International Peoples’ Tribunal successfully indicts Philippines government
Washington, DC – In the Philippines, there is a mounting crisis of human rights abuses against indigenous people, labor and community activists at the hands of the armed forces. Victims demand justice and there are even calls for President Benigno Aquino to resign. But mainly the demand is for an end to impunity for the killers and torturers, because over and over they go unpunished.
The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Crimes Against the Filipino People, held in Washington, DC, July 16-18, was a profound experience for the over 300 people in attendance. Witnesses to extrajudicial killings and disappearances gave testimony to a panel of jurors. In one case, Maria Aurora Santiago, general secretary of PAMANA, a farmers’ alliance in the province of Aurora, gave an emotional account of the 2012 assassination of her fiancé, Willem Geertman, a Dutch aid worker. He was made to kneel and then was shot in the back by two men at his office. His organization worked against mining and logging that is destructive to the environment, as well as for the lives of peasant and indigenous communities. He had received death threats in the weeks before the execution-type murder.
The Tribunal also heard testimony about violations of economic, social and cultural rights. A number of people referenced the story of Mary Jane Veloso. Veloso is a migrant domestic worker who ended up on death row in Indonesia after she was used by an employer involved in drug trafficking. Her case was a major public relations disaster for Manila in 2015. Aquino did nothing to defend her for four years while she awaited execution. She was finally saved by an outcry from rights groups, who railed against the president for his callous disregard of the millions of Filipino overseas workers.
Imperialist globalization at the root of multiple crises
The movement in the Philippines has a clear understanding that the crimes inflicted on it are a result of the pursuit of profits, mainly by U.S.-based transnational corporations. The strategy of the U.S. government has taken the form of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest so-called free trade agreement to come from Washington. Dubbed “NAFTA on steroids,” this agreement has little to do with trade, and a lot to do with attacking labor rights and attacking other economic protections for poor countries.
The TPP is the main face of the imperialist globalization-driven attacks on the people, but the people are also under attack in the Philippines by local elites. Looking at one area of investment, several speakers at the conference commented on the impact of the mining industry on human rights, environmental devastation and the rights of indigenous communities. Mining is extremely profitable and doesn’t require a lot of capital. The Philippines is rich in natural resources, and the lands where minerals are found happen to be those where indigenous peoples have lived for centuries.
The mining techniques destroy the ecosystem. A 1995 law took away indigenous people’s rights to their lands and now the government is engaged in a militarized campaign of forced displacement. Indigenous peoples are fighting to stay in their lands and to stop the devastation of those lands. The government has responded with forced displacement, utilizing a counter-insurgency approach to people who want only to sustain their communities.
U.S. military role
Attacks on the people come from domestic capitalists and transnational capital. The Philippine government is joined in their brutal response to resistance by the U.S. military. In the repression of the Filipino people, U.S. troops have been involved, especially in forced evacuation of communities to make way for mining, for example.
The U.S. military has led the Armed Forces of the Philippines in development of a counter-insurgency campaign against all challenges, especially the ongoing armed struggle waged by the New People’s Army and the armies of the Muslim peoples of Southern Mindanao. Oplan Bayanihan is the latest Philippines government plan for conducting military operations against insurgents. It is designed largely by copying the counter-insurgency directives of the U.S. military, named COIN (COunterinsurgency INitiative). It views affected communities as if they were enemy combatants.
The Pentagon has a growing intervention in the Philippines. This year, the U.S. had 6000 troops engaging in war games under the pretext of defending against China. This is a pretext, of course, as China has no troops outside its borders, while the U.S. has almost 1000 military bases around the world, and admits to having military operations in over 100 countries. In truth, the U.S. is preparing for war with China as announced by President Obama in his famous “pivot to Asia” strategy remarks.
Meeting repression and crisis with resistance
Despite the litany of suffering placed on their people, the attendees at the conference displayed a positive mood. It came through in songs, chants and defiant speeches by even those who had suffered the deaths of loved ones, or torture. At the end of the conference, a solidarity night rocked with performances of guerilla theater, skits, dances and songs.
At the close of the conference, it was agreed that this indictment of the U.S. and Philippines governments is a victory for the people in struggle. At the end of the July 18 reading of the verdict, witnesses and supporters chanted in Tagalog, the Filipino national tongue. “Makibaka, Huwag Matakot!” This translates as, “Onward with the struggle, have no fear.”