Harris Visit to Philippines another Example of US Prioritization of Power over Human Rights

From November 20-22nd, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines in a US effort to “revive ties” with Manila. Harris’ visit follows the announcement of US Ambassador to the Philippines, MaryKay Carlson, promising $100 million in foreign military financing to the Philippines. ICHRP-US strongly stands against the continued financing and support of the AFP and PNP by the Biden Administration, as they are being rewarded for their continued human rights violations against the Filipino people instead of being held accountable. 

During her visit, Harris met with a human rights lawyer and a LGBTQIA+ advocate, a member of a network fighting against child labor and exploitation, a labor leader, and a journalist. Some of Harris’ guests were red-tagged in their course of standing up for their advocacies. Harris told them: “So when I think about the fight for human rights, I think about it in the context of what it requires for the fighters. And one of the things that requires is that you remember, you are not alone,” One report saw this as “an act of solidarity.” 

On the 21st, however, protestors rallied in Manila against the visit by Harris. Liza Maza, an official of the International League of People’s Struggle said, “We don’t want our country to be used as a pin board or launching pad of the wars of the United States again China or any other country. Raymond Palatino of BAYAN said that Harris’ visit “is harmful because her agenda include additional aid for the military.” 

The concerns of the protestors call into question Harris’ so-called gesture of solidarity in telling human rights defenders in the Philippines “you are not alone.” During the trip, Harris also told President Marcos, “We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea. An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, vessels, or aircrafts … would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”  

Instead of focusing on military might, Harris should demand accountability and justice for Brandon Lee and other victims of violence by the government. Marcos and Duterte continue and intensify a bloody war against the peasants in the countryside, whose work provides food for the people. The ongoing military campaign of aerial bombings, killings, fly-by strafing, staged surrenders, and forced evacuations are funded by US support for and will only lead more deaths and abuse of more and more farmers, the workers, the youth, the fisherfolk, the indigenous communities. 

Meanwhile, the intensive counterinsurgency efforts of the Philippine government continues to operate outside the Philippines and directly in the United States. As noted in a recent statement of BAYAN-USA, the Philippine government is currently conducting a “Special Mission Project”  Filipino community in DC, Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. 

The main speakers on the tour collude with state agents – the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. They claim to be peace advocates, but red-tag individuals and organizations working for freedom and democracy in the Philippines. This leads to harming human rights defenders, labor unions, peasant associations and land rights. The cost of these tours take money away that should provide essential services for Filipinos in the Philippines.   

ICHRP-US believes in meaningful solidarity that holds the Philippine and United States governments accountable for crimes against the Filipino people. We must continue to stand in genuine solidarity with the Filipino people who are working for a truly democratic and sovereign Philippines. We must continue to lobby Congress to pass the Philippines Human Rights Act to hold the AFP and PNP for their continued crimes against the Filipino people. 

Demands to President Biden On Human Rights in the Philippines

Sign the open letter here: https://tinyurl.com/ICHRPLettertoBiden

Following the devastating impacts of the Rodrigo Duterte regime on human rights in the Philippines, the Filipino people continue to face ongoing crisis and gross human rights violations under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Despite the widespread protests and reports on the severe human rights crisis in the country, the Biden administration’s policy towards the Philippines continues to prioritize US economic and military pursuits over human rights. 

We are outraged at President Biden’s pursuit of US hegemony and dominance in the Asia Pacific region at the expense of workers, farmers, indigenous, and all exploited and oppressed people in the Philippines. We are further dismayed at Biden’s ongoing military funding of the Philippine government while people in the US continue to suffer from the ongoing impacts of the Covid pandemic and face insufficient wages, food and housing insecurity, mental health crisis, police brutality, lack of access to health care, and increasing inequality between rich and poor. We are therefore resolute in our solidarity with the people of the Philippines.

We issue the following demands to the Biden Administration:

To hold the Marcos regime accountable for the repression of labor activists and defend the right to unionize. 

On October 10, labor organizers Kara Taggaoa (KMU International Officer) and Larry Valbuena (PASADA-PISTON President) were indiscriminately arrested by the Quezon City Police on trumped up charges of direct assault. They were arrested before a warrant was even presented.

Kara Taggaoa is a labor rights organizer and was very active in fighting for the demands of workers’ organizations who were gravely affected by the pandemic. Larry Valbuena fought against the jeepney phaseout and against oil price hikes.

The unfounded charges against and arrests of Taggaoa and Valbuena is reflective of the rampant exploitation of workers in the Philippines. The Philippines is one of the worst countries in the world for workers. Union members are particularly at risk of violence, intimidation and murder according to the International Trade Union Confederation.

In his speech to Asia Society, Marcos Jr. touted one of the main reasons to invest in the Philippines as “human capital” due to a young, English speaking workforce. Marcos’ clamor for investment, much like his father’s, will further pad the wealthy while exploiting workers who already suffer low wages and police surveillance and repression for unionization. 

To give due justice to the victims of Martial Law and uphold the contempt of court case against Marcos, revoking his immunity as the head of state of the Philippines. 

In April 1986, victims of Ferdinand Marcos Sr Martial Law and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) led the filing of a class-action suit on behalf of about 10,000 plaintiffs against Marcos in US courts, which eventually made a ruling in favor of the victims. The courts found that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos “fraudulently diverted enormous sums of money that belonged to the Philippine Government and the Government of the United States, which money was intended for the benefit of the Philippine people.”

Now, Marcos Jr. currently faces a contempt of court case in the United States worth $353 million. Despite the heinous crimes of the underlying case, the United States affirmed Marcos Jr. diplomatic immunity making him free to enter the United States without arrest. This decision on the part of the United States is not only a slap in the face to victims of Martial Law, but also obscures the role of the U.S. in the financial, military and political support it provided Marcos Sr. 

To halt US aid to the Philippine military and police by passing the Philippine Human Rights Act, and to halt all future arms sales to the Philippines. 

Despite well-documented and ongoing human rights violations, the US government continues to funnel millions of dollars in aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), who are the main perpetrators of human rights abuses. 

In their initial meeting in New York, Marcos Jr. raised with Biden the importance of the US role in bringing “peace and stability in the Asia Pacific” and expressed his appreciation of military agreements like AUKUS and QUAD. Meanwhile, the US maintains unequal treaties with the Philippines such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Enhanced Defense Coordination Agreement (EDCA) which gives US troops impunity and access to military bases across the archipelago, as well giving the US military oversight on Philippine operations, and hundreds of joint operations. These treaties allow the US to use the Philippines as a base to further its interests in the Pacific, positioning personnel and arms in bases across the many islands. What this means for the Filipino people is hot-spots of abuse, prostitution, and murder around military bases such as seen in the the case of murdered trans woman Jennifer Laude, murdered by US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton murdered her in 2014 near Subic Bay. 

While the US and Marcos continue to work together around military aid and agreements, human rights violations and impunity continue to happen at the hands of the Philippine military and police. 

To hold the Duterte Regime responsible for it’s egregious crimes against humanity and ensure justice & accountability for the victims of state terrorism

Marcos Jr. has insisted that the Philippines will not rejoin the International Criminal Court while the ICC continues its investigation of the Philippines and former President Duterte’s war on drugs. Without justice and accountability for the thousands of victims of Martial Law and a thorough investigation into the crimes against humanity committed by the Marcos and Duterte regimes, political dynasties in the Philippines will continue to operate with impunity.

Brandon Lee, the first known US citizen targeted in an assassination under the Duterte regime, is one among thousands whose perpetrators have not been tried, foremost amongst them Duterte himself, who promoted the lawless violence of the military and police. 

We urge for further accountability and the use of Magnitsky Sanctions against the following: 

Architects of the war on drugs and campaign of state terror (Ronald “Bato” De La Rosa); the command-and-control structure of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines when rights violations by state institutions allegedly took place (Gen. Diebold Sinas, General Jose Faustino Jr., General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr, Delfin Negrillo Lorenzana  and Genral Eduardo Año); and the infrastructure of terror in the Duterte regime and participated in the public orchestration of alleged state repression (Bong Go, Harry Roque, Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and Lorraine Badoy). 

To halt US corporate operations impacting climate change and resulting in the eradication of biodiverse ecosystems and the violation, harassment, and displacement of indigenous peoples.

The plans Marcos Jr. has presented so far show continued use of fossil fuel energy such as coal and fossil gas. He has also been pushing for the revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, even distorting evidence and promoting it as a “renewable” energy source appropriate for the Philippines despite scientific assessments showing otherwise. This undermines the Philippine government’s commitment to the global fight against global warming, as new fossil fuel projects would continue to increase the global carbon footprint. His proposed 2023 budget allocates over 450 billion pesos for “climate related” projects with no clear indication where these funds will go, leaving space for severe corruption and mis-allocation. 

The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for environmental defenders in the world, and the attacks have persisted under Marcos including the arrest and cruel detention of two Lumad Indigenous organizers who are at the forefront of the struggle to defend their ancestral lands. With his commitment to expand fossil fuel projects and open the Philippine economy for foreign investment, Indigenous peoples and peasant farmers in the countryside will face increased militarization and displacement to pave the way for foreign-owned energy projects.

To delist the CPP-NPA from the US terror list in support of the peace process in the Philippines. 

Due to the long history of colonial rule, severe oppression and exploitation in the Philippines, the country has a history of armed rebellions that still continue today. For over 50 years, since the emergence of the Ferdinand Marcos I dictatorship, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s army have been waging an armed revolution in the rural countryside where people are suffering severe government neglect and abuse in the form of lack of public services, hunger, poverty, militarization and indiscriminate aerial bombing that force families to flee their homes.

The Duterte administration, following the suit of the United States, has sought to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army as a terrorist organization. Yet, a recent ruling the in the Philippines found that the Communist Party of the Philippines should not be included on the list of terrorist organizations in the country; the court found the program of the CPP shows that it is not organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism but rather seeks address social ills and improve the lives of the FIlipino people. 

The US terror listing of the CPP thwarts peace talks between the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front and the Government of the Philippines and enables the Philippine governments deadly counterinsurgency campaign that has led to red-tagging, arrests, killings and the aerial bombings against civilians. At the heart of the peace negotiations are social and economic reforms that could address the root of armed conflict in the Philippines.

Conclusion

As people in the US, we see our interest and solidarity is with those poor and oppressed sectors of Philippine society against elitist rule and political dominance. We have common goals with the Filipino people for a peaceful and just society, and will not loiter along while lives are at stake in the Philippines. As the deepening human rights crisis and violations by state forces have become institutionalized, we cannot rely on the Philippine justice system to provide justice or create genuine change and must mobilize the broadest array of solidarity support to demand accountability and justice.

We call on people in the US to unite in solidarity with the Filipino people to advance the struggle for peoples’ rights and Reject US support of the Marcos Dynasty!

Reject US Support of the Marcos Dynasty

SIGN ONTO THE UNITY STATEMENT at tinyurl.com/UnitetoRejectMarcos

As people in the US, we reject the US government’s ongoing support for the Marcos Dynasty and its failure to address the murderous and corrupt record of the Marcos Sr. regime.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rose to power in the Philippines through a calculated and decades-long disinformation campaign which attempted to “clean” the Marcos name and erase the crimes of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The previous Marcos dictatorship brought gross human rights violations under Martial Law, bankrupting the Philippine economy, abuse of power, ill-gotten wealth, unequal foreign treaties and massive plunder of the land and people; all of which they continue to deny as part of their decades-long attempt to erase history and reframe their rule as “golden years” that will be restored by Marcos Jr. 

The US government has deemed the elections in the Philippines as free and fair, ignoring the widespread concerns of massive fraud, cheating and violence that took place. Before the official results were even released, President Biden called Ferdinand Marcos saying “that he looks forward to working with the President-elect to continue strengthening the US-Philippine Alliance.” U.S. State Department Rep Wendy Sherman publicly announced that the U.S. will grant Marcos Jr. immunity despite the contempt of court case against him, while many legislators are taking a “wait and see” approach to the Marcos Administration. Now, President Biden has invited Marcos Jr. to come visit the United States, and Marcos Jr. is set to address the UN in New York on Sept 20th. 

As the deepening human rights crisis and violations by state forces have become institutionalized, we cannot rely on the Philippine justice system to provide justice or create genuine change and must mobilize the broadest array of solidarity support to demand accountability and justice.

The current position of the US on the Marcos Administration sacrifices basic human rights in exchange for political convenience and the maintenance of military and economic influence of the US in Asia Pacific. Ongoing US military aid to the regime will only exacerbate the human rights crisis in the country. As recorded in Investigate PH, an independent international investigation on the Philippines, human rights violations by state forces are now institutionalized in Philippine society; the judicial system has proved incapable of rendering justice and holding human rights abusers responsible. With Marcos Jr. at the helm, we can only expect the human rights crisis to further deteriorate. 

With an increased stripping of human rights on a global level, building international solidarity among peoples of the world is crucial in the fight for peoples’ rights. As people in the US, we will not loiter along while lives are at stake in the Philippines. Further, the US push to further militarize Asia Pacific and beat the drums of war against China do not serve the interests of poor, working class and marginalized people in the United States. While many in the United States across the globe struggle with basic access to food, housing, health care, freedom from discrimination and a fair wage, the US backing of Marcos only serves the a few privileged groups who gain from the profits of war and economic dominance.

As ICHRP-US, our interest and solidarity is with those poor and oppressed sectors of Philippine society against elitist rule and political dominance. We have common goals with the Filipino people or a peaceful and just society, and express our solidarity in action this fall as we approach the 50th anniversary of Marcos Sr.’s declaration of Martial Law. In this time, we join in unity to issue the follow demands: 

To the US government: 

1. To give due justice to the victims of Martial Law and uphold the contempt of court case against Marcos, revoking his immunity as the head of state of the Philippines. 

2. To halt US tax dollars going to military aid in the Philippines and to halt arms sales to the Philippines. 

To the United Nations: 

1. To hold President Duterte for his egregious human rights violations and war crimes. Push for the ICC probe and a full investigation of his regime. 

US-PH Friendship Caucus Chair Typifies Worst of US Foreign Policy

ICHRP-US commends Representative Susan Wild in her amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act which suspends US military aid to the Philippine National Police (PNP). In her statement, she rightly demands that US rhetoric around human rights be backed by actual policy adding, “is it too much to ask that our country put some modest conditions on arming and assisting the security forces of an authoritarian government waging war on its own people?” Indeed, this amendment is only one step in addressing the well-documented human rights abuses perpetrated by the US- backed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP. 

Despite Wild’s clear case for ending US assistance to the PNP, Representative Steve Chabot, Co-Chair of the US-Philippines Friendship Caucus, opposed the amendment under the guise of “friendship” and “partnership” with the Philippines. Chabot suggested that the amendment would undermine US national security and threaten a 70-year “partnership” with the Philippines, and even made the preposterous and incoherent claim that he “supports the war on drugs . . . just not extrajudicial killings.” What politicians like Chabot call “friendship” or “partnership” with the Philippines is in fact collusion with a government that terrorizes and murders the people it claims to serve. 

While Rep Chabot pretends to stand for the mutual interests of the US and Filipino people. he has shown that he is willing to accept the lies of a murderous regime in order to protect US geopolitical and economic interests. In 2019, Chabot received a delegation of supposed indigenous leaders from the Philippines who came to share their struggles. In reality, the Mindanao Indigenous People’s Council of Elders and Leaders (MIPCEL) is sponsored by the Philippine state and is composed of people who do not represent the people of the communities they claim to speak for. 

Instead of exposing the role of the AFP and PNP in the militarization of Lumad schools, red-tagging of students and teachers, and extrajudicial killings of indigenous leaders, MIPCEL actively collaborates with these very same forces to red-tag Lumad communities and progressive organizations. The AFP and PNP have been responsible for countless massacres of Lumad people and their allies, most recently in February 2022 when two volunteer teachers, a health worker, and their 2 drivers were tortured and killed near New Bataan, Davao de Oro. 

Chabot’s willingness to back the AFP and as well as support former president Duterte’s murderous drug war exposes the true purpose of the US Philippines Friendship Caucus: to maintain US economic, political, and military supremacy in the region. It is true that the US has always been friendly with the repressive puppet governments of the Philippines, including the dictator Marcos Sr., and now his son, Marcos Jr. who claimed victory in a fraudulent and widely condemned election process. The Filipino people continue to bear the brunt of US neoliberal economic policies and intensifying state terrorism the Philippine government imposes upon them. 

Genuine friendship however, is exemplified by the people to people solidarity of countless grassroots organizations pressing for the passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act. It means standing with the Filipino people in calling for an end to the red-tagging and murder of activists, journalists, trade unionists, church leaders, teachers, lawyers, indigenous people, peasants, and the urban poor. The US’s more than 70 year “partnership” with the Philippines is in fact over 70 years of the repression of the Filipino people’s demands for genuine democracy and national sovereignty. 

As collusion between the US and Philippine state become more transparent and as Biden extends an invitation to Marcos Jr. to visit the White House, it is essential to expose the insidiousness of  “friendship” when it only extends to elite and dynastic politicians in the Philippines and excludes exploited and oppressed sectors of society. Wild’s amendment, on the other hand, demonstrates a commitment to genuine friendship by listening to the demands of the Filipino people and their allies and revoking military aid to repressive state forces like the PNP. 

Justice for Belle!

ICHRP-US condemns the kidnapping, torture, and rape of 15 year old “Belle” and demands the perpetrators and enablers of the heinous crime be held accountable. Just last week, Belle’s family announced at a press conference that they have filed charges against elements of the 59th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and a paramilitary unit (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit or CAFGU) connected to it who they believe were responsible for the kidnapping, illegal detention and rape of Belle. They have also filed charges against Chief of the Southern Luzon Command during the time of the incident, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade. The SOLCOM commands 59th IBPA.Gen. Parlade was also the Spokesperson of the National Taskforce to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC. 

Belle was detained from July 27 to August 13, 2020 at a military camp in Pagbilao, Quezon.  She has asserted harsh interrogation, physical torture, and rape were used to coerce her to claim she and her parents were insurgents with the New People’s Army. Unfortunately, cruel tactics such as these are commonly used, even against children, in the Duterte administration’s war against their critics. The NTF-ELCAC and Parlade have likened the work of community pantries which distributed food to the hungry to the “work of the devil.” Its spiteful policy separated Baby River Nasino, who died at 3 months, from her mother, political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino who was jailed on allegedly false charges of firearm and explosive possession. While the NTF-ELCAC’s attempts to link civilians to terrorism have ranged from absurd to blatant lies, all have succeeded in mercilessly targeting civilians in an attempt to deflect attention from how the administration has failed its own people, leaving them starving, suffering, sick, and even dead. 

Antonio Parlade has been identified as one of the biggest human rights abusers in the Philippines for his red-tagging of activists, journalists, and celebrities in his role as spokesperson for the NTF-ELCAC which severely undermines freedom of expression and is linked to the killing of numerous activists and organizers. In a recent bipartisan letter to the U.S. State Department in which ICHRP was cited, 24 U.S. representatives called for sanctions to be applied against General Parlade among other members of the Philippine military and Police. 

As an organization that stands for human rights in the Philippines, ICHRP-US is concerned about the ways US moral, political, and financial support for the Duterte administration and its security forces have enabled these grave crimes against the Filipino people, arguably crimes against humanity, to persist and proliferate. ICHRP-US urges its members and allies to stop the flow of US support to the Duterte administration and its security forces by mobilizing to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act and to sanction officials like Parlade who are responsible for grave human rights violations accountable for their unlawful acts via the Magnitsky Act.