Today CPSO-Toronto attended a launch for InvestigatePH, an international effort to investigate human rights abuses in the Philippines. We heard from a number of the high commissioners, as well as persons affected by political repression.
Patricia Lisson told us about the damning report by UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on the Philippines, the hundreds of people imprisoned or killed under Duterte. She says that people in the Philippines are living in a country where the government has deserted them, or even put them under assault.
David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International – a global federation of teacher’s unions, representing some 30 million members – spoke about repression directed at schools, teachers and students. Teachers have been harassed, red-tagged, and killed. Students have had their schools occupied by soldiers, or even bombed as with Lumad schools in Mindanao. People are leaving their labour unions because they are scared of being hurt. The government accuses teachers of indoctrinating their students, but they are simply teaching students the critical thinking skills necessary for them to participate in contemporary, democratic society.
Lean Porquia spoke about his father, slain Panay community activist Jory Porquia. Jory was killed by state forces in 2020 after organizing a community kitchen to support his neighbours during the pandemic. He had earlier been placed under surveillance by local police because of his association with activist groups. Panay is the same island where in December 2020 police murdered nine Tumandok indigenous peoples who had been involved in opposition to a megadam in their ancestral lands.
Attorney Suzanne Adely, a member of the coordinating committee of the National Lawyers Guild in the USA, spoke about her organization’s support for global human rights. These include all rights, not only rights like freedom of speech or association, but economic, civil, social, political, and ecological rights. In many ways, she said, Duterte is waging war on the Philippine people, such as the drug war, which is really a war on the urban poor. Even well-respected and privileged people like lawyers and judicial workers are the targets of state harassment and extrajudicial killings (EJKs). And all of this in the context of a new, illegal Anti-Terror Law based on similarly repressive laws in the USA.
Attorney Jan De Lien, of Justis Lawyers Group (Belgium) followed Atty Adely, declaring that human rights are international rights, and not restricted to one or another countries. The investigation that will be carried out by InvestigatePH will be independent and scientific, and can be conducted across borders. Democratic lawyers in Belgium have long-standing connections with the Philippines, and know the territory and local context. This investigation will send a strong message to other governments that human rights abuses will be investigated and exposed.
We then saw a pre-recorded video of Llore Pasco, whose sons were victims of Duterte’s drug war. Killed by police in Quezon City, accused of being robbers, Pasco believes they were targeted because they had voluntarily listed themselves as drug users before getting clean. She has organized with other parents of slain youth, along with Karapatan and the National Union of People’s Lawyers, to call for independent investigation into police killings in the Philippines.
Reverend Michael Blair, General Secretary of the United Church of Canada, spoke about the church’s partnership with the Philippines and its basis in solidarity. There is a call to justice, for all of us to resist forces that exploit marginalized people, and to defend human dignity and human rights. The United Church has initiated delegations to the Philippines, and has brought their concerns about the situation there to the Canadian government. They have ongoing partnerships with civil and faith groups in the Philippines, and plan to use their position in the World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches to seek out and engage all avenues for justice and an end to the violence in the Philippines.
Lastly, Siena Christie brought the speeches to a close by performing a song dedicated to slain Negros Island human rights defender Zara Alvarez.