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.

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


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!

Stories of Hope 2015: Irish Grace M. Ramirez

This story of Irish Grace M. Ramirez is presented as part of UUSC’s Guest at Your Table program.Photo of Irish Grace Ramirez

With years of experience as a public health nurse in some of the most impoverished communities in the central Philippine islands of Cebu and Bohol, Irish Grace M. Ramirez thought she was prepared for anything. But that was before November 8, 2013.

Before Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history, cut a devastating swath through the island nation, killing 7,000 people, leveling entire villages, and displacing 6 million people.

Before she understood how profoundly traumatizing it is to lose everything — one’s home, crops, livelihood, entire community. And before she realized how her years of medical training and experience were insufficient to relieve the debilitating trauma afflicting so many of her people.

But UUSC has long understood that healing those hidden wounds is one of the most important and difficult challenges in responding to any large-scale humanitarian disaster. In the Philippines, in partnership with the nonprofit Trauma Resource Institute (TRI), we are deploying a successful new approach to this longstanding and difficult challenge.

We first brought TRI to the Philippines in January of 2014 to conduct a series of train-the-trainer workshops in what is called the Community Resiliency Model (CRM), which gives first responders and other caregivers the tools they need to help displaced communities recover from the profound emotional trauma that accompanies disaster.

Irish Grace was one of the first participants — and she immediately not only understood but personally experienced CRM’s effectiveness. Although she had not lost her home or any loved ones,

Irish Grace had been deeply affected by the typhoon, especially by the emotional dif culty of giving care to so many devastated survivors. Today she credits CRM with giving her the strength to maintain her own resiliency in the face of so much suffering.

That personal experience, combined with her training in public health, made her the ideal coordinator to bring CRM to psychologically shattered communities: “Because of my own trauma, I was able to empathize with them.”

Irish Grace put together a team that, over six months from late 2014 through early 2015, trained more than 100 community health workers throughout her region in the Philippines. Part of what makes CRM so effective is that it focuses on the connection between individuals and their communities, and the skills it develops are easily passed throughout those communities. That means the healing process that she and her team delivered is “going viral”!

As the secretary of the Philippine Association of Community Resiliency Model Trainers, Irish Grace today works with other organizations interested in this novel approach. And the more she learns, the more grateful she is that UUSC brought this novel approach to her country: “I saw in the communities how thankful they were with the CRM trainings. It gave them a new hope.”

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