes a large number of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders. Human rights defenders are routinely smeared as terrorists, enemies of the State and even viruses akin to COVID-19,” she said.

‘Worrisome anti-terror bill’

Although not a part of her report, Bachelet also mentioned concerns related to the anti-terrorism measure slated to become law this month.

“The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism,” Bachelet said.

The high commissioner said the measure, once it becomes law and implement, could also have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities.

“So I would urge the President to refrain from signing the law and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy. My Office is ready to assist in such a review,” she said.

‘Failed anti-drug war’

Bachelet’s report said it found serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, resulting from key official policies driving the so-called “war on drugs.”

It said such policies incite violence from the highest levels of the Duterte government.

“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing,” Bachelet said.

The high commissioner said they found near-total impunity, indicating unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.

“Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice,” she said.

Moreover, by senior government officials’ own admission, the draconian campaign has been ineffective in reducing the supply of illicit drugs, Bachelet added.

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice), an alliance that submitted a total of 16 reports in support of Resolution 42/1 expressed appreciation for Bachelet’s report.

“We subscribe to her findings and wholeheartedly support the recommendations, EcuVoice said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[NEXT IN THIS SERIES: Government’s reply and civil society’s reactions]

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UN submits PH rights record on Duterte’s 4th anniversary as president

United Nations (UN) human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet is about to formally submit her report on the state of human rights in the Philippines today, June 30, the fourth anniversary of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.

As the 44th general session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) starts in Geneva, Switzerland, Bachelet’s submission will be followed by discussions on the document by its member-states.

Philippine representatives are expected to deliver the government’s response to the 26-page report, first released to the public last June 4.

The session starts at 4:30 pm, Philippine time.

(Watch it here: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/44th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council-/5708657554001)

The report said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

Read Kodao’s article on the report here:

Dozens of civil society organizations submitted complaints to the UN earlier this year as part of UN’s data-gathering following the passage of Iceland-sponsored Resolution 41/2 to conduct investigations on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

At least sixteen organizations under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) also urged the UNHRC to pass a resolution to investigate further the killings and threats of activists, churchpeople, teachers, indigenous peoples, lawyers, the political opposition, journalists, environment defenders and other sectors.

Ecuvoice sent representatives to the UNHRC’s 43rd general session in Geneva last February and March, urging the body to pass a resolution for a more thorough investigation of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The Philippine Mission to the UN in Geneva has consistently denied the killings and rights violations are official policy and acts of the Duterte government.

Palace photo

‘Sactions vs rights violators’

Meanwhile, UN human rights experts (see list below) renewed calls for an on-the-ground independent and impartial probe despite Duterte’s threat to expel investigators upon arrival in the Philippines.

In a statement last Friday, June 26, the UN experts said Bachelet’s report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.

“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” UN special rapporteurs said. 

The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:

  • Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
  • At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
  • The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
  • At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
  • The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
  • On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
  • There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
  • President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.

The experts said the coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the downward spiral of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” the experts said.

The group quoted Duterte saying, “Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.”

The experts also warned against the Philippine Government’s attempt to fast track a new Anti-Terrorism Bill they sau will further dilute human rights safeguards, by justifying the arrests of human rights defenders and government’s critics, authorising lengthy detention based on warrantless arrests, wiretapping and other surveillance for extended periods of time.

“Thousands in the Philippines have been killed as the direct result of the government policies. Domestic mechanisms responsible for ensuring accountability and protecting the rule of law have failed to do so,” the UN experts said.

The group urged the OHCHR report should not be the end of international commitment but a milestone marking the beginning of real accountability, redress for the victims and a definite end to the very serious violations committed.

The experts said the human rights situation in the Philippines has now reached a level of gravity requiring a robust intervention by the UN.

“The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuses against the Philippines people,” the group said.

The experts urged the Human Rights Council to:

  1. Establish an on-the-ground international investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines
  2. Strengthen the OHCHR mandate to continue its monitoring and reporting on the human rights violations in the Philippines
  3. Call on the ICC to expedite and prioritize the completion of its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines   

The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

* The experts: Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequencesMr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitationMr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and associationMs. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. Michael FakhriSpecial Rapporteur on the right to foodMr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this contextWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Mr. José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoplesMr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrenceMr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to developmentWorking Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprisesSurya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai (Chair), Dante Pesce, Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair).

[NEXT IN THIS SERIES: UN official slams rights violations in the Philippines, urges options for international accountability]

[DISCLOSURE: The reporter was a member of the EcuVoice delegation to the 43rd General Session of the UNHRC as a freedom of expression/press freedom violation victim.)

Philippines media faces ‘eternal threat of punishment’ after cyber libel convictions

The Duterte administration’s war on media has entered a new phase

By Karlo Mongaya

A Manila court convicted one of the Philippines’ leading journalists on charges of cyber libel in a case widely seen as the latest attack on dissenting voices and press freedoms in the country.

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced news website Rappler’s chief executive editor Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. to 6 months and 1 day up to 6 years in jail and ordered them each to pay P400,000 (about US$8,000) for moral and exemplary damages on June 15.

Ressa and Santos are the first journalists in the Philippines to be found guilty of cyber libel since the law was passed in 2012. They were allowed to post bail pending appeal under the bond they paid in 2019, which cost 100,000 pesos (2,000 US dollars) each.

Rappler, an independent website of international renown has been targeted by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The court, however, found Rappler itself to have no liability in the cyber libel case.

Targeting Rappler

Press freedom advocates in the Philippines and across the world swiftly decried Ressa’s conviction as part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to terrorize and intimidate journalists.

The case against Ressa and Rappler was filed in 2017 by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler story covering his alleged links to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was being impeached on corruption charges at the time.

Keng’s case was initially dismissed in 2017 because it was beyond the statute of limitations. Moreover, the article itself was published four months before the cybercrime law was enacted.

But the case was subsequently readmitted by the Philippine justice department, which extended the period of liability for cyber libel claims from one year to 12 years and argued the article was covered by the law because it was ‘republished’ in February 2014, when Rappler updated it.

While Duterte and his spokesmen deny any links to the cyber libel case, Rappler has been on the receiving end of regular ire from the president and his allies for actively investigating and exposing the administration’s bloody war on drugs, social media manipulation and corruption.

Rappler reporters were banned from covering presidential press briefings in 2018, for what Duterte characterized as “twisted reporting” during a presidential address.

Pro-Duterte trolls deride Rappler as a peddler of “fake news” and hurl invective at its reporters.

The cyber libel case is but the first in a total of 8 active legal cases against Ressa and Rappler which include another libel case and tax violation allegations. All were filed after Duterte came to power in 2016.

The Duterte government moved to shut down Rappler in January 2018, claiming that it violated laws on non-foreign ownership of media outlets — a claim that is demonstrably false.

A protester calls for ‘mass testing, not mass silencing’ at a rally held on June 4, 2020, the day the Philippine Congress passed the anti-terror bill. Photo by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Curtailing dissent

The College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier state university, condemned the decision as a dangerous precedent that gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone for online content published within the past decade:

The State can prosecute even after ten, twelve or more years after publication or posting. It is a concept of eternal threat of punishment without any limit in time and cyberspace.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the charges that Rappler faces is only the latest in “a chain of media repression that has seen the forced shutdown of broadcast network ABS-CBN and a spike in threats and harassment of journalists, all because the most powerful man in the land abhors criticism and dissent.’’

The government forced the country’s largest television network, privately-owned ABS-CBN, off air last May after the pro-Duterte congress refused to renew the station’s broadcasting license.

Growing persecution of media comes against the backdrop of an anti-terror bill passed by the legislature that allows the president to create an anti-terrorism council vested with powers to designate individuals and groups as “terrorists.”

That designation in turn allows warrantless arrests and 24 days of detention without court charges, among other draconian provisions.

Authorities have brazenly denied the bill threatens freedom in the country.

AERIAL SHOT: 5,000 human rights advocates and activists observe physical distancing as they commemorate Philippine Independence Day and hold a ‘Grand Mañanita’ against the Duterte government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill today, June 12, on University Avenue, University of the Philippines- Diliman, Quezon City. Photo and caption by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Holding the line

At a press conference after her court hearing, Ressa vowed to hold the line:

Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.

A few days before Ressa’s conviction, thousands defied the lockdown to join anti-terror bill protests in Manilla despite threats of violence from the police.

Protesters ironically described their demonstration as a “mañanita” — the word that Police General Debold Sinas, a Duterte ally, used to justify his birthday party celebration, which took place amidst severe restrictions on gatherings.

Double standards for Duterte allies and the weaponization of laws against critics were a constant theme in tweets that used the #DefendPressFreedom hashtag in response to the Ressa case.

(Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices)

‘The anti-activism and anti-dissent bill’

“The real name for the bill should be the Anti-Activism and Anti-Dissent Bill, because that is its evident purpose. Apart from its [in my opinion] violations of the Constitutional Bill of Rights, and usurpation by the Executive of judicial authority, the bill itself scarcely helps authorities fight terrorism in any meaningful way— real terrorism, not peaceful activism and civil dissent.”–Mylene Dizon, actor

AMARC Asia-Pacific Demands Immediate Release of Elena “Lina” Tijamo and Frenchie Mae Cumpio of the Philippines

25 June 2020

KATHMANDU, Nepal–AMARC Asia-Pacific demands the immediate release of Elena “Lina” Tijamo, the Community Radio Coordinator of a farmers’ group (FARDEC) in Bantayan Island, Cebu, the Philippines. Elena, 58, was forcibly taken from her home in Barangay Kampingganon, Bantayan, Cebu in the evening of June 13. According to media reports, suspected military elements—four armed masked men in civilian clothes accompanied by two women—held back family members while they covered Tijamo’s mouth with tape, tied her hands, and took her away. As of today, Elena remains missing.

Elena is the program coordinator for sustainable agriculture FARDEC, non-profit, non-government organization that offers paralegal and educational services to farmers facing land issues. She is also the Community Radio Coordinator of FARDEC in Bantayan Island, Cebu. According to media sources, Elena was red-tagged by state elements as being an “alleged New People’s Army.” In its statement of June 14, FARDEC has said “our stand for the rights of farmers has resulted in the targeting of FARDEC by protectors of vested interests.” A detail media report is available at https://kodao.org/iawrt-community-radio-coordinator-abduct…/.

The incident happened while the much-protested “Anti-Terrorism Bill” in the Philippines is in the process of becoming law. The bill, fast-tracked from May 29 and approved in Congress three sessions later, was condemned by all quarters of Philippine society—media, schools, lawyers, church, business, celebrities, etc. for the broad definition of terrorism that may be used against critics.

Speaking on the incident, Ramnath Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific has demanded the immediate release of Elena “Lina” Tijamo. He has also expressed grave concerns over the continuously deteriorating conditions of media freedom and freedom of expression in the Philippines. “Intimidation of human rights workers and media activists including community radio workers is deplorable and unacceptable, it must stop immediately. We call upon all concerned authorities of the Philippines including the judiciary to take necessary steps to protect human rights and media freedom and upon the wider media, activism and development community to highlight her illegal abduction. We express our solidarity and support to Elena’s family as well as with all community radio workers and human rights activists of the Philippines who are continuing the struggle”

On a similar case, AMARC Asia-Pacific has noted, with much distress the decision of the Tacloban Regional Trial Court to junk the omnibus motion to quash the search warrant used by the police and military to arrest broadcaster and journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and four other human rights defenders last February 7. The decision denies our colleague freedom and perpetuates the injustice she suffers. AMARC Asia-Pacific reiterates its protest against Cumpio’s arrest. We reckon that her imprisonment is unjust and she must be freed immediately!#

= = = = = =

AMARC is the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters. It has more than 400 member community radio stations and advocate groups worldwide and enjoys an observer status with the United Nations.

Duterte lies on razor blade killing, NPA in Negros says

The New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Island denied President Rodrigo Duterte’s accusation it killed a soldier using a disposable razor blade, in turn accusing government troops as “consistent violators” of the rules of war.

“It is not true. The four police officers were fired upon by the NPA and were never tortured,” Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA, told Kodao.

Magbanua was referring to the March 3 ambush of four police officers by the NPA at the boundary of Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental and Isabela town in Negros Occidental that injured four soldiers of the 94th Infantry Battalion (94IB) of the Philippine Army.

But Duterte may have been referring to the killing of a paramilitary trooper and two “military informants” last June 13 in Himamaylan City by a partisan unit of the NPA as punishment for their alleged participation in the implementation of the government’s brutal Oplan Sauron counter-insurgency campaign in the island.

The families of those killed said they were killed with guns.

“That razor incident at hostage-taking never happened,” Magbanua added.

Duterte in his recent report on the government’s coronavirus response Monday night again spent a substantial part of his recorded address verbally attacking the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, accusing them of being the country’s biggest terrorist threat.

The president said the NPA had been attacking police officers escorting relief operations by the government.

“Pati nga ‘yung pulis na kasama ng gubyerno na tutulong sa mga tao, pinatay niyo lahat. Tapos, using a Gillette blade (hand moving across throat). Kaya ako galit sa inyo,” Duterte said.

He added that he had no history of maltreating captured NPA fighters in Mindanao.

“There was never a time that we handled an NPA prisoner sa Mindanao na sinaktan namin. We don’t even allow the mosquitoes to bite them. May warning kami sa mga alimatok pati sa mga…ano ba ng alimatok sa Tagalog? Linta. Leech. Na huwag galawin ang mga NPA na bihag dahil baka tayo ang pagbintangan,” he said.

Magbanua however said it is the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that consistently violates International Humanitarian Law through strafing of civilian homes, red-tagging of activists, and physical and mental abuse of detainees.

Marco Valbuena, information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, also said that Duterte is, in fact, the country’s biggest terrorist, using the AFP and the entire State machinery to unleash “wanton terror” in his government’s drug war, massacres, extrajudicial killings, the bombardment of communities in his nearly four years in power. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

On the question of fascism in relation to the Duterte regime

Interview by Prof. Regletto Aldrich D. Imbong
Department of Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Cebu

Prof. Imbong: Not so many intellectuals in the Philippines develop a strong theoretical argument on Duterte’s fascistic tendencies. Many assume rather than argue that Duterte is a fascist. What conditions should be met for one to be considered a fascist?

Prof. Jose Maria Sison (JMS): Any individual, group or movement can be fascist or have fascist tendencies in mentality, advocacy and behavior and is usually motivated by rabid anti-communism, a key factor that is ingratiating to the big bourgeoisie, especially the imperialists. But for an entire government or regime like that of Duterte to be described as categorically fascist and not merely having fascistic tendencies entails certain considerations and requirements.

To be fascist, the government or regime must be rabidly anti-communist and rule by open terror in the service of the big bourgeoisie (be it the comprador big bourgeoisie in the Philippines or the industrial monopoly class as in Hitlerite Germany) even as it uses demagogically nationalist, racist or even pseudo-socialist slogans to deceive the people. Most importantly, it has promulgated fascist laws to carry out the violent suppression of any opposition and prevent it from any recourse to the democratic rights guaranteed by a liberal democratic or socialist constitution.

The Duterte regime commits acts of state terrorism on behalf of the worst part of the Philippine big bourgeoisie but it has not yet reached the point of getting rid of the Bill of Rights and other relatively democratic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. However, Duterte is now on the verge of making his regime categorically fascist by enacting the so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill which practically gets rid of the Bill of Rights and is worse than the Marcos martial law proclamation in1972. He can also make charter change to formalize and entrench fascist dictatorship as Marcos did in fixing the 1973 Constitution and faking the referendum to ratify it.

Prof. Imbong: In several interventions, Walden Bello argued why Duterte is a fascist. His claim is that Duterte is a fascist original. By this I understand that right from the start Duterte is a fascist and that the (extreme) Left, being an initial ally of Duterte helped in Duterte’s ascension into the heights of fascist power. Classical fascism, however, is essentially an anti-communist movement (as pointed out by Enzo Traverso), a reaction or mobilization of the middle class and nationalist bourgeoisie against the internationalist working class. In this case, Duterte’s early presidency would not count yet as being fascistic. Could you give a comment on this claim of Bello and the role of the Philippine Left, in general, concerning Duterte’s fascism?

JMS: You are correct in saying that Duterte could not have been described as fascist or fascistic within the first six months of his presidency, especially if you evaluate him or his regime according to Enzo Traverso’s definition of classical fascism as being essentially an anti-communist movement that is a reaction or mobilization of the middle class and nationalist bourgeoisie against the internationalist working class. Duterte had to unfold himself first as a fascist or fascistoid in contradiction with his avowals of being “Left” and “socialist”.

You are correct in saying that Walden Bello is wrong for claiming that he knew Duterte as a fascist even before any manifestation of his being a fascist by word or deed. Before becoming president, Duterte never manifested himself as an adherent of fascism and was never the leader or member of a self-proclaimed fascist group or movement. As mayor of Davao City, he never declared himself a fascist. He had become vice mayor at first by being appointed by Cory Aquino. At the same time, he maintained close relations with the Marcos crony Floirendo of Tadeco and used him to become mayor.

In the course of his mayorship, Duterte used Dirty Harry tactics to impress the electorate that he was a law-and-order leader and also used violence to kill or silence his political opponents in the course of conflicts among the various political agents of the comprador big bourgeoisie and the landlord class. Among the competing reactionary leaders, he sought to ingratiate himself with the revolutionary movement. In response, the revolutionary movement considered him at the most as an unreliable and unstable ally against those reactionary leaders deemed worse than him on a certain scale of of political and tactical reckoning.

Even though Duterte claimed to be a close friend of the late Comrade Parago and helped in public events to honor him after his martyrdom, there have been questions within the revolutionary movement about Duterte’s close relations with top intelligence officers in the AFP and whether the report from inside the ISAFP that it was he who gave the A-1 information about the whereabouts of Comrade Parago to General Ano. The rapid promotions given by Duterte to Ano when he became president have aroused further the suspicion and investigation of his betrayal of Comrade Parago.

Prof. Imbong: Since the Philippine Left initially started as an ally of the Duterte regime, I believe it initially did not recognize the latter to be fascistic. At what particular point did the Philippine Left begin recognizing and labelling Duterte as a fascist? What were the triggers behind the redefinition of a former ally?

JMS: There was never any alliance between the Duterte regime and the revolutionary movement. In fact, the people’s war along the line of the new democratic revolution has proceeded, despite limited ceasefires to promote the peace negotiations. Warring parties can never be construed as allies until they can conclude at least a long-term truce for the purpose of alliance and other purposes beneficial to the people. The rabid anti-communist Walden Bello makes conclusions that are not based on the facts.

At the beginning of his presidency in 2016, Duterte presented himself as the first “Left” or “socialist” president of the Philippines, wishing to have peace negotiations and a just peace with the NDFP and the Filipino people and promising to amnesty and release all political prisoners. But within a few weeks after assuming his presidential office, he was in effect declaring himself a rabid anti-communist, he was reneging on his promise to amnesty and release the political prisoners and was carrying out the massacre of the poor as suspected drug users and peddlers.

Ka Oris as spokesperson of the CPP promptly criticized and condemned the aforesaid massacre of the poor within June 2016 and I also called Duterte a “butangero” on June 29, 2016 to his face when he was talking tough and reneging on his promise to amnesty and release the political prisoners. He wanted to trick the CPP into recommending certain personalities for four cabinet posts but he appointed them anyway on the basis of their individual merits.

He revealed himself categorically as an incorrigible enemy of the revolutionary movement when he included the CPP and NPA as targets of his martial law proclamation for Mindanao in May 2017. So, since early on, the revolutionary movement has considered Duterte as a rabid enemy and a rabid puppet of US imperialism by surrounding himself with generals who are notorious assets of the CIA and DIA of the US, carrying out immediately an all-out war policy under the cover of continuing Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan until he launched his own Oplan Kapayapaan in early 2017.

Eventually, the NDFP came to know that when he met Trump in November 2017 Duterte promised to wipe out the revolutionary movement and give US corporations the right to own to the extent of 100 percent any enterprise owning land, exploiting natural resources and operating public utilities and other businesses. He was proving to Trump that he was a loyal puppet to the US despite his posturing as a close friend of China.

Prof. Imbong: Enzo Traverso claims that some of the current populist and rightist movements the world over are irreducible to the classic definition of fascism. These have developed features that do not anymore fit into the classic definition of fascism. He rather called these movements as postfascism. In Brazil also, Jeffery Webber acknowledges the current Jair Bolsonaro regime as a neofascism. Do the current political and economic manifestations of the Duterte regime still fit into the classic definition of fascism? Or is his regime more of what is called as postfascism or neofascism?

JMS: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War in 1991, US imperialism has increasingly used the term “terrorism” as the bete noire (black beast) for targetting by the most extreme forms of reaction, including fascist movements, official repressive measures, state terrorism, full blown fascist regimes and wars of aggression. The term “terrorism” is so broad as to encompass not only Islamic jihadists that the US intelligence agencies create but also the communists and other anti-imperialist and democratic forces that are supposed to be the target of “classical fascism”.

The imperialists, the ultra-reactionaries and the fascist movements still vilify their enemy as “communist”, “terrorist” or “communist terrorist” wherever the communist parties and working class movements are relatively strong in the legal struggle and/or the armed struggle and are regarded by the big bourgeoisie as imminent threat to the ruling system. Anti-communism is still a major element in the ideological and political line of fascism, fascist regimes and movements, notwithstanding the imperialist propaganda that communism died in the years of 1989 to 1991.
Duterte points to the CPP as the main enemy of his regime and the main target of his state terrorism. In this regard, he is no different from Mussolini and Hitler and the fascist dictators of China, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam after World War II.

In looking at social and political phenomena, I am guided by the laws of contradiction and uneven development. There are generally similar phenomena that at the same time have distinctive dissimilarities or differences. Even at the time of Mussolini the original fascist, Hitler, Franco, Tojo and others, the fascist regimes had generally similar characteristics but also had distinctive dissimilarities.I do not like to play with prefixes like post and neo as some academic pedants do to claim any kind of new and unique discovery.

In my study of fascist movements and fascist regimes that arose before and after World War II, I have observed the following elements in their character and conduct:

1. The fascist groups and movements are ideologically and politically anti-communist and seek and get support from the big bourgeoisie (be it the industrial and financial big bourgeoisie in imperialist countries or the comprador big bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries).

2. They use xenophobic, chauvinist and racist slogans and target certain racial and ethnolinguistic minorities as the enemy to blame for the suffering and grievances of the people and deflect attention from the exploiting classes.

3. They use the biases of the politically backward section of the masses in order to create the base for their “mass movement”. From this base, they try to influence and win over the middle section of the masses; and try to counter and ferret out communists and other revolutionary forces from the advanced section of the masses.

4. They collaborate with the big bourgeoisie and with the armed apparatuses of the reactionary state in breaking up demonstrations of democratic forces, assaulting workers’ strikes and attacking the persons and properties of people who are communist or progressive in their stand or who belong to any minority deemed as enemy and target of hatred.

5. They ascend to absolute power through elections by taking up the grievances of the people and at the same time enjoying the support of the big bourgeoisie. They can also take power through a military coup against a discredited and weak civilian government. When in power by any degree, they can stage a series of false flag operations to scapegoat the communists and to justify the adoption and implementation of fascist laws.

6. They use the open rule of terror (fascist laws and actions) to suppress any criticism of or opposition to the fascist regime through the adoption and enforcement of laws that comprehensively and profoundly dissolve and violate the basic democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of the people which have been defined and guaranteed by the liberal democratic or socialist constitution.

All the above elements in varying forms and degrees of gravity have characterized the fascist movement and regimes that are employed and supported by the big bourgeoisie upon the failure of conservative and reformist parties, institutions and movement to contain and appease the exploited classes and counter the rise of the revolutionary party of the proletariat and the mass movement that it leads. #

The Old and New Bilibid Prisons in the Time of Pandemics

More than a century ago, Philippine prisons reeled from a flu pandemic. History might be repeated without adequate healthcare for prisoners and drastic interventions to stem the Covid-19 outbreak.

By Aie Balagtas See/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Will the Philippines repeat the deadly record of the 1918 influenza pandemic in its jails and prisons?

On May 21, Henry Fabro, chief physician of the Bureau of Corrections, said fatalities in New Bilibid Prison (NBP) reached an “alarming” level: five inmates died in just one day.

At least 80 prisoners died from May 1 to May 19. The figure surpassed the prison camp’s average mortality rate of 50 to 60 deaths per month. Most deaths came from the Medium Security Compound, where inmates were cramped after returning to prison amid the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) fiasco.

“The numbers are alarming, that’s why I immediately hired two additional doctors and several nurses,” Fabro told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in an interview.

“We wanted to contain it. So far, we were able to pull the death rate back to two per day,” he added.

In May, 40 out of an estimated 28,000 NBP inmates tested positive for Covid-19. One death was attributed to the highly contagious disease.

The death toll due to Covid-19 rose to 15 in June: 12 from NBP in Muntinlupa and three from the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong, according to the Bureau of Corrections.

Fabro believes half of NBP inmates are infected with the virus. However, gauging the true extent of the contagion – with scant testing that yields “snail-paced” and “unreliable” results – is impossible, he said.

Case in point: two inmates were discharged from the NBP isolation area because the Department of Health said they tested negative for the virus, Fabro said. Days later, the health department said it made a mistake.

“We had to repeat the test and expand it to those they (inmates) interacted with,” Fabro said.

Reliable testing, he said, is important to slow infections in penitentiaries and determine which prisoner should be isolated.

This was not the first time a global pandemic tore through Philippine prisons. In 1918, more than 300 inmates throughout the country died. There were nearly 200 deaths at Old Bilibid alone. Back then, the national prison was right inside the capital Manila, on Oroquieta Street in Sta. Cruz district.

A 2009 study titled “The Philippines in the World of Influenza Pandemic 1918-1919” by historian Francis Gealogo said “almost all of the [Bilibid] inmates became sick of the disease during the height of the epidemic in October and November 1918.”

“Among the 2,674 cases of this disease treated during the year, 71 cases of lobar pneumonia complications occurred with 31 deaths. Almost all of the inmates had influenza, and of those who contracted complications in their respiratory organs nearly half died,” he said.

Gealogo said hospitals were so overcrowded during the flu outbreak that 1,897 Bilibid patients who could not be admitted were treated in their own brigades. “Due to influenza and pulmonary tuberculosis, the death rate for the year 1918 was higher than that of 1917,” he added.

The Annual Report of the Secretary of War published in January 1919 said a total of 378 inmates from four prison facilities died during the pandemic.

Old Bilibid had the most deaths with 193. It was nearly double the number of the previous year, which recorded 107 deaths.

Outstations were not spared. The report said Ihawig Penal Colony in Palawan had 72 deaths, San Ramon Penal Farm in Zamboanga City had 45 and Corregidor Island, 68. In 1917, Iwahig recorded 23 deaths, while San Ramon and Corregidor had four and 39 deaths, respectively.

The Old Bilibid Prison, built during the Spanish colonial regime in 1866, is now Manila City Jail.

A century ago, pulmonary tuberculosis was the chief cause of morbidity and mortality among prisoners.

Today, deaths in prisons are a result of multiple problems, such as poor healthcare services, lack of facilities and lack of government manpower and resources. The NBP hospital inside the maximum security compound, for instance, cannot adequately serve the overpopulated prison, and renovations were put on hold because of the lockdown, Fabro said.

The prisoners’ fear of isolation and hospitalization are another factor, Fabro added.

Inmates are also refused admission in hospitals, even in those run by the government, the official said. A nongovernment organization (NGO) working with prisons made the same observation, explaining that inmates are often turned away because they do not have money and relatives to accompany them. Prison guards are not allowed to accompany inmates in hospitals.

The coronavirus outbreak has made the problem worse.

Fabro said hospitals often rejected inmates by claiming they were operating at full capacity. “Recently, a dialysis patient was refused because the hospital learned that NBP has Covid-19,” he said.

The Department of Health did not respond to queries on hospital policies on the admission of sick prison inmates.

Fabro said emergency cases from NBP and the CIW were not spared of the apparent discrimination.

“Our Alpha Patient [of Covid-19] in CIW was refused by different hospitals in Mandaluyong. After hospital shopping, her relatives found a hospital that accommodated her,” Fabro said.

The Alpha Patient, or the first Covid-19 case in CIW, died on April 27. #

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Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at aie.bsee@gmail.com for comments.

Siguruhing hindi lalabag sa karapatang pantao–Nora Aunor

“Sa panahon ngayon na sobrang paghihirap ang pinagdadaanan ng ating mga kababayan na marami ang nagkakasakit, nawawalan ng trabaho at walang makain ay sana huwag munang madaliin ang pagpapasa ng antiterrorism bill. Magandang mapag-aralan muna itong mabuti para masiguradong hindi nga ito lalabag sa mga karapatang pantao ng mamamayang Pilipino.”–Nora Aunor