2001 was a year of great hope in the Philippines. Joseph Estrada, the notoriously corrupt American puppet president was overthrown by a popular uprising and replaced by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It was hoped that the new president, who owed her place in office to the mass movement of the Filipino people, would usher in a new more democratic era. Instead, the Philippines today has turned into the new killing fields of Asia.
The Philippines is a land of tremendous natural resources, but also tremendous inequality. Over 30 million Filipinos live on less than $2 a day while a small group of wealthy landowners control the government, the courts, the armed forces, and various paramilitary death squads, which they use to maintain their brutal exploitation of the Filipino workers and peasants. It is these conditions that gave rise to the civil war between the government and the National Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Rather than use her position as President to deal with the terrible sufferings and poverty of the Filipino people, GMA launched full scale war against the NDF, displacing whole communities in their drive against the New Peoples Army. Unable to defeat the CPP/NPA on the battlefield – and in many cases facing reversals – the government decided that rather than battle the guerrillas they would target the unarmed and legal mass movement.
Karapatan, an independent human rights organization in the Philippines, has documented that as of September 12, 752 activists have been murdered and 184 more have been forcibly “disappeared” by the GMA regime. The main targets of the military-backed death squads have been the political coalition BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or New Patriotic Alliance, representing thousands of grassroots peoples organizations), as well as trade unionists, peasant leaders, members of progressive partylists, and clergy. After being eliminated, the victims are labeled “terrorists” by the government to justify the killings.
Rather than condemn these grave human rights abuses, the United States has aided and abetted.
“After 9/11, American military assistance to the Philippines skyrocketed by 1,111% between 2001 and 2002. US support has allowed the government to increase the military budget by nearly 11% from 2003 to 2005.”(ibon.org)
Even non-military assistance tends to be channeled in ways that benefit the military campaign against the peoples movement, such as pacification programs or psychological warfare operations, often masked as “civil society initiatives” through NGO fronts. Canada also continues to assist the GMA regime as its sixth largest donour of foreign aid. In other words, the tax dollars of workers in Canada are being used to oppress workers in the Philippines.
Yet the popular outcry in the Philippines has not gone unheard. A growing international solidarity movement is getting the word out on what is going on in the Philippines. Recent presentations by several human rights groups to the United Nations may result in the Philippines losing its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and maybe even a loss in foreign investment. This would not be unprecedented: after worldwide outcry against human rights abuses in King Guyanendra’s Nepal and the military dictatorship or Burma, those countries lost much of their military assistance and foreign investment. By affecting the policies of their “own” governments, workers at home can positively impact the struggles of workers the world over. The government of Canada must stop supporting death squad regimes!