The Philippines government recently listed activists and a UN Special Rapporteur as terrorists and has threatened to pull out of the International Criminal Court. CIVICUS speak to Bestang Dekdeken, Secretary General of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance on these threats and the drivers behind them.
1. Tell us more about the recent crackdown on indigenous rights activists in the Philippines and the labelling of them as “terrorists” by the authorities
A culture of impunity continues to reign in the Philippines, with indigenous peoples experiencing unrelenting human rights violations under the government’s counter-insurgency policy Oplan Kapayapaan, martial law in Mindanao, USA’s war on terror, and the crackdown against political dissenters. The latest in the series of attacks against indigenous peoples and human rights defenders is the recent Philippine Department of Justice’s petition to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organisations. The petition was pursuant to the National Security Act 2007. It listed around 650 names, including leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, and indigenous rights defenders, alleging that they are “terrorists”.
The Department of Justice petition is baseless and malicious with intent to vilify, harass and intimidate the people struggling for their democratic rights and indigenous communities fighting for their rights to their ancestral lands and self-determination. It is meant to cripple the growing peoples’ movement in the country and criminalise the legitimate struggles of the people. It is an attack on the legitimacy of people’s organisations such as the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and signals the intensifying curtailment of our fundamental and democratic rights and freedoms. Cordillera Peoples Alliance has been fighting for the defence of ancestral domains and self-determination of Cordillera indigenous peoples for more than three decades, which is an exercise of fundamental rights. The terrorist proscription list also puts at risk the lives of indigenous human rights defenders. It is for these reasons that we are soliciting international support to pressure the Philippine government to immediately dismiss the legal petition and uphold its human rights obligations.
2. What do you think is driving the crackdown on indigenous rights and against human rights and civic freedoms more generally?
President Rodrigo Duterte is determined to impose his dictatorship in the country through martial law, and Charter change (constitutional reform) under the guise of a shift to a federal form of government. He is hell-bent at silencing political dissent, especially those against human rights violations and his selling-out of Philippine sovereignty and patrimony in exchange for promises of foreign investments. Hence, there has been a snowballing mass protests against the regime’s total disregard of human rights and an intensifying resistance against the fascist rule of Duterte. Indigenous peoples and human rights defenders have also been strongly opposing the continued onslaught of development aggression in our ancestral lands and natural resources through corporate extractive projects, such as mining, dams and mono-crop plantations, coupled with the militarisation of indigenous communities.
3. How is civil society responding to President Rodrigo Duterte’s onslaught against human rights?
The serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the Philippines is galvanising the peoples’ movement to resist the fascist rule of Duterte and to stand up for our fundamental freedoms and democracy. At national level, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) was launched in August 2017, aimed at uniting all freedom loving Filipinos against tyranny and to counter the increasing fascism and militarist rule of the Duterte government. MAT opposes fascist measures such as the demonification of human rights victims and defenders as “terrorists”, “drug addicts/pushers/coddlers”, “extortionists” and the use of red-baiting to muddle issues and justify extrajudicial killings and other atrocities. Following the national launch, MAT formations are being established at regional and provincial levels. Series of direct mass actions on specific issues are being held almost on a weekly basis in the past year.
4. Why has President Duterte threatened to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and what has been the response in the Philippines? What is civil society is doing to resist this?
On March 16, the government of President Duterte notified the United Nations Secretary General of its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in protest of the ICC’s decision to start its probe on the extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s War on Drugs. Withdrawing from the ICC is the latest move of President Duterte to try to evade accounting for the extrajudicial killings in the country and crimes committed against the people. It also further shows his disregard of international bodies that intend to investigate the human rights situation in the country, such as the ICC and the United Nations. It is a fact that a culture of impunity reigns in the country obliging concerned international bodies to conduct their own investigation. The civil society in the country have started expressing concern that Duterte is doing this to continue to act with impunity.
5. What are three things that need to change for the rule of law and human rights to be respected and for democracy to flourish?
Public servants should seriously push for the government’s adherence to national human rights laws and international human rights agreements that the Philippines is a signatory of. The fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, democratic rights, and Philippine sovereignty must not be trampled upon and should be safeguarded by the people in the government instead of allowing tyrannical rule. The government should also put an end to the martial law in Mindanao, its counter-insurgency operations Oplan Kapayapaan, and the Inter-Agency Committee for Legal Action that have been victimising indigenous peoples and human rights defenders and legitimising and systematising political persecution and political extrajudicial killings.
6. What can the international community and international CSOs do to support Philippines civil society?
We appeal for solidarity support from the international community and international CSOs to help us put pressure on the Philippine government to uphold its human rights obligations, and put an end to political persecution, criminalisation and harassment of indigenous rights defenders and environmental activists, extrajudicial killings, militarisation of indigenous communities, and plunder of indigenous lands and resources.
7. How are journalists and media outlets responding to the attempts by the government to restrict or shut them down?
In light of President Duterte’s attacks on the press and freedom of expression in the country, journalists, media outlets and artists launched a new alliance called Let’s Organize for Democracy (LODI) in 2017. LODI aims to fight attacks against the freedom of expression and human rights violations. LODI and other press media workers have also been actively participating in the activities of the Movement Against Tyranny and mass protests to register their fight and solidarity with the wider Filipino movement for genuine freedom and democracy.
8. Has there been an impact on civic space from President Duterte’s misogynist and derogatory statements concerning women?
President Duterte’s misogynist, derogatory and demeaning statements about women have catalysed a wider and stronger women’s movement against violations of women and people’s rights in the country. Duterte’s animosity towards women’s rights further exposed Duterte’s fascism by openly encouraging violence against women and human rights violations with impunity. With this, women’s organisations have gained wide support from various groups, sectors and advocates in denouncing Duterte’s blatant disregard of women’s rights.