Increasingly authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to classify hundreds of leftists as terrorists as he cracks down on the country’s powerful communist movement. We speak to Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of KARAPATAN, and Teddy Casinos, a former congressman and representative of the Bayan Muna party
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
In the Philippines, increasingly authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to classify hundreds of leftists as terrorists as he cracks down on the country’s powerful communist movement. A government petition recently filed in court request that a number of people be deemed terrorists. They come from all walks of life. They include the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, a former lawmaker from the left wing party, and four former Catholic priests, as well as 600 or more alleged communists.
As the police campaign in the Philippines against drug trafficking intensifies, the death toll is in the thousands. Red Pepper magazine reports over twenty thousand victims have lost their lives during drug operations since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. Many, possibly most, of the deaths are a result of police violence.
In the face of increasing international outrage, the Philippines announced that it will withdraw from the International Criminal Court, the ICC. The presidential spokesperson of the Philippines, Harry Roque, had this to say.
HARRY ROQUE: No state would have agreed to become a member of the ICC if they knew the local courts would just be ignored. What countries have the ICC tried? Somalia, Sudan. These are countries with no functioning government.
SHARMINI PERIES: To discuss these outrageous criminal attacks on these people I’m joined by two very esteemed guests from the Philippines. First we have Cristina Palabay. She is the secretary general of Karapatan, the Alliance of the Advancement of People’s Rights in the Philippines. And we have Teddy Casinos. He is a former congressman and representative of the Bayan Muna party, and a columnist for The Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines. I thank you both for joining us today.
TEDDY CASIÑO: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Cristina, let’s start with you. Give us a sense of the most egregious attacks on human rights that you have documented so far in your organization that has become now the concern of the International Criminal Court, enough to send a delegation of investigators to the country.
CRISTINA PALABAY: Well, the president apparently shocks us by the day because of his statements, numerous statements, that incite and justify human rights violations. Mostly those that involve violations in line with the drug war and the human rights abuses that incite not only violations, statements that not only incite violations but also war crimes. Recently he told the military that he’d be willing to shoot, to order the military to shoot in the vagina female rebels.
So he makes these kinds of statements, and the vitriol that comes from the palace, from Malacanang, by the day also involves throwing mud against international independent experts such as the U.N. and even the ICC. So all these have, these are policy pronouncements. And it has a real effect and impact on the ground in terms of the number of violations that are being committed by the day.
RODRIGO DUTERTE: In Davao I used to do it personally, just to show to the guys that if I can do it, why can’t you? … Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.
CRISTINA PALABAY: The petition that prescribes the two revolutionary organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, surprisingly also bears a list of names, allegedly of officers and members of the said organizations. So the problem with the listing and the whole petition by itself is that, number one, there are very serious questions on the factual basis of the allegations that those so and so crimes were committed in the name of terrorism.
But both in the Philippines and outside the country, many people know that these organizations are engaged in revolutionary struggles that are recognized . The struggle for the right to self-determination and a national liberation movement. These are even acknowledged as part of several U.N. human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several resolutions of the UN General Assembly.
Secondly, it includes names of activists. Many of them are working in legal organisations registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the country, and many are known international human rights activists, like the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples. My colleague Elisa Tita Lubi, who has been our former regional coordinator of Asia-Pacific feminist platform, and several other experts now engaged in a United Nations mechanism. So this this list is, we see this as an arbitrary, malicious, and a dangerous type of thing, because it literally makes everyone and anyone on the list walking targets of assassinations, harassment, and surveillance.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Teddy, let me go to you. As I said stated off the top, some 20000 people have been killed, according to Red Pepper magazine, and these are mostly people that had been pursued by the police for drug related crimes and killed by the police. First of all, is this number accurate in your point of view or are close to accurate in terms of an estimate? And how are these assassinations or extrajudicial killings taking place?
TEDDY CASIÑO: Well, the problem with the numbers now is that last year the police stopped counting. I think they last gave an official count at around 8000, and since then they have removed an entire category of what they call deaths under investigation out of the picture.
So estimates are anywhere between 12000 to highest 20000 killed. That’s in the drug war alone. As you know, Duterte has three wars now ongoing. He has the war on drugs. He has the war on terror, which basically targets the left, and then the war against the Muslims, which is basically Mindanao.
So the the most bloody so far as the war on drugs. So you said estimates between 12000 to 20000 killed. Many of these were killed in the course of police operations. They called it Oplan Tokhang, and later renamed it to Oplan Double Barrel, where in the guise of buy-bust operations or police raids these suspects get killed. And they get killed in very questionable circumstances. Many of them are unarmed. Many of them were in their homes, were sleeping, and then the police made it appear that they fought back.
And one of the more dramatic cases would be the case of the teenager who went missing and was found a few days later to have been shot,killed. And the witnesses who came out said that he was summarily executed by the police. He was on his knees, he was clearly unarmed and could not fight back, but he was killed , nonetheless. So there are many, many instances, many accounts of those kinds of killings, and these are aside from the vigilante killings where you have what we call riding in tandem death squads. These are surely in civilian clothes, they have helmets or their faces are covered. They ride on motorcycles. And they just kill. And most of the victims are in the lists of drug addicts or drug pushers listed by the police or the local government officials.
So, so basically we are saying that these killings are state sponsored because 1) They happen so brazenly in broad daylight, and 2) The authorities don’t seem to care don’t seem to conduct an investigation of these killings. And thirdly, you have the president himself, the commander in chief, encouraging, not only tolerating but encouraging these killings. And he has been quoted so many times, I cannot count the number, saying that drug addicts are not human. Their brains are smaller than normal, and therefore they deserve to be killed.
So that is one war. But you also have the counterinsurgency war, which is basically against the revolutionary left. And you have many victims also of assassination by death squads. You have bombings. Duterte announced on the day that he made the state of the nation address last July that he will bomb the schools of the indigenous peoples in Mindanao because they were supposedly harboring communist rebels. And of course there’s the third war, the war against the Muslims, and we know what happened to Marawi. It was basically carpet bombed on the pretext of going against Islamic terrorists.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Teddy, one thing about Duterte, at least when he was running for office and he was campaigning, he had this kind of abrasive and tough talk, and talking about dealing with the drug dealings and business in the Philippines in an aggressive fashion. He also made some very outrageous statements during his campaign, but yet he was elected President of Philippines.
Now, at the time when he was elected and we were talking to left wing leaders in the Philippines, they were basically saying, well, you know, he’s a mixed bag of characters and that we have to see what will unfold, particularly given his left leanings, his left alliances. Plus when he appointed the cabinet he appointed some people from the left there. What is this new surge of attacks against the left and priests and communists about?
TEDDY CASIÑO: Well, Duterte has admitted that it was all for show, that all he was courting were the votes. And apparently because he could not coopt the left, because the left was insisting that the peace talks should be based on addressing the roots of the armed conflict. Apparently his government did not want to go that way. And they wanted surrender. They wanted the cease fire at the start of the talks. And so the talks didn’t prosper. And I think this angered him. And after six or seven months of talks he finally gave up and said that he would just be launching an all out war.
And I think it’s also reflective of his impatience of, his non-tolerance for dissent and for ideas which are different from his. We, the left thought that he was entering into peace negotiations in earnest, the objective being addressing the roots of the armed conflict, but apparently that was not the case. And just like previous governments all he was after was a cease fire. All he was after was surrender from the other side. But because that did not happen he decided to escalate the counterinsurgency program.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Cristina, let me go to you now. Your organization, yourself has been under attack, and the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People has also come under attack, not to mention the communists, the left wing, and the priests I keep referring to. But what now? Now Duterte has called for an exit from the ICC, but if they do withdraw from ICC are there ways in which you can still go about holding Duterte and his administration accountable to international law?
CRISTINA PALABAY: Well, there are still several international and local remedies. But these remedies should greatly rely on the people’s movement both here and abroad for the Duterte to betruly held accountable, as well as many of his cohorts. Because even with the withdrawal of the ratification of the Philippine government of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court it will take at least a year for it to take effect, number one, and secondly there are processes that need to be, that are required, including domestic processes such as the proceedings of the Senate not to withdraw said ratification.
It means that it’s not instant that upon Duterte’s statement and letter to the ICC he won’t be subjected to any of those investigations anymore. And besides, even with the withdrawal of the said ratification, investigations on the said allegations against Duterte will continue and is actually under undergoing. In fact, there were reports that ICC investigators came and left the country already after their interviews on the victims of the drug war.
Secondly, there are mechanisms also available at the United Nations, both at the Human Rights Council level and the General Assembly, and we are working with the independent experts and several mechanisms such as the [inaudible] bodies to look into ways on how we can call the attention and hold Duterte accountable, even at the UN level.
But as I said, I think the most important element in holding Duterte accountable would be the people’s movement, both here and abroad or outside the country. So we are also organizing an international people’s tribunal together with several organizations worldwide, which we hope we can mount this year, to strengthen and to voice out the real people’s concern on the Duterte administration’s many crimes against the Filipino people.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Teddy, let me go to you and give you the last word here. I understand that you’re part of a movement, or a campaign to stop the killing. Tell us what that is about, and in the face of these kinds of attacks on protesters, people who are resisting Duterte’s orders of this nature, people are still organizing and we still see demonstrations. We see young people holding placards on the sides of the road resisting Duterte’s orders to kill and stop them from protesting and exercising their democratic rights, and yet people are being killed. So how are you planning to stop it?
TEDDY CASIÑO: Well, the people’s movement is very crucial at this point because you understand that Duterte has attacked practically every institution that serves as a check and balance to his power. Right now they’re trying to oust the chief justice of the Supreme Court. His allies in Congress have filed an impeachment bill. And because the impeachment bill did not fly they demanded that she resign. But she did not resign. Now they just filed a case against her basically to declare her unqualified for the position.
And that’s because the chief justice has been independent and has resisted a number of tyrannical moves of the president. One of the first victims as an institution that he has undermined was the Commission of Human Rights. He bullied, he intimidated, he harassed the commissioners of the Commission of Human Rights. And right now they have been undermined and they find it hard to assert their, their watchdog role over the government.
Of course the authorities themselves, the police, the Department of Justice has been compromised. So when these institutions, even the press, he has attacked the press, the critical press, repeatedly. He has banned reporters from covering the presidential beat because of critical stories by some media outlets.
So in the face of these failures of these institutions of accountability to hold the president and his men accountable, we have nowhere to rely but the organized movement of the people. And so initiatives like the international tribunal that Christina was talking about or rallies and demonstrations to oppose Duterte’s tyranny and eventually probably to remove him from office, that are the options that we are now studying.
But, but definitely Duterte is still popular among the public. He still has to be unmasked. His very powerful social media platforms has to be addressed. But we have to do it, and we have no choice but to resist, we have no choice but to fight.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. You are both brave souls, and I believe that your struggle will, will persist and succeed and I thank you both for joining us today.
TEDDY CASIÑO: Thank you so much. It was an honor to be part of your program.
SHARMINI PERIES: And Cristina, thank you for joining us.
CRISTINA PALABAY: Thank you. And we should always remember that the power is with the people.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.