One year into Pres. Marcos Jr. administration, stakeholders from marginalized sectors point out that the substantial reforms needed to improve the lives and well-being of Filipinos remain to be seen.
The People’s Summit of 2022 and the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation in the Philippines concluded in March 2023 have hundreds of concrete and actionable recommendations to greatly improve the civil and political rights (CPR) and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) of tens of millions of Filipinos.
Many of these will have immediate positive effect while others will have more far-reaching impact well into the future. Yet the Marcos Jr. administration has avoided addressing the pressing issues confronting the nation.
The administration’s economic blueprint, the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, recycles the same failed neoliberal policies that have kept Filipinos poor, worsened inequality, and fostered social exclusion. These overly market-oriented policies created profitable opportunities for a few large domestic oligarchic and foreign corporations at the expense of long-term national development. They are also increasingly irrelevant amid global trends of rising protectionism and state intervention even among the world’s most advanced industrial powers.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic for instance underscored how public health systems weakened by privatization made the government unprepared to quickly and effectively deal with the health crisis. The government is to this day still ill-equipped to deal with the massive economic scarring due to the excessive lockdowns.
So-called “development projects” continue to destroy the environment, disrupt ecological balance, and uproot entire communities from their homes and sources of livelihood. This includes the destruction from widespread reclamation in Manila Bay, the large airport project in Bulacan, large dam projects in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, and large-scale mining projects nationwide.
“The administration resists asset reforms and pro-people policies benefiting the people, while swift in passing profit- and corporate-biased measures such as the Maharlika Investment Fund, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and austerity measures that burden the people,”says CPDG spokesperson Liza Maza.
The government feigns taking human rights measures while doing something the opposite. For instance, Marcos Jr. issued Executive Order No. 23 condemning red-tagging as a criminal act but state forces continue red-tagging activists and organizations advocating people’s issues and struggles. Just recently, security forces accused Cordillera grassroots organizations of being terrorist fronts. The Vice President herself openly red tags teachers and transport groups and dismisses their calls and recommendations as communist inspired.
“Marcos Jr.’s brand of governance is not by any means unifying,” adds Maza, “and if anything is extremely divisive because he continues using his predecessor’s witch-hunting program, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), to violate people’s rights.”
Human rights defenders and their families remain under attack. Only a couple of weeks ago in mid-June, the Fausto Family was killed by suspected state forces in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental. Emilda Fausto was an active member of the Baclayan, Bitio, Cabagal Farmworkers Association (BABICAFA) fighting for land rights. Killed were Emilda and her husband Rolly, both red-tagged since 2022, and their sons 14-year-old Ben and 12-year-old Rabin. The military arrested BABIFACA Chairperson, Susan Medes, on trumped-up charges just days later as evidently part of a larger scheme to stifle land rights defenders.
“Un-peace and disunity will reign as long as the government chooses to attack rights defenders and communities instead of implementing people-centered policies and addressing the root causes of dissent,” Maza stressed. “Attacking organizations and human rights defenders discriminates against the poor and marginalizes them, and fosters social exclusion rather than inclusion,” she added.
“Any government that wants to foster unity and work towards genuine peace has to heed the calls and demands of the people and implement human rights-based and people-centered policies ensuring people’s democratic participation in governance and development,” said Maza. “If the Marcos Jr. does not heed this, all it will see is that its efforts to silence dissent will prove futile.” ###