A people’s counter-SONA protest action, noticeably broader and bigger than that of the previous year, presaged bigger and broader protests during Marcos Jr’s second year in Malacañang.
And his proposed increased budgets for intelligence and confidential funds (P9.2 billion) and for his travels (P1.408 billion) next year will likely add fire to the protests.
To several urgent issues raised by various sectors before his second SONA, Marcos Jr’s response was silence.
These included the demand for higher wages and more fairly-paid jobs, the reduction/control of rising prices of prime commodities and services, to the redress of human rights violations including a stop to police/military planting of evidence and filing of trumped-up charges, abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and repeal of the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Then there are the long-running grievances of the country’s indigenous peoples.
“Under the administration of Marcos Jr., we have witnessed a significant escalation in human rights violations,” was the report lodged by Katribu (the national alliance of indigenous peoples), with a United Nations agency, the EMRIP or Experts Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which met in Geneva, Switzerland on July 17-21. The report was a study and advice on the impact of militarization on Philippine indigenous peoples’ organizations.
Katribu’s national convenor, Beverly Longid, cited the following specific human rights violations attributed to militarization:
• Aerial bombings, artillery shelling and strafing of tribal communities;
• Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of indigenous leaders, activists and others;
• Criminalization, filing of trumped-up charges, terrorist-tagging and political vilification of leaders and activists;
• Military occupation of homes, schools, places of worship and gathering sites;
• Fabricated surrenders as “rebel soldiers” of innocent civilians and
• Declaration of persona-non-grata status against progressive IP leaders and organizations.
Militarization has taken various forms, the Katribu report said, including serving as counterinsurgency tool and “corporate defense force” for big mining or logging firms. Through Executive Order 30 which created the NTF-ELCAC, all local government units, government agencies, civil-society formations are mandated to be harnessed for counterinsurgency purposes in support of the state security forces.
The NTF-ELCAC, the report stressed, has been responsible for the “malicious red-tagging and terrorist-labeling of government critics and dissenters.” Notably, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), entrusted with promoting and protecting indigenous people’s rights, is “an active element of the NTF-ELCAC and serves more for counterinsurgency.”
Under the Duterte government, the NCIP head was concurrently designated as NTF-ELCAC executive director, a situation that instigated disunity and conflicts among tribal groups instead of fostering unity and cooperation among them.
Katribu complained that IP communities were unjustly labeled as “rebel areas,” treating the residents as “communists, terrorists and threats to national security.” Severe human rights violations have resulted, as listed above.
Since July 2022, when Marcos Jr.’s administration took over, 10 incidents of bombing, shelling and strafing occurred in rural communities, impacting approximately 30,000 people, Katribu pointed out. Seven of the aggressive incidents occurred in resource-rich IP ancestral lands, where the people opposed the construction of dams, mining operations and public works projects that they rejected.
In February, bombing raids were carried out in Cagayan province, where two of the four new EDCA sites for US military facilities are located.
Militarization led to criminalization, red-tagging and terrorist-labeling of organizations, activists and advocates. Katribu said it has documented 63 cases of indigenous activists facing fabricated charges and this year, six of the 11 cases of extrajudicial killings involved IP human rights defenders.
Thus, the Philippines is once again the deadliest country in Asia for those fighting to defend their land, and in Southeast Asia, it’s the country with the highest number of reported cases of enforced disappearances. (Not good for the tourism campaign.)
The Anti-Terrorism Act and EO 70 have further weakened human rights safeguards and “undermined our rights to self-determination and development” and those rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, said Katribu. Likewise, they have infringed on the rights to free expression and association, even as IP communities are “under constant siege.”
Going global, Katribu asked EMRIP and United Nations member-states to help ensure justice, peace and the protection of human rights in the Philippines, particularly those concerning indigenous peoples. It asked for a thorough and independent investigation of the situation here.
It further urged the EMRIP and the UN agencies concerned to call on the Philippine government to:
• Cease militarization, bombings, red-tagging and terrorist vilification of IPs;
• Resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to address the roots of the armed conflict and seek a political settlement as a viable alternative to their escalating attacks;
• Abolish the NTF-ELCAC and redirect its huge budget to social services for IPs and
• Repeal the ATA and EO 70, and enact effective protective measures for IP HRDs.
Last Thursday, another broad alliance of IP and Moro people, Sandugo (Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination), joined Katribu in back-to-back picket-rallies before the Department of Justice and the Court of Appeals.
They converged to demand the immediate surfacing of two Cordillera rights defenders – Dexter Capuyan and Bazoo de Jesus – allegedly abducted by security agents in June and whose families have filed a petition for habeas corpus on their behalf. The Court of Appeals was to hear their petition that day and on Aug. 10. An earlier hearing was called off because respondents for the AFP and PNP did not appear.
Sandugo spokesperson Eufemia Cullamat cried out: “What are these police and military men hiding from us?” If they truly do not have Capuyan and de Jesus in their custody, she said, they should have attended the cancelled July 4 hearing.
Decrying Marcos Jr.’s “refusal to speak about these injustices against the people,” Longid capped the protest action, declaring: “We repeat: we are not criminals or terrorists. Stop the attacks on IPs and activists!”
Published in Philippine Star
August 5, 2023