Marcos US Visit Paves Way for Worsening Human Rights Crisis

When Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. first embarked on his travels to the US, UK, and Indonesia this May – he commented, “All we are worried about is the peace and the safety of our people, here and abroad.” 

Indeed, peace and safety would be a welcome development in the Philippines. Thousands of Filipinos leave their home country every day only to find precarious work abroad. Filipinos make up the highest percentage of seafarers in the world, a job known for its peril and isolation. Though Filipino health nurses comprise only 4 percent of nurses in the USA, ⅓ of Covid-related nurse deaths over the course of the pandemic were Filipino. On April 23, labor leader and LGBTQ activist Alex Dolorosa went missing and was found dead with signs of torture near a chicken coup. In the Philippine countryside, the civil war between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Philippines continues on. Peace talks remain stalled since former President Duterte scrapped them. Just in the month before Marcos’ visit to the United States, the Philippine military brutally murdered three National Democratic Front peace consultants – Rogelio Posadas, Wilma Tiamzon and Benito Tiamzons –  further aggravating an already tenuous climate for peace talks. 

Military agreements and economic frameworks, however, remained at the forefront of the jet setting President’s global tour. While Marcos sells his priority as peace in the Philippines – his actions indicate quite the opposite. 

On May 1st, the Biden & Marcos bilateral highlighted the new US-PH Bilateral Defense Guidelines, which update decades-old bilateral agreements to consider non-conventional domains like cyberspace, transnational crime and terrorism, to cover concerns about the Indo-Pacific region and South China Sea more explicitly, and to elaborate on emerging regional security alliances. The Agreement emphasizes the whole-of-nation approach and military-civilian partnership, frameworks which have already aggravated human rights issues in the Philippines through the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, an entity which has worsened the dangerous practice of red tagging and further sidelined peace talks in developing solutions to the social and economic problems at the root of armed conflict in the Philippines. 

The Marcos Administration followed up the bilateral with Biden with dinners with Filipino billionaires and meetings with corporate leaders. The Philippine President boasted of over US$1.3 billion pledged in investments, especially in nickel and lithium extraction. While Marcos Jr. celebrated these as investments in “clean energy,”  the Philippines remains one of the deadliest for environmental defenders. With ancestral lands rich in resources, indigenous people in the country have long faced displacement and likely face more with greater foreign investment.  

When asked about the recent murder of Alex Dolorosa, Marcos Jr. dodged commenting and rather discussed the war on drugs. Marcos Jr. claimed the resignation of former police as a victory in addressing human rights concerns brought about by the war on drugs. But in the end, Marcos showed no inclination towards genuine accountability – neither through investigation nor prosecution, nor through holding the architects of the human rights crisis at the highest levels responsible, including former President Duterte. 

Marcos Jr. came to the United States preaching peace, but his conduct and agreements made in the United States will only make Filipinos more vulnerable to war. The Biden Administration, in working with Marcos Jr. so fervently, has also revealed its own prioritization of US military and economic interests over the dire human rights situation. Despite the prodding of civil society to meaningfully hold Marcos Jr. and the Philippine Government accountable, The Biden Administration carried on with its Indo-Pacific Strategy above all else. 

But community members & civil society organizations are not going along with it. On May 2nd, 4 protestors were arrested while confronting Marcos during one of his lavish dinners. 117 faith organizations called for support for the Philippine Human Rights Act. 14 representatives of Congress joined Jan Shakwosky in demanding for genuine accountability mechanisms be put in place and a strong judicial system in the Philippines guaranteed. The Biden administration may not be moving its stance on the Philippines; but many are bravely standing for genuine peace in the Philippines. Civil society can be on the side of peace and likewise support the Philippine Human Rights Act, which calls for the suspension of military aid to the Philippines until serious changes in the human rights situation occurs. 


Biden: True Accountability Demands a Halt of US Military Aid to the Philippines

The United States Department of State released a statement on the murder of union organizer and paralegal Alex Dolorosa, expressing condolences to Dolorosa’s family and friends, “as well as the greater international labor union and LGBTQI+ communities who loved him.” It also asserts that the US government “joins” the Philippine government in condemning this attack and “underscoring that impunity is unacceptable.” 

The claim that the Biden and Marcos Jr administrations share a commitment to justice and the interests of the Filipino working class are impossible to reconcile with the active role they both play in continuing and worsening attacks against workers and labor activists in the Philippines. 

The Marcos Jr. regime has already exceeded the pace of human rights violations against the Filipino people and grave violations of International Humanitarian Law set under former president Duterte. This is seen in the aerial bombings of civilian communities, the torture and murder of unarmed combatants, and vicious terror tagging of people struggling for their rights.

The Biden administration has in practice fostered the harrowing impunity that Philippine state forces under Marcos Jr. enjoy in their repression and terrorizing of activists struggling for jobs, living wages, land, public services, local production, and respect for their rights. We see this in the US continuing to increase military and security aid to the Philippines, expanding its own military presence with four new bases across the archipelago, and remaining silent about the Philippine government’s attacks against its own people. 

We see this even today, on International Workers Day, when Biden and Marcos are meeting together in Washington DC to broker deals that will advance US military and economic interests and further endanger and disempower the Filipino working class. 

Congresswoman Jan Shakowsky, with 14 other US Representatives, have penned a Bipartisan Letter Bipartisan Letter to President Biden urging him to raise concerns about the worsening human rights crisis to President Marcos during their bilateral meeting at the White House. They are calling for investigation of and prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations, compensation for the many outstanding cases of Martial Law Victims under Marcos Sr., and guarantee a judicial system capable of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses.

If the US is at all sincere in its stated commitment to justice and ending impunity in the Philippines, it must act to end all forms of support for the Marcos regime. The Biden Administration must end US military aid to the Philippines by passing the Philippine Human Rights Act and ensure true accountability for the many injustices committed against the Filipino people.

117 Faith Communities Urge Biden to ‘Heed Voices of Oppressed’ and Halt Military Aid in Meeting with Marcos

Washington, DC – Ahead of Philippine President Marcos Jr.’s visit with President Biden on Monday, May 1st, over one hundred faith organizations and institutions–including Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church – USA Office of Public Witness and the United Methodist Church Board of Church & Society – initiated an ecumenical letter with the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines to call on President Biden to abstain from any new military agreements with President Marcos that will further contribute to human rights violations. The cosigning faith groups additionally urged President Biden to support the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would suspend US security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has investigated and prosecuted human rights abuses in the military and police force.

Noting the lack of change since Marcos assumed office 10 months ago, faith communities state: “President Marcos and his administration have shown ongoing impunity for human rights abuses similar to those seen under the preceding Duterte presidency. Human Rights Watch reports there has been “no let up” in the war on drugs under Marcos Jr., which took as many as 30,000 lives under Duterte. Karapatan Human Rights Alliance reports that from July to December 2022, there were 17 extrajudicial killings, 165 illegal arrests, and a total of 825 political prisoners, 73 of whom are elderly. Karapatan additionally recorded 200 cases of red-tagging and notes that the Marcos Administration continues to use the Anti-Terrorism Act and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) “to create an unsafe environment for activists, rendering them more vulnerable to attacks against their persons.”

The ecumenical letter, which follows an interfaith delegation hosted by ICHRP that traveled to the Philippines in February, notes the delegation “met with dozens of community members and organizers who confirmed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police are guilty of widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. We are aghast,” it states, “that despite the human rights situation, our government continues to channel various forms of resources to the Philippines (i.e. military training, weapons). In addition, the most recent military deal to build  four more US military bases in the country is an affront to the peace of the region. As people of faith, we strongly oppose and condemn the use of a large portion of our country’s budget to support regimes that oppress their populations.” 

The release of the letter comes alongside mass protests of Filipino-Americans and allies from labor and human rights organizations, who are holding an all-day vigil in front of the White House on Monday. 

Justice for Alex! Stop Attacks on Workers!

ICHRP-US is outraged and heartbroken to learn of the brutal murder of Alex Dolorosa. Alex was found dead with multiple stab wounds yesterday after he had been missing for three days. He was last seen on the night of April 23, 2023 and local reports confirmed he was killed in Barangay Alijis, Bacolod City. He was a dedicated paralegal officer with the BPO Industry Employees’ Network, or BIEN, an independent network of, by, and for the employees of business process outsourcing in the Philippines, aiming to promote their rights and welfare. 

State-sponsored attacks against workers and labor leaders in the Philippines have become a common occurrence, as the Philippine government is under scrutiny by international bodies for its grave human rights record. Not only are workers facing a worsening economic crisis, but they are facing attacks on their right to unionize. The worst forms of these attacks include terror tagging, illegal arrest, detention and torture, enforced disappearances and rampant killings of labor leaders and organizers.

The ruthless attacks on union organizers and other human rights activists in the Philippines is facilitated by US support of the Marcos regime. As ICHRP-US, we demand an end to US military aid to the Philippines, and the immediate passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act. We will carry on Alex’s legacy and fight for the rights and freedom of exploited and oppressed peoples! Justice for Alex Dolorosa! End US support of the Marcos regime!”

On the deaths of Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria Tiamzon and their companions

ICHRP-US strongly condemns the abduction, torture and subsequent brutal murders of Philippines human rights activists, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria Tiamzon, and their fellow companions on August 21, 2022. They were abducted, tortured, and murdered by the 8th Infantry Division of the US-backed and directed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). It should be noted that since 2015 the US has given over $1 billion in military aid to the AFP. 

The Tiamzons were fiercely outspoken advocates for those facing injustice in the Philippines, and both assisted in peace negotiations with the Philippines Government in 2016 on behalf of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF). They committed their entire lives to assist those facing oppression in the Philippines. 

As part of the NDF negotiating panel, Benito and Wilma were fierce advocates of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). They saw that the civil war in the country erupted from the grave problems of inequality and injustice in Philippine society, and sought to work for the CASER to address these issues. Wilma and Benito were warriors for peace above all- yet they became victims in the brutal conflict. 

Contrary to the claims of the US government- and it’s close partner the Philippine government- the Tiamzons and their companions were not terrorists. Even the regional court of Manila recognised that there was no basis for the labeling of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as terrorist in its decision last year. They pointed to the comprehensive program and aims of the CPP-NPA-NDF seeking to resolve the fundamental issues facing the Philippines as to why they could not be described as chaos seeking terrorists. The government of the Philippines had and has no legal basis for describing the victims of the Catbalogan 10 as terrorist- nor any of the many other victims of the civil war. 

This atrocity perpetrated by the AFP is a grave violation of international humanitarian law. ICHRP-US calls for a full, impartial, investigation into this and other war crimes committed by the US-backed AFP in the Philippines.