by Priyanka Rabindranath & Steve da Silva
On Sunday, December 10, two dozen people gathered in front of Toronto’s Old City Hall to mark International Human Rights Day and bring attention to the expanding scope of extrajudicial killings being carried out in the Philippines by the Rodrigo Duterte administration.
“Duterte has shown his true colours over the last couple of months,” stated Sarah Salise, an organizer with Anakbayan Toronto, a Filipino youth organization. “Activists have seen things getting worse and are standing up for the people. Duterte has seen this and he is showing his horns, attacking them in retaliation.”
Since taking office, President Duterte’s bombastic, Trump-like statements about “law and order” and the “war on drugs” have made his administration the object of growing international criticism. Some 13,000 extrajudicial killings have been carried out by police officers or death squads under the guise of the “War on Drugs,” mostly targeting young, urban poor people.
This past May, Duterte’s brutality achieved new heights as he battled the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf in the city of Marawi, displacing hundreds of thousands of Marawi residents in the process.
Despite claims that the territory was liberated from ISIS in October, Congress has approved Duterte’s request for a one-year extension on Martial Law over the entirety of Mindanao, citing continued security concerns of a resurgent ISIS. However, Mindanao is the base of the country’s nearly 50-year-old communist people’s war.
Since Duterte took office in July 2016, human rights observers in the Philippines have documented the killing of 119 peasant and indigenous activists; 222 attempted murders; 256 illegal arrests and detentions. On December 4, a Catholic priest, Marcelito “Tito” Paez, 72, was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding men in the province of Nueva Ecija, an execution that signals the widening scope of the current and coming repression on activists and progressive voices in the Philippines.
Last week, reports from the Philippines indicated that the Duterte regime has been preparing lists for the mass arrest of people associated with or sympathetic to the aims of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The CPP-NPA has led a 48-year-long mass movement and people’s war in the Philippines that finds a wide base of support amongst the country’s rural peasants, indigenous peoples, students and workers that runs into the millions. It’s program advocates for policies of national industrialization, agrarian reform, and rights and empowerment for women, workers, students, and Indigenous peoples.
Vigil organizers in Toronto implored the public to take action, asking citizens to “demand the [Canadian] government to stop its military aid to the Philippines.” While the Canadian government website lists no explicit military aid to the Philippines, it does detail efforts to “work closely with the Government of the Philippines” to bolster their economy. Local organization have expressed their desire to see Canada “reconsider these relations” in light of Duterte’s actions.