President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is waging an all-out war on drugs and drug addicts, with as many as 12,000 killed since it started in mid 2016. With backing from the Trump administration, Duterte is also using this war to crack down on leftist rebels and other critics
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the increasingly authoritarian president.
At least 4,000 people have been killed in a brutal war on drugs waged by Duterte according to official statistics and Human Rights Observers have said the death toll could be even higher. In September 2016, Duterte compared himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and said he would be happy to slaughter three million drug addicts.
RODRIGO DUTERTE: Hitler massacred three million Jews. There is three million drug addict… I’d be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have what, my victims, I would like to be all criminals, to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation.
SHARMINI PERIES: US President Donald Trump boasted off the great relationship he has with Duterte at their first meeting.
DONALD TRUMP: We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful, but one thing about the Philippines, eventually it gets good no matter what. I think on behalf of everybody, I want to thank you and I want to thank the Philippines. Thank you very much.
RODRIGO DUTERTE: You’re welcome, I’m sure, Mr. President.
SHARMINI PERIES: At the same time as this vicious war on drugs, Duterte has also been waging a campaign against communist rebels in the Philippines. Last May, Duterte declared Martial Law on the southern island of Mindanao, the breadbasket of the Philippines which has also been described as a treasure trove with one trillion in untapped mineral resources.
The Martial Law was initially declared during a battle against Islamist extremists in Mindanao, but in December, the Philippines government extended it for another year. Duterte has used this battle against Islamist extremist as an excuse to ruthlessly crackdown on communist militants in the Philippines, the New People’s Army which is largely based in Mindanao.
Last year, Duterte abruptly canceled historic peace talks with the communist and declared, “I will follow America since they say that I’m an American boy. Okay granted, I will admit that I’m a fascist, I will categorize you already as a terrorist.” This week, Duterte ordered his soldiers to shoot female communist rebels in the vagina.
Women’s Rights Activists responded by condemning him as a macho-fascist dictator. Joining us now to discuss the violent repression in the Philippines is Jackelyn Mariano. Jackelyn is a Filipino American Human Rights Activist and Immigration Attorney. She is the interim coordinator of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, its US chapter here in the northeast. I thank you so much for joining us, Jackelyn.
JACKELYN MARIANO: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Jackelyn, the war on drugs that Duterte has declared. What effects is it having on the Filipino society?
JACKELYN MARIANO: I think that’s having a very divisive effect on Filipino society. Right now, a lot of, Duterte came in with a lot of support from the Filipino people because he represented something that they weren’t used to, a change in the traditional politician that has run the Philippines for centuries, but coming in with such a strong arm, violent policy.
For a lot of Filipinos, they kind of bought into the idea that this drug war is progress for society, that getting rid of drugs in the Philippines will lead to progress and the uplifting of this country that has been facing rampant poverty. But on the other hand, the many people who are victimized by the drug war do come from the poor and the working class of the Philippines who rely on drugs as an economic savior, but also as an escape from poverty in the Philippines.
So, it’s still a very divisive topic both in the Philippines and also here in the diaspora. And what we have to make clear is that the drug war has been a distraction from the real issues and instead of looking into the economic issues that lead people, especially the poor and working class to turn to the sale of drugs to survive, they have been criminalized and targeted with state violence instead.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, you have the benefit of being from the Philippines, being connected to so many people there and also living here in the United States. What role does the United States, more specifically our President, Trump has had on emboldening Duterte and the political situation in the Philippines?
JACKELYN MARIANO: Well, when Trump went to visit the Philippines in November and he met with Duterte, a lot of Human Rights Advocates criticized him because he didn’t even bring up human rights as an issue or as a topic for them during their meeting, but it’s obviously a glaring issue that needs to be addressed.
Trump didn’t bring it up because it is in the United States economic interest and political interest in the Asia-Pacific region for the Philippines to continue to be a solid ally of the United States. Back in 2017, the United States sent $9 million in military funds to the Philippines and Trump promised that in 2018, that the United States will send $111 million dollars in military aid.
The United States also just launched a new military operation called Operation Pacific Eagle that is a continuation of the Obama era pivot to the Asia-Pacific of the military in order to secure economic and political power in the region.
SHARMINI PERIES: What about the political opposition in Philippines? Are they giving Duterte a challenge? Do you think he has used the war on drugs to repress his political opponents?
JACKELYN MARIANO: Oh, absolutely. I think at all levels of Philippine society, there have been opposition to his war on drugs and as you mentioned earlier, other wars on the people including against the left progressives and the Moro Muslim indigenous people in Mindanao. From the ground, the activists who are fighting against his repression are being targeted with state violence and have been wrongly accused of being drug dealers or users themselves so that their deaths and extrajudicial killings are justified.
Then all the way up to the level of the government, progressive leaders that Duterte himself have put into office, but have later come out and criticized his policies and the drug war were either kicked out of the cabinet from which they were appointed by Duterte anyway or are facing trumped-up charges for going against Duterte’s administration.
Duterte has a lot of allies in the legislature of the Philippines. So, a lot of his legislative policies aren’t being met with too much opposition as a whole, but I think that the Philippine society as well as folks in the government are constantly criticizing him and doing as much as they can to stop his policies.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. How are the Filipinos here in the diaspora responding to this escalating violence back home and particularly the recent investigations going on with the International Criminal Court about their president?
JACKELYN MARIANO: There are a lot of pockets of self-proclaimed die hard Duterte Supporters in cities where there are large concentrations of Filipinos in the diaspora, but there is also growing opposition to Duterte bubbling up here in the United States. So, an example is ICHRP, the organization that I’m part of, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines just launched its US chapter in December of 2017 in Vancouver, Washington bringing together over 40 organizations throughout the US who are coordinating a campaign to bring attention to the killings happening under Duterte’s regime.
And another formation called Malaya which is the Filipino word for free. Malaya, a US movement against killings, dictatorship and for democracy in the Philippines is made up of other folks who really came out of the first anti martial law movement in the 70’s and 80’s and were opposed to Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year dictatorship and are reminding people that the Filipino people have fought against fascist dictatorship in the past and are willing to stand against it as Duterte declares himself to be a fascist dictator already.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Finally, Jackelyn, can you talk about the situation in Mindanao? How is the fight against the communist rebels taking place? What is the resistance? How violent is it in the area?
JACKELYN MARIANO: Right now, Mindanao which is the southern island of the Philippines where the communist movement is the strongest, is also home to the Moros or Muslim indigenous people who have been facing the military strikes from the Armed Forces of the Philippines who claim to be present in the area to fight off alleged ISIS connected terrorist groups.
The government has officially said that the terrorist groups have been eradicated, but martial law still continues and will continue for another year. It’s very clear that the War on Terror is just a pretext for justifying further military actions against the communist movement.
The level of repression of the people in Mindanao is very high. There are several reports that have been coming in to ICHRP from other indigenous communities throughout the island who are living off of, whose ancestral lands are mineral-rich lands that are being targeted by multinational corporations and that where a lot of the New People’s Army or the Armed Wing of the Communist Party has been defending and those indigenous communities, particularly schools that have been set up by the communities themselves are being targeted by the military, are being accused of being fronts for the NPA and they are experiencing forced evacuation, killings.
At the moment, on one end of Mindanao, there are the people from the city of Marawi who faced the bombings from the AFP and on the other end of the island are the Lumad indigenous people who are facing accusations of being part of the NPA and they are thousands and thousands of families and people are being forced to evacuate from their homelands and do not have resources to eat and are seeking donations from our networks here in the United States in order to just survive.
SHARMINI PERIES: Jackelyn, who are the Mautes?
JACKELYN MARIANO: The Maute, they are an armed group that took over the city of Marawi in armed attacks and they allegedly have connected themselves to ISIS. They are the group that the Armed Forces of the Philippines was targeting in its military operations in the city and it was in the city of Marawi that the Maute group was operating and taking over which was the basis for which martial law was declared in Mindanao, but the Philippine government has already declared that the Maute group has been eradicated, but martial law is still ongoing.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, do you think that Duterte is using the threat of Maute and the Islamist extremist groups that they say exist to justify a political crackdown?
JACKELYN MARIANO: Absolutely. It’s very clear that it’s being used to justify political crackdown on the Left because of the official reports from the government that the Maute group has already been eradicated from the area. Not only is the war on terror and the kind of Islamophobic fear mongering of terrorism in the media being used to justify the crackdown on the Left, it’s also being used to justify the welcoming of foreign aid from both the United States and the World Bank to invest in Marawi and develop it as a destination city and a tourist destination.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Jackelyn. Finally, how has the war on the New People’s Army affected life in the community in Mindanao?
JACKELYN MARIANO: Well, the New People’s Army is not just a military group, but is also along with the communist party engaged in programs to provide much needed social services like education and health screenings to the people especially the Lumad indigenous people who are being affected by the Philippine government’s raids and extrajudicial killings.
So, in fact, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their vicious attacks on the Lumad people have also encouraged a lot of people who are facing state repression to join the NPA because for self-defense and also to have access to the basic services that the Philippine government has neglected to give to them for decades.
The crackdown on the NPA or the increased war on them has only increased people’s support for the revolutionary movement and increase the numbers of people joining the revolutionary movement.
SHARMINI PERIES: I’ve been speaking with Jackelyn Mariano. Jackelyn is a Filipino American Human Rights Activist and Immigration Attorney. She is the interim coordinator of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, its US chapter in the northeast. I thank you so much for joining us, Jackelyn.
JACKELYN MARIANO: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.