Statement of the High-Level Delegation of church, union, political, and foundation leaders on extreme human rights violations occurring in the Philippines
1. High Level Delegation
From December 3-6, 2019 a High Level Delegation visited the Philippines to investigate reports of human rights abuses. Delegates coming from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and South Korea represent the HLD visit.
The goal of the Delegation was to investigate human rights abuses under the Duterte Administration and to submit their findings in a report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Delegation’s four-day program was organised by Asia Pacific Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCHRP). The following groups were co-organisers and assisted with organisational details – International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Philippine Ecumenical Voice (EcuVoice).
The Delegation of foreign dignitaries and church leaders included former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon, Reverend Jeong Jin Woo of the Korea Democracy Foundation, Robert Reid President of FIRST Union in New Zealand and Teanau Tuiono of New Zealand’s Green Party.
Reverend Joram Calimutan, APCHRP Coordinator, worked closely with the Delegation throughout their four-day visit. He was assisted by Reverend Marma Urbano of the UCCP and by the ICHRP Secretariat.
The Delegation had an extensive program of meetings with Indigenous peoples, vulnerable communities, leaders of civil society groups and unions, some members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate and the Commission on Human Rights and their staff.
2. Delegation findings
The many testimonies and personal stories presented to the Delegation revealed an intensification of human rights violations that are being perpetuated by the Duterte Administration.
a. Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples like the Aeta communities and Lumad in Mindanao are fighting for their ancestral land and the right of their youth to attend school and to be educated free of violence, killings, rape and intimidation.
Many Indigenous peoples have become refugees in different parts of the Philippines as they flee from escalating violence, rape and harassment by mining and other business interests taking over their ancestral land.
Development aggression is the cause of many of these crimes against Indigenous people. The Duterte Administration is overseeing a development agenda that favours the Filipino rich and international corporate interests at the expense of indigenous communities, urban poor and other disadvantaged people.
A number of Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders have been targeted by military used by big plantation and mining companies to carry out extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
The massive evacuation of Aeta people to make way for the New Clark City built for the South East Asian Games and the Lumad communities displaced by big mining and plantation projects in Mindanao are current examples of development aggression.
b. Extra Judicial Punishment – killings and disappearances
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” has led to many deaths. While the number of deaths is disputed the differences over figures must not divert the debate away from consideration of the damage that Duterte’s “war on drugs” is doing to the fabric of Filipino society.
The “war on drugs” has become a war on the urban poor. It is increasingly recognised that the form and the scale of these killings must be recognised as crimes against humanity.
The need for a top-level international investigation of the extrajudicial punishments (killings and disappearances) is underlined by the findings of Human Rights Watch that Filipino police are falsifying evidence to justify the unlawful killings they have been involved in. The call to investigate human rights violations in the Philippines was made as well by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in a report they submitted to the OHCHR on December 9, 2019.
c. Political prisoners – trumped-up charges
The Duterte Administration is jailing people for no reason other than that they expose human rights violations and oppression or they are political opponents. These people who are jailed are political prisoners. Their numbers are increasing. Many have been in jail for years with no access to a fair judicial process.
Political prisoners include prisoners of conscience who have expressed views that the Duterte Administration disagrees with. They are usually arrested on trumped-up charges. There are numerous incidents of the police planting evidence on people to justify their arrest and imprisonment.
d. Trade union repression
Repression of union activities, the killing and jailing of union leaders and members is increasing in the Philippines. The International Trade Union Confederation rates the Philippines as one of the worst countries for workers’ rights.
The Duterte Administration actively works to suppress union rights. This brings an advantage to both the Duterte regime and his supporters. Weakening the union movement reduces the ability of civil society to successfully oppose the damaging policies and various crimes associated with the current government and assists business interests to increase their profits. Laws that limit union activities coupled with the killings and jailing of union leaders, weaken union campaigns for on-the-job safety, improved workplace conditions and wage increases. These factors mean more profits for businesses and corporations as they can step up their exploitation of working people with impunity.
Currently workers can be terminated after a six-month contract or less. Contracted workers never receive the benefits that regular workers receive such as social security payments and health insurance contributions. Filipino workers are organising and opposing the illegal termination of union members, the use of sham contracting and unsafe on the job conditions. There is a role for the international progressive and union movements to support the struggle of Filipino workers and their unions.
Human rights defenders and justice advocates, in their commitment to serve and uphold human rights of the poor, the deprived and the oppressed are tagged as communist fronts. Red-tagging frequently leads to jailing and extra judicial punishment.
e. Peasants – land rights and food security
There are increasing incidents of harassment and attacks against peasants and their supporters who are working to protect their agricultural lands from land grabbing of corporations. Critics of the Duterte Administration are regularly targeted, particularly in Mindanao since Martial Law was introduced.
Peasants, development workers and human rights advocates are subjected to false red-tagging allegations. Rural poor communities are suffering as the Duterte Administration is working to promote the interests of mining companies, property developers and big agro-industry interests.
This approach means the issues of worsening poverty and associated landlessness and unemployment in rural Philippines are not being addressed at the government level.
These developments that are bringing greater hardship to more Filipinos underline the need for the government to resume peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
3. Recommendations and call to actions
To the Duterte Administration
· Reopen peace talks with the National Democratic Front – Philippines as a matter of priority. To assist this process repressive order and policies like the Executive Order 70, which created the national task force meant to end armed conflict will need to be repealed to allow meaningful negotiations to occur.
· Respond to the intent of the Iceland-initiated resolution voted on by the UNHRC.
· End the culture of impunity. Those responsible for the harassment and killing of journalists, unionists, church leaders and other members of civil society must not be exempt from investigation and punishment.
· Investigate and prosecute all those responsible in each case of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance that have been reported.
· Order the military to cease targeted attacks on civilians, to cease the practice of denying military involvement in all extrajudicial killings, and to cease red-tagging that is used by government forces to vilify groups and individuals as communist fronts.
· Ensure all officers and soldiers who provide evidence in cases of human rights violations are eligible for witness protection and other measures required to ensure their safety. Where necessary reform the witness protection program to ensure the safety of witnesses and families of victims.
· Cause the enactment of a bill by the Philippine Congress that prohibits enforced disappearances and ratifies the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
To the governments of the countries of Delegation members
· Request that foreign nations call on the Philippine government to investigate and prosecute members of the military and police forces who have carried out extrajudicial killings; and instruct their diplomats resident in the Philippines to monitor the activities of the Duterte Administration with regard to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance.
To the Philippine House of Representatives and Senate
· Conduct hearings on the involvement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in ordering and perpetrating extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
· Conduct committee hearings on how best to preserve the evidence of witnesses to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and then draw up legislation to establish the necessary mechanisms to achieve this.
· Pass a motion that calls on the President to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and then send it to the Senate for ratification.
To members of foreign parliaments
· Make speeches about the situation Indigenous communities, civil society and workers and unions are exposed to under the Duterte Administration.
· Move motions in their respective parliaments calling on the Duterte Administration to take all necessary steps to end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; and to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
To unions in foreign countries and international union bodies
· Lobby their respective governments to make representations to the Philippine government to end the killings and harassments of union leaders.
· Support Philippine union struggles by organising demonstrations and events in our respective countries; and organise exposure tours to the Philippines so union members are aware of the struggle and hardships experienced by Philippine workers.
To civil society organisations
· Make a submission to the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human Rights situation in the Philippines. The deadline for submission is 31 January 2020.
· Lobby their respective governments to make representations to the Philippine government to end the development aggression of extractive industries and ensure all aid projects work with local communities to meet their needs.
· Investigate organising annual Friendship and Learning Tours to the Philippines, similar to what is organised in the USA.
· Engage with contacts in the international community to provide moral and practical support to the Filipino people embattled by the severe repression of the Duterte presidency.
4. Concluding remarks
Delegates expressed their appreciation to the brave men and women who shared with them their disturbing accounts of murder, harassments and ongoing attacks that this report draws on. Delegates also thanked the organisations that coordinated and hosted their visit.
Members of the Delegation were left appalled by the continuing gross violations of human rights in the Philippines.
Prior to leaving the Philippines delegates confirmed their commitment to take the findings of their work to the widest audience. They plan to put in a submission to the OHCR of the UN Human Rights Council. They will also produce a more comprehensive report that they will use for civil society and parliamentary advocacy within their own countries and globally. ###
Former Senator Lee Rhiannon