The Philippines Face Martial Law and Threat of Rape

On May 23, 2017, President Duterte declared martial law on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao, in response to an escalation in hostilities between government forces and the Maute group, a terrorist organization allied with the Islamic State. Shortly after the declaration, Duterte suspended habeas corpus, which requires a person be released from police custody unless lawful grounds are shown for their continued detention. He also warned that he may expand martial law to the Visayas, the region hardest hit by 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan and home to most of UUSC’s grassroots partners in the Philippines, if not nationwide.

In the days following the declaration, Duterte reassured the military that “he alone” would be responsible for the consequences of martial law, going so far as to tell them, “If you have committed rape, I’ll take responsibility for it.” He also reminded troops in Mindanao that, under martial law they can arrest anyone and enter anyone’s home without a warrant and he ordered the use of lethal force against anyone who resists. Warrantless arrests have already begun at checkpoints in Mindanao and there are reports of escalating human rights violations in the region.

There are good reasons to be especially concerned about the return of martial law in the Philippines. During the ten-year imposition of martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos, there were thousands of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Duterte has already promised that his version of martial law would mirror Marcos’. Given the extent to which Duterte has previously disregarded human rights and overseen the degradation of the rule of law in the Philippines, there is no reason why we should not take him at his word.

An anti-martial law protest on May 24, 2017.

Human rights groups in the Philippines, including a number of UUSC’s partners, have been outspoken in their opposition to the return of martial law despite the risk that such resistance entails. Shortly after the declaration, there were anti-martial law protests across the country, and on May 30, JustPeacePH, an international platform for peace in the Philippines, issued a statement renouncing martial law in Mindanao. UUSC joins our Philippines partners and allies in opposing the return of martial law to the Philippines and the continued erosion of the rule of law and respect for human rights under President Duterte.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.

 

True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

UUSC Condemns Trump’s Praise of Philippine President Duterte

On April 29, the White House reported that President Donald Trump had a “very friendly conversation” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose brutal and illegal “war on drugs” has resulted in nearly 9,000 extrajudicial killings in less than one year. President Trump “enjoyed the conversation” so much that he invited Duterte to visit the White House. UUSC, together with our partners on the ground in the Philippines, condemns this shameful invitation.

Though praised by President Trump, Duterte’s campaign of extrajudicial killings is effectively a war on the urban poor amounting to crimes against humanity under international law. In addition to thousands of murders, more than 1 million people have “surrendered” to authorities in order to avoid being killed. The cruel drug war has also led to more than 50,000 arrests and exacerbated a problem of gross overcrowding in Philippine jails. Just days ago, a “secret jail” was discovered in the Manila District Police Station, where detainees arrested on purported drug charges were allegedly tortured.

UUSC’s partners in the Philippines, including the National Association of Social Work Educators, Inc. (NASWEI), Visayas Primary Health Care Services (VPHCS), and the Philippine Association of Community Resiliency Model Skills Trainers (PhilACTS), are working tirelessly to document instances of extrajudicial killings and provide human rights and trauma resiliency trainings to community leaders and members of civil society. President Trump’s actions over the weekend seriously undermine these efforts.

“Our partners, some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder,” said Michael Kourabas, UUSC’s Associate Director of Program & Partner Support, who recently visited the Philippines.

“President Trump’s invitation to Duterte is despicable and does not reflect the values of our country,” said former Congressman and UUSC’s President and CEO, Tom Andrews. “The United States must take a stand against power and oppression and protect the human rights and inherent dignity of all people.”

An Update from the Philippines

Background

In June 2016, the Philippines inaugurated a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose 20-year tenure as Mayor of Davao City included more than 1,000 documented instances of extrajudicial killings and disappearances associated with his “Davao Death Squad.” In December 2016, Duterte admitted to personally committing at least three murders when he was mayor, which led some of his critics in the Philippine Senate to call for his impeachment.

Since his election, Duterte’s war on drugs has had devastating consequences: more than 7,000 people have been killed by police and vigilantes; 53,000 have been arrested; and more than 1.1 million have “surrendered” to authorities in order to avoid being killed.

Duterte and his so-called drug war have been roundly criticized by the international community, condemned by the UN and international human rights groups, and could serve as grounds for a future investigation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In a February 2017 report, Amnesty International concluded that the killings may amount to crimes against humanity.

Despite claiming that he would end the war on drugs after three-to-six months in office, Duterte recently pledged to continue the illegal campaign of extrajudicial killings through the end of his presidency in 2022.

Partner Impact

Community Resiliency Model banner photoAgainst this backdrop, UUSC’s consultant on-the-ground in the Philippines organized a meeting of UUSC’s partners to discuss the impact on and responsibilities of human rights groups in the Philippines under Duterte. Many of our partners, initially reluctant to speak out against extrajudicial killings (in part for fear of their safety), soon expressed an interest in expanding the scope of their work to include human rights education and trainings.

Since then, UUSC has funded projects by two of our existing partners, the National Association of Social Work Educators, Inc. (NASWEI) and Visayas Primary Health Care Services (VPHCS), to document instances of EJKs and provide human rights trainings to community leaders, respectively. UUSC is also supporting IBON, an international human rights organization based in the Philippines, in human rights documentation, training, and education programs across the Philippines.

In addition, three of UUSC’s partners – the Philippine Association of Community Resiliency Model Skills Trainers (PhilACTS), Lihok Pilipina, and NASWEI – have utilized the innovative techniques that were a central pillar of UUSC’s post-Typhoon Yolanda strategy to build trauma resiliency in communities affected by the drug war. UUSC’s partners have now trained civil-society organizations, government officials, social workers, police, and family members impacted by the drug war in these trauma-resiliency techniques.

Most notably, PhilACTS (an organization formed in 2014 as part of a UUSC grant) has facilitated three training activities in the city of Davao (President Duterte’s hometown and where he once served as mayor) in 2017, two of which were requested and organized by the Ateneo de Davao University and the Davao City Anti-Drug Abuse Council (CADAC), as part of their joint community-based drug rehabilitation program. Participants included the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, members of the religious sector, the Local Government of Davao City, including the CADAC, and various higher education institutions. Ateneo de Davao University and the Davao CADAC have also requested additional CRM training activities, including a training of CRM trainers and one designed specifically for the police force.

The level of interest and engagement on these trainings across various sectors is an encouragement and testament to the amazing work our partners are doing. Recently, UUSC staff member, Michael Kourabas, traveled to the Philippines to visit our partners and see the work on the ground. Stay tuned for an update on his time there!