[MANILA, October 30, 2023] – The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), along with its network of human rights defenders (HRDs) and other civil society organizations (CSOs), renewed calls on the Philippine government to act decisively and be true to its declared commitment to respect human rights. This begins with ending impunity for continuing violations of the Filipino people’s human rights.
CSOs made the call at the end of their October 24, 2023 workshop consultation of HRDs on the monitoring indicators for the Philippine government’s compliance with its commitments at the 4th Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines and under international human rights instruments and mechanisms.
CSOs noted the lack of progress in improving human rights under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. The economic hardships of the majority of Filipinos are intensifying with no let up in the rising cost of living amid record joblessness and informality. Worse, the people and communities opposing policies and programs detrimental to their welfare are attacked for their advocacies and speaking out.
The human rights group Karapatan has already monitored 1.6 million HRDs subjected to intimidation, threats, harassment in just the first year of the Marcos Jr. administration, from July 2022 to June 2023.
The government has weaponized laws against critical civil society voices with more and more CSOs and people’s organizations (POs) maliciously and falsely accused of supporting terrorism or even being terrorists themselves. The administration is grossly abusing laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Law, Terrorism Financing and Suppression Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act and others against HRDs, development workers, activists, critics, and communities. These include activists with a proven track record of development work and serving communities.
Estrella Catarata, a psychologist and long time development worker (she was former Executive Director of Central Visayas Farmers Development Center or FARDEC for 20 years), emphasized the shrinking civic space for CSOs and its implications for rural development. Community projects are interrupted by the interference of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) including their freezing of CSOs bank accounts.
CSOs and their officers and staff that have already been wrongfully accused and whose development work has been disrupted are: Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Haran, Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET), FARDEC, Siliman University Center for Extension and Development (SUCED), Negros Oriental Network (NEGORNET), and TUBURAN for Rural Women Empowerment and Development (TUBURAN), Pinagghugpong sa Gagmyang Grupo sa Oriental (PAGBAG-O). CPA officers Jennifer Awingan, Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli, and Sarah Alikes have already been added to the list of activists and rights defenders designated as terrorists.
Security forces also reportedly warn communities against accepting services and support from red-tagged CSOs and POs if they do not want to be red-tagged themselves.
The Philippine Misereor Partnership Incorporated (PMPI), a network comprising more than 250 social development and advocacy groups with NGOs, POs, and Social Action Centers, expressed grave concern about the rights violations of young students activists. They are disturbed over the recent kidnapping of two young leaders involve in the anti-reclamation campaign of Manila Bay, and the seeming military coercion for them to make a false confession statement about their so called involvement in the communist movement. Instances of communities being denied aid and services because they opposed mining activities were also highlighted.
Citizens Rights Watch Network (CRWN), a network of individuals and organizations that aims to unite and mobilize local and international support for Filipino communities and sectors against red tagging and human rights violations also pointed out the increasing instances of student rights repression. They pointed out that even student leaders and student organizations critical of government and university anti-student policies face repression from state authorities and university administrations. “This is a clear infringement on academic freedom and student rights”, said Atty. Josiah Quising of CRWN.
Karapatan’s National Capital Region (NCR) chapter expressed deep concerns about the disappearances of human rights defenders and activists, fearing that the list of desaparecidos will continue to grow under the current administration. There have already been eight (8) enforced disappearances under the new Marcos Jr. administration. Security forces abduct activists and misrepresent them as surrenderees. They tried but failed to do this with Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, environmental defenders assisting communities affected by the Bulacan Aerotropolis Project of San Miguel Corporation.
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) brought attention to the bombings of remote villages in the provinces which displace entire communities and deprive them of their livelihoods. The impact is heavily borne by the women and their children. The physical and psychological impact of the bombings and military operations in the villages on children is deeply traumatizing.
The CSOs being attacked are at the forefront of community and national struggles for economic, social and cultural rights. Many of these struggles are against the government’s market-oriented and elite wealth-biased economic policies. These policies have been implemented for decades yet the vast majority of Filipinos still lack decent livelihoods and incomes.
Some 90-100 million Filipinos remain poor or vulnerable. Official statistics understate the magnitude of joblessness and poverty because of unrealistic or faulty methodology that leaves millions of Filipinos uncounted. Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and older persons, internally displaced persons and the homeless are also incompletely and inconsistently reported. LGBTQIA+ are particularly invisible from official surveys.
The Philippines has among the worst hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity rates in Southeast Asia. Hunger is widespread because of poverty and agriculture policies that result in backward and unsustainable food production systems.
Even as millions of Filipinos grapple every day just to subsist, billionaire wealth is growing among the Philippines’ richest families. The net worth of the 50 richest Filipinos increased by 12.5% from Php3.95 trillion in 2022 to Php4.44 trillion in 2023.
The government, however, is still not prioritizing the plight of millions of poor and marginalized Filipinos. In the proposed 2024 national budget, the budgets of emergency assistance programs have for instance been reduced by Php27.7 billion with a huge 31% cut to just Php63.3 billion in 2024. The health sector budget was also proposed to be cut to Php325.4 billion in 2024.
In contrast, the budget for infrastructure benefiting big business keeps growing and goes up by Php87.3 billion to a huge Php1.42 trillion in 2024. Debt service also keeps rising to a massive Php1.9 trillion in debt service, with Php670.5 billion in interest payments and Php1.24 trillion for principal amortization. Politician’s discretionary funds are bloated with, for instance, Php10.14 billion for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in 2024.
This dire situation of the Filipino people’s human rights underscores the Philippine government’s failure to uphold and respect the human rights of Filipinos. The government continues to disregard the needs of the people, does not uphold their economic, social and cultural rights while outrightly violating their fundamental civil and political rights.
“The government is not genuinely addressing widescale poverty, hunger and inequality in the country,” said Jennifer Guste, CPDG National Coordinator. “The Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 is supposedly the blueprint to realize the sustainable development goals (SDGs) but it contains the same neoliberal policy thrusts implemented for decades that have resulted in the Filipino people’s situation today,” she said.
In response to these issues, CSOs united: “We call on all Filipinos, CSOs, development actors, institutions, and government officials committed to promoting human rights, justice, and democracy to join us in our urgent call to end the escalating attacks on people’s rights and the prevailing culture of impunity which hinder genuine economic development and democratic governance in the Philippines”.
CSOs also called on the United Nations (UN) which recently marked its 78th year of establishment to support civil society’s demands for the Philippine government to genuinely address the poverty, inequality and underdevelopment of millions of Filipinos towards Agenda 2030.###