Celebrating People’s Resistance: Forging Solidarity in the Struggle for Human Rights

Imageby Alex Felipe

*The below was a talk I delivered on 9 Dec 2012 at an International Human Rights Day event in Toronto, Canada*

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Today we celebrate International Human Rights Day.  We believe that the resistance borne of the struggle for the rights of the people is truly something to celebrate.  That said it is also fair to ask ‘why?’

Well the truth is, we don’t celebrate Human Rights, we celebrate the rights of people.

As Wendy Brown writes in “Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism:”

[H]uman rights are vague and unenforceable; their content is infinitely malleable; they are more symbolic than substantive… in their primordial individualism; they conflict with cultural integrity and are a form of liberal imperialism; they are a guise in which super-power global domination drapes itself; they are a guise in which the globalization of capital drapes itself; they entail secular idolatry of the human and are thus as much a religious creed as any other.

In contrast People’s Rights look at the rights of the people as a whole; the rights of communities over the benefit of the individual; the right to rebel.

That said, when I asked my collective for input on this talk, a couple fairly questioned what there was to celebrate, considering the sad track record in the Philippines.

photo by alex felipe / Click on image for Karapatan’s 2012 Yearend Report on HR

From 2001, under the regime of president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to September this year under Noynoy Aquino, there were a total of 1320 extrajudicial killings, 218 enforced disappearances, thousands upon thousands of people internally displaced, and 386 political prisoners remain incarcerated.

Approximately 30% of the country’s land area (66% of the Cordillera region) has been signed over to mining exploration or operations.  Many of these companies are listed in the Toronto Stock Exchange.  Making matters worse, late last year President Aquino made the potential for violence greater when he legalized the hiring and operation of private militias by foreign mining companies.

photo by alex felipe

Much of the land appropriated for mining is on the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples and sadly from March to October this year, a total of 28 indigenous persons, mostly anti-mining activists, were killed – four of whom were women and four others children.

All this contributes to the background for the undeclared three front protracted civil war that has been active since the late 60s between the forces of the elite, those of the proud Filipino Muslims in the south, and the people’s war across the countryside of the archipelago.

photo by alex felipe / Click on image to learn more about Juana Tejada


Why ‘celebrate?’

Because by celebrate we don’t mean to say that the crisis is not severe.  It is.

Because by celebrate we don’t mean to say that the people don’t suffer.  They very much do.

By celebrate we celebrate our resistance, we celebrate all those who, that despite the odds, despite the gravity of the risks real struggle entails, stand proudly for the rights of people, and for the very right to struggle.

We celebrate the bravery of those that choose to resist, be that through legal means via peoples organizations like those within the BAYAN alliance, or be that through armed resistance.

We celebrate because what we do is important, has forced victories from the unwilling hand of the powerful, and, above all, because the movement is growing, is strong, and that we who are part of it are part of something greater than ourselves–and THAT is something to recognize, to honour, and yes, to celebrate.

photos from Manilakbayan

Today is already the 10th of December in Manila, and it marks the culmination of ManiLakbayan, a journey of thousands of kms for community leaders of indigenous people (collectively called “lumads”) and Moro leaders from Mindanao (the southernmost island in the archipelago) to bring their resistance to the Philippine government.   It began on the 23rd of November, the International Day to End Impunity.  Since then they have held summits, community dialogues, rallies, and press conferences to bring light to the unacceptable hardships brought by imperialism to their ancestral lands.

These leaders faced hardships that would break most: assaults, theft of land, resources and livelihood, threats to their family and community (some of which resulted in extrajudicial killings), forced displacement, and more.

They fight on, and we fight with them.

Click on photo to visit SELDA – an organization of political prisoners and former political detainees.

Earlier this year we were honoured by the visit of human rights defenders, including two newly released female political prisoners who came to present the Philippine situation to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights in Canada’s Parliament.

Angie Ipong, a woman in her late sixties, was held for six years.  She was the oldest political prisoner in the country before her release.  She suffered torture, sexual abuse, and illegal arrest.  Her “crime” was that she was a visible, vocal, and effective defender of the rights of the people.

Dr Merry Clamor was one of the Morong 43, health workers providing free health clinics and workshops in underserved communities in the countryside.  They were arrested in December of 2010 again on trumped up charges.

Dr. Clamor reported various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual torture during their imprisonment.  Even her family was threatened if she didn’t confess to being a ‘terrorist.’

Charges were eventually dropped, after ten months, and two pregnant companions giving birth.

Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP, Justice and Human Rights Critic, and vice-chair of the Subcommittee said this in response to their testimony, “I think it would be a very good thing if the Subcommittee… paid a visit to the Philippines.  We need to see the HR situation on the ground.  I think this has not gotten the attention that it warrants… [and] a broader, public appreciation… so that we can act on this.”

As yet Canada has done little since to speak out against the Aquino regime, or cut off Canada’s explicit support of the Philippine governments tactics.  Instead last month PM Harper visited the Philippines to boost trade, migration, and sign an arms deal.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines Angie and Dr. Clamor continue their work with an even greater passion borne of their experiences.

They fight on, and we fight with them.


This past November 28-29th in Manila, the International Migrants Alliance, International League of Peoples Struggle, International Women’s Alliance, and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants held the first international tribunal on migration.

They found 37 governments, of course including Canada, guilty of using migration to advance neoliberal globalization policies and of violations of the economic, social, cultural and political rights of migrants by sending and receiving states.

Irene Fernandez, a Malaysian migrant and human rights activist said this,

“they have the gall to call it a ‘tool for development’ when it fact it results in the decimation and break-up of families, the exploitation of millions of workers and the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world.”

Right now approx 4500 people leave the Philippines everyday in order to support their families.  All because the semi-feudal, semi-colonial Philippine government has no intention to act in the interests of the people, because it refuses to enact a national industrialization policy, and because in reality democracy there is sham and they act only to protect their own class interests.

In doing so they force Filipinos to become commodities for international trade.

Yet they fight on, and we fight with them.

We fight because we believe that people should go before profit.

The drive for cheap mineral wealth drives the violation of people’s rights, which results in just resistance, which results in HR abuses, all of which drives the mass exodus of everyday people in the search for the means to support their own families.

The labour export program that uses Filipino people as an economic driver of the neoliberal economy has long been an implicit policy for the Philippine government.  It’s the natural result of the planned underdevelopment of the country by the US colonial powers when it granted us “independence” after WWII.

The struggle for rights of people must be fought for within the context of a national democratic movement.  One that works towards a government that prioritizes national industrialization.

Our proposed Peoples’ Mining Bill is an example of how this could be forwarded.

Large-scale corporate mining has long cast a shadow over human rights, environmental rights, and the rights of indigenous people (to name just three).  The very recent disaster this August and September in Benguet by PhilEx corporation is a prime example: more mine tailings have spilled into the Balog river than in the Marinduque Island spill which resulted in internationally outcry and the shutdown of the Canadian owned mine.

And yet the mineral wealth derived from mining is necessary for any national industrialization plan.  So what is to be done and how do we ensure that the people both make the decisions and derive benefit from those decisions?


Currently the Philippine mining act allows for 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of profits, long tax holidays, and exemption from certain environmental laws.

The economic advantages to the upper classes are clear both in its direct profits, and in the creation of a cheap, exportable labour force.

The question is, how to reverse this, how to make the natural riches of the country benefit its own people.

Our proposal reverses the liberalization of the industry.  It gives the people, with a focus on the locally affected peoples—especially national minorities (eg. the indigenous and Moro peoples)—the primary responsibility of when, where, why, and how mining is to be conducted.  It considers mining the shared responsibility of national and local governments, corporations, and communities.

Click on image to go to the pdf of “A Primer on the People’s Mining Bill”

Only Filipino corporations would be allowed to hold mining permits.  And all firms would pay appropriate taxes, fees, and shares to the government and communities.  Use of paramilitary forces would of course be banned.  And rehabilitation would be a necessary part of all mining contracts.

Mineral production, processing and distribution would be for the primary benefit of the domestic economy and toward the goal of self-sufficient national industrialization.  It should help spur more domestic investments, increase agricultural production, and produce both consumer and producer goods and manufactures.

The People’s Mining Bill is an example of the seriousness and thoroughness of our work.  We are not activists that are merely content to criticize.  When we see the grave problems in our homeland we don’t see it as simply a matter of bad people doing bad things.

We know that the problems we face are systemic, and must be met bravely—which means having a view of a different way of doing things, of having the political will to take power away from the defenders of that system, and to replace it with a system that truly is of and for the people.

Now of course we have no illusions that this change will come easily.  Nor do we think that involvement within the imperial political system will make these changes for us.

Images of BAYAN with it’s partners in ILPS / Click image to visit ILPS-Canada

If the people are to succeed WE need to make it so.

We all have our role to play if we want a better world, and there have been many recent events that show us that people worldwide are fed up.

We are cautiously optimistic that people across the globe are again waking up to the “We.”

Worldwide movements show us that we don’t stand alone, that we have allies, and that we can think bigger.

The time is now here for us to reinvent activism in Canada.  It is time for us to be clear about where we stand.

We all need to realize that our enemy is organized collectively: they have the IMF, the World Bank, NATO, and more…

They are organized.  They work for their collective best interests.  It’s high time we on the Western Left form collectives to counter their collectives.  It’s time to drop our decades long self-doubt and again demand what is our right.

We need to recreate international solidarity.  And we’re talking about true solidarity.  It’s not enough to merely state it, or to buy some product in support of something, or to make a donation, etc.

We need the solidarity of common purpose, common goals, and common action. The solidarity of struggle for collective improvement. The solidarity of common shared risk.

Solidarity isn’t safe.  But in it we find the seeds of a different way of doing things, of a true sense of collectivity, of community, of belonging.

It’s time we reasserted the primacy of capitalisms fundamental antagonism: class struggle.

And it’s time for us to stop demanding things from Them.

Today we must demand from ourselves the collective commitment to make real change.  We demand that we realize the need for real systemic change—you might even call this a revolution.

We don’t want a change of the exploiters face, but a change to the entire regime that requires exploiters.

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alex felipe

BAYAN-Canada Toronto spokesperson / Anakbayan-Toronto organizer


www.facebook.com/Anakbayan.Toronto / www.anakbayantoronto.wordpress.com