Filipino groups and solidarity supporters call for end to Duterte’s attacks on migrants’ rights advocates

With the Duterte regime facing backlash after Facebook busted a fake news network of more than 100 social media accounts and pages linked to the police and the military, Filipino and foreign solidarity groups held a press conference on monday, 28 September 2020, to call for an end to harassments perpetrated against Filipino migrants rights’ advocates. 

BAYAN USA and Gabriela USA chided PCOO Usec. Lorraine Badoy and the Philippine military for maliciously circulating photos of BAYAN and Gabriela leaders in the US along with labels tagging them as terrorists through facebook pages such as For the Global Public and Enlightened Youth. “This act of labelling, terror tagging and false accusations endangers our lives and security for us as leaders and for our Gabriela organizations,” Gabriela USA said in their statement. 

Expressing solidarity for progressive Filipino migrant groups espousing national democracy, Joe Iosbaker of Chicago’s Committee to Stop FBI Repression said, “”In the Philippines, red tagging by the thugs of the Duterte regime have led to an untold number of deaths. We condemn it and we condemn the Duterte regime for his human rights abuses which are now far worse than the Marcos dictatorship.”

Speaking from Germany, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Antonio Ablon, who also currently serves as the coordinator for the Europe Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines related how he, along with Marlon Lacsamana of Migrante Europe and Fatima Rico of Anakbayan Europe were tagged as terrorists by a certain Jeanette Angel Lopez. Bishop Ablon welcomed the recent EU resolution calling on European business entities to ensure that human rights are being observed in their business operations in the Philippines. 

Filipino activists, solidarity friends and some members of the media during the presscon on 28 September 2020

Members of the European Union parliament likewise sought the possibility of withdrawing preferential trade benefits being enjoyed by the Philippines. The bishop believes that the Duterte regime is retaliating against progressive Filipino migrant groups for their continuing response to Filipino migrant welfare issues and their lobbying work for justice and peace in the Philippines. This includes the human rights report brought to the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland last year resulting in the UN body’s call for a comprehensive report on the human rights violations specifically drug-related extrajudicial killings under the Duterte regime. 

Fr. Rudolf Scheltinga of the Old Catholic Church’s St. Agnes Parish in the Netherlands called for the red tagging and vilification of Filipino activists to stop as he lauded their efforts to fight for justice and human rights in the Philippines.

A year ago, members of Emilio Aguinaldo DDS group in Hong Kong started intensifying their attacks when UNIFIL-Migrante Hong Kong openly criticized Duterte for broken promises to migrant workers like the cancellation of the Overseas Employment Certificates requirement or OEC and providing jobs to Filipinos back home. They posted banners, distributed pamphlets and posted items on social media vilifying and terror tagging Migrante, BAYAN and Gabriela. They even became more aggressive by posting threats to deport them and harm their families. 

Rev. Berlin Guerrero of BAYAN Australia said that early this year NTF ELCAC spokesperson Gen. Antonio Parlade and PCOO. Usec. Badoy arrived in Australia and conducted their so-called ‘Peace Forums’ in Sydney and Melbourne. “Their presentation had nothing to do with achieving just and lasting peace in the Philippines but on the Duterte regime’s counterinsurgency program which vilify and malign legitimate people’s organizations in the Philippines, in Australia and other parts of the world,” Guerrero said. 

“With the 3,000% increase in NTF-ELCAC’s proposed 2021 budget from PHp 622.3 Million in 2020 to Php 19.1 Billion in 2021, they have more money to vilify Filipino citizens overseas. This is where our taxes go. Instead of allotting this money to help people affected by COVID-19  pandemic, they poured a large amount of budget to NTF-ELCAC. They are protecting Duterte from the people’s wrath due to his incompetence in responding to disasters and callousness to the people’s plight, so they slander us hoping that the people will believe their lies,” UNIFIL Migrante Hong Kong chairperson Dolores Pelaez enunciated.  

Sister Patricia Fox, whose advocacies earned her animosity from the Duterte regime leading to her deportation said, “Migrante has been instrumental in helping the workers. Gabriela has taken up many issues like domestic violence and in terms of raising consciousness and of course, Anakbayan among the students. They’ve been making heroic efforts to provide various forms of support especially at this time of the pandemic. So the red tagging is so disgusting but it also shows that people are rising up in the Philippines and Filipinos around the world. We raise our voice even louder with the passage of the Anti-Terror Law. Filipinos overseas who dare to use their right to condemn brutality and injustice, this Anti-Terrorism Law reaches out even as far here so we stand in support of Filipinos as they struggle for justice, freedom and genuine democracy.”

Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion welcomed Facebook’s removal of almost a hundred fake Facebook accounts and fake news pages. “This revealed to the Filipino people clear evidence of state-sponsored and funded online attacks, red tagging and mass deception. AFP and PNP deliberately tried to hide their identities and their ties to these fake accounts but were not successful. This proves that this is a coordinated and deliberate effort by the Duterte regime to mislead people and attack progressive organizations and individuals raising legitimate criticisms,” Concepcion stated. 

The group likewise reiterated its demands for the junking of the Terror Law, the shutdown of fake news sites and fake accounts on Facebook and the abolition of the NTF ELCAC. It also expressed support for the continuing call of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Union parliament to end human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. 

Concepcion also explained why calls by Filipino progressive groups for Duterte’s ouster and the junking of the terror law are part of the right to freedom of expression. “The 1987 constitution tells us that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. The Duterte government has been trampling on the law, the Philippine constitution. The passage of the Terror Law is one example. More than 30 petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Terror Law. This Terror Law was passed right in the middle of a pandemic when the Philippine government should be attending to the economic and public health crisis. The Philippines now has the longest lockdown so the response of the Duterte government has really been a failure. With regards to the plan to postpone the 2022 elections, the pandemic should not be used by the government to suppress the rights of the Filipino people most especially our right to vote.”

During the press conference, a unity statement was launched to “demand an immediate stop to the tagging of activists and progressive organizations worldwide as ‘communist terrorist groups’ by the Duterte regime” as well as the continuing terror tagging being perpetrated by NTF ELCAC. The unity statement has so far already garnered signatories from 102 Filipino organizations from different countries in the Asia-Pacific region, North America and Europe.