Global Justice Tour 2013 – July 17 & 18: Prison visits

In cooperation with Canadian and Filipino trade unions, the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) sent 3 people as part of a 12–person human rights delegation to the Philippines in July 2013. Members of the delegation participated in exposure missions to sites of repression and resistance in the archipelago, visiting locations where gross human rights violations have occurred and actions opposing water privatization activities take place. They also attended the three-day International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, which gathered “human rights defenders and peace advocates from around the world, aimed at deepening our understanding of the current state of human rights and peace in the Philippines.”

OCHRP and its partners, including CUPE National, CUPE 4600, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines (ACT), and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), first started a Global Justice Project in 2009 in order to build ties and understanding of shared struggles among workers in Canada and the Philippines. As Phase Five of this ongoing initiative, the tour in July further strengthens the solidarity movement and support for Filipino human rights advocacy and action among Canadians.

Photo credit: Debbie Downey

July 17 & 18, 2013

Shortly before attending the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, the tour delegation traveled to two jails for the purpose of speaking with a number of political prisoners.

These prisoners include leaders and members of progressive groups involved in peaceful organizing and resistance against mining companies, privatization, forced evacuations, and other injustices. They are arrested under counter-insurgency programs, such as former president Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya and the current government’s Oplan Bayanihan, and often face trumped up, false charges that keep them imprisoned and awaiting trial for years before the cases are dismissed.

According to human rights group Karapatan, 430 political prisoners were incarcerated nationwide at the end of 2012, 148 of which were imprisoned under the current administration. (2012 Year-End Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines)

First for the delegates was a trip to a prison in Daet, Camarines Norte, to speak with several political prisoners, including Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, both union organizers and labour rights defenders for COURAGE. They face charges of murder and frustrated murder in connection with a couple of New People’s Army (NPA) encounters in April. Arrested without warrants or supporting evidence, the two say they have no affiliation with the NPA and were targeted for detainment because of their involvement in government employee picketing actions. Bulatlat.com has more details: (Janess Ann J. Ellao,”Government employees hold ‘lugawan’ for imprisoned colleagues,” 01 July 2013).

Next, the group visited the detention facility in Batangas City to meet with a group of political prisoners known as the Batangas 9. Before their imprisonment, most of these detainees were students, teachers, and farmers working to peacefully organize communities and peasants to help them stand up for their rights. After having been in the prison for up to four years, these young men and women are regarded by their fellow inmates as leaders who continue to tirelessly educate and promote human rights for all those around them. See their 2013 International Women’s Day dance video here.

The prison visits in Batangas and Daet allowed for the delegation to share stories of injustice, hope, and truly heroic dedication to human rights in the Philippines.  Much of what was learned is eloquently stated in Batangas prisoner Maricon Montages’ heartfelt letter below.

Batangas 9 Maricon Montages 1 Batangas 9 Maricon Montages 2 Batangas 9 Maricon Montages 3 Batangas 9 Maricon Montages 4 Batangas 9 Maricon Montages 5

July 18, 2013

Greetings of solidarity to the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) and to the CUPE delegation!

Once again, we welcome all of you with our highest militant salutations. Time has passed since we have last seen each other, and yet, your organization has not failed to make the Batangas 9 feel your unwavering support. Distance and time is indeed no excuse for people who firmly uphold the desire to serve the masses that are hungry for justice and freedom.

As we recount the years that we have endured inside these walls, several challenges have tried to hinder us from achieving our objective of freedom – on a national scale, the Aquino regime has never been more brutal in its assault against the Filipino people through its counterinsurgency program – the Oplan Bayanihan. It has also terminated the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its reactionary government, which blatantly exposes its desire to repeal and neglect the previous agreements signed by the two parties like the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and wants it to turn its back from its obligations from the other agreements which is to urgently release all political prisoners languishing in several prisons and military camps all over the country. Aquino continues to shrug its shoulder despite the thunderous call of the people for a genuine change, for justice and for freedom.

In effect, political prisoners like us continue to face worsening situations that constantly threaten our security, and violate our political and human rights. The presence of the 740th Combat Group of the Philippines Air Force inside this facility since our very first year of detention is one proof that there has been no significant change in our condition.

Naturally, this critical condition pushed us to persevere and be more vigilant in our struggle. Despite this, we were able to yield several victories in our campaign for freedom throughout the years. And more importantly, we were able to build strong friendships with individuals, institutions and organizations who guided and whole-heartedly reached out its helping hand to support our struggle. Such is the friendship that we have built with your organizations.

Since the very first year of our incarceration, you stood by us. Your organizations took significant steps in our campaign for freedom through a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty, and through this, our story was heard not only by the Filipino people, it crossed oceans and continents, and you brought our fight amongst the Canadian people. Aside from this, your organizations have also played important roles in ensuring our legal, material and medical needs.

All of you have proven, yet again, that in our desire to serve the masses, in our search for justice, and in our aspirations in building a world free from exploitation, from injustice and impunity – race, language, the color of one’s skin, or distance is never a hindrance. Our great desire for freedom against the darkness of imperialism is what binds us and connects us all.

With this, we sincerely and wholeheartedly thank you for everything that your organizations have shared with us. Words are not enough to express how much we truly appreciate your collective effort in addressing the interests of the political prisoners in the Philippines, including us, the Batangas 9.

And indeed, this collective effort has proven its correctness – our cases are continuously being heard in their respective courts. In fact, the cases against the Talisay 3 will come to an end very soon. Several organizations have pledged their support in our fight. Inside the prison walls, without a doubt, the Batangas 9 has built its leadership amongst the inmates, where each of us holds a specific position in our cellblocks, showing the trust and respect of our fellow inmates. But more importantly, this shows their faith and belief in the principles that we hold on to.

But our fight does not end here. As our imprisonment prolongs, there must be no time for rest, for the victories that we have today are not enough. A greater effort must be poured out for us to accomplish greater victories. Therefore, we must be more vigilant, hardworking, and must eagerly carry on to achieve freedom, justice, and genuine social change for the people. We hope that your organizations will remain determined and firm as we continue to face more challenges until we arrive at the peak of our struggle.

Once again, thank you, and we salute the OCHRP and CUPE for being with us in this fight!

FREE THE BATANGAS 9 THROUGH A GENERAL, UNCONDITIONAL, AND OMNIBUS AMNESTY!
LONG LIVE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY!
Yours truly,
Maricon Montages
of the Batangas 9

Further reading:

Anne Marxze D. Umil,”Batangas political prisoners earned the respect, support of other inmates,” Bulatlat.com, 02 March 2013

Karapatan calls on govt to immediately release Acosta, file charges vs. 34th IB,” Karapatan, 01 February 2013

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Global Justice Tour 2013 – July 11: Bagbag and Abbey Road

In cooperation with Canadian and Filipino trade unions, the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) sent 3 people as part of a 12–person human rights delegation to the Philippines in July 2013. Members of the delegation participated in exposure missions to sites of repression and resistance in the archipelago, visiting locations where gross human rights violations have occurred and actions opposing water privatization activities take place. They also attended the three-day International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, which gathered “human rights defenders and peace advocates from around the world, aimed at deepening our understanding of the current state of human rights and peace in the Philippines.”

OCHRP and its partners, including CUPE National, CUPE 4600, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines (ACT), and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), first started a Global Justice Project in 2009 in order to build ties and understanding of shared struggles among workers in Canada and the Philippines. As Phase Five of this ongoing initiative, the tour in July further strengthens the solidarity movement and support for Filipino human rights advocacy and action among Canadians.

July 11, 2013

Our local partners have our days packed with meetings and activities over the next couple of weeks, but the things the Global Justice Tour delegation saw on our first day may prove to be the most powerful and memorable for some.

Scheduled to visit some urban poor communities in which the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) is organizing, we toured elementary schools as well as the students’ neighbourhoods in Quezon City’s Bagbag Barangay.

Students greeting us from their over-crowded but cheery classrooms were enthusiastically welcoming and fresh faced in their spotless uniforms, but we were unprepared to see the conditions in which most of them lived. Most striking were the improvised homes crammed behind stacked tombs and among graves on the cemetery grounds on which one of the schools was built. Most of the students were among the 1500 families comprising the informal settlement, but we met many more children there whose parents couldn’t afford the books, uniforms, and other resources necessary to send them to school.

Most of Goodwill Elementary School’s students live in informal settlements hidden behind these tombs

Government mandated demolitions of these communities – largely to make way for private, for-profit schools and highway expansions – are a major issue around which ACT organizes in Bagbag. For decades, nearby factories brought hordes of Filipinos from other regions in search of work, but they’ve found themselves jobless in recent years when the factories closed due to privatization and union-busting tactics when workers went on strike for decent conditions.

Consequently, finding themselves in Bagbag with no money or income, people were forced to make shelter from whatever materials and space could be scavenged – shelter which the government regularly has destroyed in attempts to relocate them. However, with relocation support inadequate or non-existent,  to locations lacking basic utilities or employment opportunities, they have no choice but to keep returning to the slums.

We spoke with community members and ACT’s Secretary General, France Castro, about the union’s organizing efforts in the area. Castro explained that, in addition to a mandate to advocate for its members’ labour rights, such as benefits and wages, job security, and working conditions, it also sees teachers as playing a larger part in promoting the well-being of their students and community members. Thus, they also work to ensure rights to education, health care, jobs, and basic housing are met, by making connections among various community sectors and empowering them to work together. “They have to organize themselves, because that’s the only weapon they have to fight for their rights,” said Castro.

The leader of the nearby Abbey Road Barangay, Atemar, recognizes the poor living conditions, settlement demolitions, and forced relocations as symptomatic of the government’s prioritization of foreign investment and widespread privatization – trends which promote short-term economic growth as well as high-profits for an elite few. “The priority of the government is you, foreigners, not us, real Filipinos,” Atemar told us, “So they hide us.”

These trends are also among the issues ACT is engaging with as it works toward ensuring labour rights for teachers and all workers in the country. Although union membership is voluntary within a workplace, ACT represents an estimated 50 000 teachers in the Metro Manila area and plans to continue unionizing teachers in other regions of the Philippines. In 2010 legislation passed recognizing teachers’ right to organize a union and recognizing ACT as a collective bargaining agent. Their president, Antonio Tinio, was also elected Congressman, winning ACT a seat in the House of Representatives through the Party-List system, which is designed to allow marginalized groups a political voice.

Private water company ads overlook students at Bagbag Elementary School

Although there is still much work to do, ACT’s presence in Bagbag has given the community a renewed sense of hope. In a country where peaceful activist leaders face the threat of extrajudicial killings, abductions, and political imprisonment on false charges, Atemar is more determined than ever to defend the rights of her community: “With the support of France and ACT, I feel stronger, braver. Because of our unity, our community will be free.”

Photo credits: Alana Roscoe

Filipino trade unionists call for pre-State of the Nation Address action

2010 protest in the Philippines

Independent labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) is calling on Filipinos to reveal the true state of their country through a nationwide protest next month. The action would take place one week before President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22.

Citing increases in unemployment and in the cost of basic living expenses through oil, water, and power price hikes, KMU notes that the majority of the Filipino people have been facing worsening conditions of hunger and poverty in recent years.  According to a recent KMU release, Aquino is imposing the price increases in an effort “to please big capitalists” (“KMU calls for nationwide pre-SONA protest vs. rising prices,” Kilusang Mayo Uno, 18 June 2013).

KMU chairperson Elmer “Bong” Labog commented,

Aquino’s boasts about a growing economy are belied by the worsening of the suffering being experienced by Filipinos, especially the poor. A protest before his SONA boast-fest would highlight this fact.

With rising post-secondary tuition fees and Social Security System premiums, youth groups and workers have additional reasons to speak out in July.

The constitutionally mandated State of the Nation Address is delivered every July by the Philippines’ president to the country’s congress.

“[T]he protest, not the chief executive’s speech, will show the real situation of the Filipino people,” said KMU.

Photo Credit: Kyle Hamilton

Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan)
Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights & Peace (EcuVoice)
and the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP)

in cooperation with
ISM and conference 2013Peace for Life
International League of Peoples’ Struggle

19 – 21 July 2013
Metro Manila, Philippines

The conference will be a gathering of human rights defenders and peace advocates from around the world, aimed at deepening our understanding of the current state of human rights and peace in the Philippines. The conference will also draw up action plans to strengthen international support for the campaign for human rights and just peace in the country.

Before the conference, delegates will have the chance to join the:

International Solidarity Mission

14 – 18 July 2013
Ranging from three to five days, Mission participants will visit actual sites:

  • Large-scale mining
  • Landgrabbing by foreign multinational companies
  • Strikes, other trade union struggles, and in worker communities
  • Forced evacuation and the plight of internal refugees due to militarization in the countryside
  • Forced eviction and relocation sites in the urban areas
  • Targeted areas of extensive political repression
  • Detention centers and prisons, meet with political prisoners

Your attendance in this conference and the International Solidarity Mission will be very valuable in strengthening international support to the Filipino people in their fight against the ever-worsening human rights violations and the Aquino government’s utter disregard for the people’s legitimate rights.

Register for the Conference!
Register for the Mission!

Mining for the common good? Not with current policy and practice, say critics

Itogon, Philippines

Itogon, Philippines in 2010

Some groups critical of mining practices in the Philippines have argued that they are not necessarily against mining altogether. Rather, they claim that the most detrimental effects of current mining activities in the region are due to the prominence of large-scale operations and the precedence of foreign capitalists’ interests over those of the Filipino people.

As journalist Kimberlie Olmaya N. Quitasol (“Critics of large-scale mining bat for ‘pro-people’ mining,” bulatlat.com, 24 April 2013) notes, mining operations are linked to a raft of obvious and hidden ecological, social, and economic costs and rights abuses in the Philippines. For the Filipino people, these include loss and damage of agricultural lands, division and diminished livelihoods in communities, and often violent persecution of those opposed to the encroachment of mining operations.

Furthermore, senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño points out, present mining laws not only exploit Filipino communities and land, but also allow for minimal benefit to the Philippines’ government itself:

“If we want mining to be truly beneficial to the country and the Filipino people on the long term, we need to do away with the current unconstitutional mining policy that leaves us with miniscule revenue, permanently destroyed environments and no agricultural and industrial advancement,” he said.

Casiño advocated the need to replace the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 with new mining law that will allow extraction of mineral resources in the archipelago to benefit communities while maximizing economic growth and national development and minimize environmental and socio-economic impacts:

“The 1987 Constitution clearly mandates that the State must receive its just share in the utilization of our mineral resources aside from taxes and duties normally paid by taxpayers. Mining is an issue that has ecological, social justice, industrial, moral and generational dimensions that should not be ignored by the current and future government officials. The Filipino people should have fullest participation on decision-making and control over our natural resources in all our laws,” Casiño said.

Photo Credit: Kyle Hamilton

Different regime, same story: Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan continues tradition of political repression in the Philippines

Presidentelectaquino

A number of people’s organizations’ leaders have been recently targeted for political repression under the Philippines’ Aquino regime.

As reported by the Filipino peoples’ rights group Karapatan (“Just like Arroyo’s OBL, Aquino’s OpBay attacks leaders of people’s organizations, rights defenders,” www.karapatan.org, 17 January 2013), the leaders have been implicated in a fabricated murder charge for the alleged killing of a military official during a 2010 encounter between soldiers and communist New People’s Army rebels.

“These forms of attacks, through the filing of fabricated charges, against human rights defenders are escalating, at a time when Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (OpBay) is on its last year of Phase 1 implementation. As the “architect” of OpBay Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista today takes his post as AFP Chief of Staff, his assumption to office has already indicated the escalation of human rights violations under the Aquino administration,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said.

According to Palabay, 28 members of indigenous and progressive groups have been arrested and detained on false accusations since December 2012.

A protest action was held in Mendiola on January 18 by people’s organizations calling for political prisoners’ immediate and unconditional release and denouncing worsening repression in the Philippines.

Photo credit: Compgeo.98

Human Rights in the Philippines: A Brief History

Propaganda_poster_depicts_the_Philippine_resistance_movement

Human Rights in the Philippines, or the absence of these rights, are better understood through the prism of colonialism. Over the last 400 years the Filipino people have suffered under first 330 years of Spanish colonialism and then a further 45 years of American rule.  Under Spanish colonialism, many nationalists were killed simply for advocating independence. The Spanish period was followed by a particularly brutal period of “pacification” when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed resisting integration into the new American Empire.

Following “independence” from the United States in 1945, the Philippines served as a testing ground for counter-insurgency operation. Throughout the 1950s US advisors assisted the now independent Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with counter-insurgency operations.

With the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, human rights violations were institutionalised as an integral element of the political control strategy of the Marcos dictatorship. Unlawful arrest, political detention and summary execution became standard practices for the AFP in their struggle against popular democratic forces.

The end of the Marcos dictatorship in the mid-1980s however did not put an end to human rights violations. Under Aquino, new political detainees again begin to fill the jails. In addition, military operation intensified creating tens of thousands of internal refugees throughout the country, in the late 1980s. On another ominous note, extra-judicial killing continued and leading activists were assassinated by military elements under the Aquino Presidency.

During successive regimes in the 1990’s human rights violations continued to be a problem but on a reduced level. This changed dramatically with the 1998 declaration of War against the Moro peoples in Mindanao-Sulu by the Estrada government. This launched another wave of internal refugees and witnessed massive violations of the rights of Moro peoples through arbitrary arrests, political detention, and extra-judicial killings.

These phenomenon have become more widespread since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power. As the army pursues more vigorous counter-insurgency, human rights have become the first casualty (under the guise of the “war on terror”). Members of legal political organizations such as Bayan, Bayan Muna and the human rights group Karapatan have been targeted for arrest and in some instances summary execution.