Some of the family members I met on a human rights investigation to the Philippines in 2019. These women are holding photos of their loved ones murdered by security forces.

Below is my speech to an Asia Pacific Webinar. “Exposing the Systematic Human Rights Violations under Duterte government” held on 23 April 2021. The speakers reported on the findings of INVESTIGATE PH.

In 2019 I was part of the High-Level Delegation of church, union and political leaders that investigated extreme human rights violations occurring in the Philippines. This year I have continued this work as one of the INVESTIGATE PH Commissioners.

What has particularly disturbed me, in this latest investigation, is the evidence that shows the Duterte regime is stepping up its attacks on farmers, unionists, fishers and activists. What we have heard has been so shocking. 

In the Philippines today anyone who is working to improve the lives of ordinary people can be treated as an enemy of the state. They may be killed in their home, on the street, at work. So many people are being red tagged. That term is now synonymous with shocking crimes being committed by the Duterte regime. 

Red tagging is when military, security and govt personnel – even the President – accuse people and organisations of being left-leaning, communists or terrorists. 

In early March this yea President Rodrigo Duterte made a speech to government forces. He ordered that his forces should “kill” and “finish off” all communist rebels in the country. A few days later nine or more activists were killed by Filipino police. This occurred in northern Philippines. 

Among those killed were a labour rights activist, a husband and wife team who advocated for fishing communities – they were shot in their home. Also people who advocate for housing rights for the homeless were killed.

Responding to these killings the UN Human Rights Office spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, stated “We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and ‘red-tagging’ of human rights defenders.”

Shamdasani in her statement detailed the UN High Commissioner’s June 2020 Human Rights Council report on the Philippines that documented “a serious lack of due process in police operations, and near-total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military”. 

Duterte and his supporters are using these fascist tactics to suppress dissent. Their aim is to intimidate activists to the point where people are bullied into not campaigning for just causes. 

Despite these crimes Filipino activists are showing incredible courage. Thousands are standing up to the Duterte regime and exposing state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.

The Duterte forces have attempted to legitimise their red tagging tactics by passing an anti-terrorism law. The legislation that went through last year uses broad language to define communists and terrorists and sidesteps due process in the name of national security.

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs have found that since the law was introduced activists and journalists have been gaoled. The crimes they were charged with relies on planted evidence. Some of those gaoled have been tortured. Others killed when searches were conducted. 

The evidence the Investigate PH project heard from indigenous communities to my mind shows that Duterte should be charged with crimes against humanity. Here is another example of why I believe such charges are warranted. 

At the end of December last year nine Tumandok Indigenous people were killed and 10 others were arrested in police operations on Panay Island in central Philippines. Understandably locals refer to it as a massacre. 

The Tumandok leaders had done nothing more than campaign against the construction of the Jalaur Dam. If this project goes ahead it will impact on the community’s ancestral lands. They have opposed militarisation of their land and spoken up to expose human rights violations in their communities.

The murdered Tumandok leaders had also been red-tagged by the Philippine military. Tragically in so many cases such a charge becomes a death sentence.

Union leaders and and workplace activists also suffer similar brutality and often death. 

This is a global issue. The Filipino people need our support now. The killings must stop. We can all help build the international campaign for human and democratic rights in the Philippines to be respected and honoured. The second report of Investigate PH will be out soon. We can all help disseminate these findings in our own countries to help amplify international understanding of why the crimes of the Duterte regime must be exposed and stopped. 

Thank you.

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