Democracy Dialogue held by Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights in Rodriguez, Rizal, 19 August 2018

Participants: 60 people, including human rights activists, trade unions leaders, farmers and agricultural workers, urban poor people, women, youth, indigenous peoples and environmental activists.

Introduction

Held on 19 August 2018 at the Rancho Luisito Hotel Resort in Rodriguez, Rizal, this democracy dialogue was organised by the Karapatan Alliance Philippines Inc. and took place after its Fifth National Congress. It brought together 60 human rights defenders around the theme ‘Formulating the Human Rights Defenders’ Agenda for the 2019 Mid-Term Elections in the Philippines’.

The democracy dialogue focused on the current human rights situation under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration in the Philippines and its relevance for the 2019 mid-term elections.

1. Definitions and concepts of democracy

Below are excerpts from the concepts of democracy shared by participants:

  • “The people, the masses of the people and not only the privileged few, should be accorded their right to a dignified life and to development.”
  • “The majority of the Filipino people, made up of peasants and workers, and the middle class and Filipino entrepreneurs and traders, are among those with truly democratic interests. On the other hand, an oligarchic class comprised of those who amassed wealth and power have interests that most often run counter to the interests of the majority.”
  • “Genuine democracy should be reflected in the country’s political, economic and social spheres and structures, and have the respect, promotion and protection of human rights and people’s rights as its main pillars and framework, so as to truly reflect the will and interests of the majority.”
  • “The exercise of the people’s right to participate meaningfully and substantially in political affairs and governance includes the right to vote in a genuinely independent manner; the right to clean, honest and transparent elections; the right to elect candidates that uphold their rights and interests; and the right to a progressive form of governance that ensures their democratic participation, among others.”

2. Current contexts and trends

The Duterte government is installing former military officials in government and weeding out known critics. Indicators abound of the multiple forms used to subvert democracy in the Philippines. Senator Leila De Lima was sent to jail on alleged drug charges; the Commission on Human Rights was threatened with having its budget reduced to zero; Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, known for her opposition to the extension of martial law in Mindanao, was unconstitutionally removed from her position; trumped-up criminal charges were filed against four former progressive legislators and activists.

The Duterte government is attacking people exercising their democratic rights in various ways. The government is vindictive and is actively distorting the rule of law to pave the way for the curtailment of people’s rights.

The civil and political rights of the Filipino people are under attack. Individuals, activists and community leaders who were active in their organisations and have exercised their right to protest and petition the government for redress have been targeted. Karapatan has documented 169 victims of extrajudicial killings, mostly peasant and indigenous leaders and advocates, while 67,372 people have been subjected to various forms of threat, harassment and intimidation, including the filing of trumped-up charges. As of June 2018, 359 individuals have been sent to jail on the basis of trumped-up charges. Journalists are also subject to attacks, including harassment, intimidation and killings. This situation has intensified as a result of increasingly repressive policies and campaigns, including the ‘war against drugs’, the Human Security Act of 2007, the government’s counterinsurgency programme Oplan Kapayapaan and the continued implementation of martial law in Mindanao.

The government’s so-called war against illegal drugs best exemplifies its contempt for human rights. An estimate of 23,000 Filipinos have been reported victims of this campaign, killed under highly questionable circumstances. Victims of this campaign are denied their basic rights to due process and are mercilessly executed by the police. This has worsened the climate of impunity in the country. Police, military and other state forces are exempt from prosecution and accountability for any rights violations related to the government’s counterinsurgency drive or its campaign against illegal drugs. The President’s directives played a role in enabling state forces to commit abuses without fear of consequences.

Military operations have also resulted in blatant violations of people’s economic, social and cultural rights. After the Marawi siege, many Muslims were denied entry back to their homeland, after spending several months in evacuation centres in grim conditions. Instead, a rehabilitation plan for war-torn Marawi City facilitated the entry of big corporations at the expense of residents.

Despite promises to end contractualisation, the government has continued to pass laws and regulations, including Executive Order 51 and Order 174 of the Department of Labor and Employment, that allow labour-only contracting and other contractual schemes. This facilitated the continued practice of corporations and firms preventing their workers from forming unions and demanding decent wages. While prices continue to surge, wages have remained stagnant. According to the National Economic and Development Authority, a family of five needs 42,000 PHP a month (approximately US$780) to live decently. This means that two family members would have to earn at least 21,000 PHP a month, or 808 PHP daily, an amount that the majority of Filipinos do not make. This is exacerbated by the implementation of anti-people policies such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law and the lack of job opportunities. As of June 2018, the country has hit a record-breaking inflation rate of 5.2 per cent.

In another effort to worsen the plunder and repression experienced by Filipinos, the Duterte government has aggressively campaigned for amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution to remove restrictions on foreign ownership of the country’s resources and to solidify the clout of traditional politicians in their respective territories. Meanwhile, the proposed legislation against political dynasties has remained in limbo. The Duterte government’s intent to shift the form of government merely promotes an increase in the patronage and corrupt politics that have already permeated Philippine society.

Popular elections have been held in the Philippines, but they are always marred with cheating and even violence, perpetrated by politicians eager to sway the results to their favour. Elections may be considered by some as a means to measure democratic space in countries, but in the Philippine context they seem to have become platforms for politicians to retain and consolidate power and wealth.

On the whole, the Philippines is backsliding, becoming a country where opposition is persecuted, and people’s political, civil, economic and social rights are outrightly neglected.

However, the mid-term national and local elections can be an opportunity for rights defenders and civil society actors to promote awareness, reach out to the broader public and advocate for legislative and policy reforms, especially on civic space.

3. Responses of human rights defenders and proposals for inclusion on the Human Rights Defenders’ Agenda for the 2019 elections

The following were drawn up by democracy dialogue participants as points for the Human Rights Defenders Agenda for the 2019 elections:

  • Stop attacks against human rights defenders as enabled by the government’s anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency campaigns.
  • Effect government adherence to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the Algiers Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, United Nations human rights instruments and covenants and international humanitarian law.
  • Render justice to the victims of human rights violations.
  • Release all political prisoners: 
  • Release on humanitarian grounds the sick and elderly, minors and nursing mothers, and those who have been held in prison for decades. While still detained, prisoners should be provided with immediate medical attention, if necessary;
  • Proclaim general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners;
  • Expedite court proceedings of political prisoners’ cases while waiting for amnesty proclamation to be passed by Congress. 
  • Drop all trumped-up charges and end the criminalisation of political activism and human rights advocacy: 
  • End the arrests of political dissenters;
  • Stop the use of ‘John and Jane Does’ and ‘Alias’ warrants to justify arrests;
  • End the policy and practices of arresting and detaining activists through warrantless arrests and faulty warrants, using professional witnesses from the armed forces and using perjured testimonies and manufactured evidence;
  • Eradicate the practice of filing fabricated criminal charges against peasants engaged in agrarian disputes with landlords;
  • Abolish the Armed Forces-National Police Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action. 
  • End extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other human rights violations; enact proposed legislation for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders; and ensure the implementation of the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act.
  • Uphold press freedom and the people’s right to know, decriminalise libel and stop killings of media workers.
  • Stop militarisation in the countryside and the forced evacuation of village residents, especially peasants and indigenous peoples such as the Lumad: 
  • Pull military and paramilitary troops out of civilian communities and schools; revoke Order 221 of the Department of Education and the Armed Forces’ Letter Directive 25 legitimising military occupation and entry in schools; desist from military encampment and remove military camps and permanent blockhouses and detachments in communities;
  • Disband private armed groups and paramilitary units, including Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary and Investment Defense Forces, and stop the forced recruitment of village residents by revoking Executive Order 546, the Executive Order on the creation of Task Force Gantangan and other legal instruments;
  • Stop anti-people projects that would lead to the dislocation of communities and the displacement of their inhabitants. 
  • Institute reforms to improve conditions in prisons and detention centres, following United Nations’ standards as a minimum; and impose disciplinary action on and prosecute abusive and corrupt prison and detention officials.
  • Repeal all repressive laws, decrees and other executive issuances such as General Orders 66 and 67 (authorising checkpoints and warrantless searches), PD 1866 as amended (allowing the filing of charges of illegal possession of firearms with respect to political offenses) and BP 880 (restricting and controlling the right to peaceful assembly), among others.
  • Pass a genuine Freedom of Information Act.
  • Include, in both secondary and tertiary education, curriculum subjects on people’s rights and comprehensive human rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural) and explain how these rights were violated under the Marcos dictatorship and succeeding regimes.

4. Recommendations

Participants recommended:

  • To hold further democracy dialogues island-wide, in regions such as Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao;
  • To continue monitoring and documenting rights violations under the Duterte government;
  • To finalise the Human Rights Defenders Agenda for the 2019 Elections by: 
  • Conducting a public information and dissemination campaign on the protection and defence of human rights targeted at the broader public;
  • Lobbying for the inclusion of the proposed legislative and policy reforms in the plans of actions of candidates for both local and national level positions;
  • Initiating the creation of and strengthening networks for promoting the Agenda