Philippines - Thousands join protests on Human Rights Day

With one voice shouting, "Justice to all the victims of human rights violations under the Aquino government!", thousands joined the protest-rallies organized by progressive social movements in several key cities in the Philippines in commemoration of the 6th International Human Rights Day last December 10.

In Manila, the protesters burned a giant effigy of President Aquino who was depicted as a monster inside a cage to symbolize their intent to hold the president accountable for all the human rights abuses committed under his watch. Aquino's office will end on June next year.

The human rights group Karapatan documented 294 victims of extrajudicial killings in the country, 293 frustrated killings, 125 victims of torture, 27 cases of enforced disappearances and more than 60,155 individuals who were forcibly evacuated due to military operations.

They blamed “Oplan Bayanihan”, the counter-insurgency program of the government for the spate of human rights violations against people who are critical of the development programs of the government such as mining, agribusiness plantations and energy projects.

"Just like the previous administrations, rampant human rights violations continue under the Aquino government. Human rights violations against women through sexual abuses remain as the most vicious method under Oplan Bayanihan to quell women's struggle in the militarized mining communities," said TWHA partner Gabriela in a statement.

Gabriela and the other TWHA Phillipine partners, Council for Health and Development (CHD), Advocates for Community Health and Ibon Foundation joined the protest in Manila as they emphasized that the Aquino administration's violations go beyond civil and political rights. The Aquino administration is also the biggest violator of economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

According to Ibon:

"After five years and nearing the end of its term, the Aquino government is directly accountable for how the overwhelming majority of Filipinos still struggle in chronically poor socioeconomic conditions. It keeps the neoliberal "free market" globalization policies that open the economy to foreign plunder and enrich a few oligarchs at the expense of real economic development. And more than that, it keeps pushing for programs and international economic deals that entrench and expand these destructive policies." 

...the Aquino administration's collaboration with the United States government to make the country compliant with the extreme neoliberalism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is particularly alarming. The TPP membership sought by the Aquino government will surrender domestic policy-making to big foreign economic powers especially the US and Japan. The TPP promotes the profit-seeking of the biggest American, Japanese and other member countries' transnational corporations."

Ibon's estimate puts the number of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos at 12.3 million. This has resulted in the record number of Filipinos who are forced to work overseas.

Most of the farmers, who comprise the majority of population, remain landless as more than 80 percent of agricultural land are still in the hands of a few big landowners. The government's bogus agrarian reform program has even facilitated land grabbing by transnational corporations for their agribusiness and biofuel plantations.

Large-scale mining is wreaking havoc to the lives of small peasant communities and indigenous peoples as they continue to face militarization of their communities to pave the way for the entry of mining in their lands. 

The Philippines is the third worst-hit country in terms of environmental and land defenders killings based on the 2014 report of London-based non-government organization, Global Witness. Out of 116 documented killings of environmental and land defenders worldwide, the Philippines has accounted for 15 deaths.  

Around 66 million Filipinos are poor living at P125 (2.41 euro) or less per day, and 7.3 million families live in urban slums nationwide. 

Poor Filipinos are also denied of their right to health. The poorest half of the population has the highest infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates, while their access to water and sanitation is many times worse than that of the richest two-fifths of the population. 

"The Philippine government has treated health as a commodity, subjected it to a market-driven system, unprotected and unregulated. This profit orientation means that curative care has been stressed over primary and preventive care. Such framework has raised the health costs, reduced people’s access and made health service inappropriate for common diseases," said Ibon 

CHD underscored the necessity of further strengthening the social movement as the Aquino goverment is "set on pushing privatization in the form of public-private partnership turning social services such as health and public hospitals into sources of profits for big private corporations." 

Amidst Aquino administration' dismal human rights record, the Philippine social movements are continuing and strengthening their struggle for social justice. No spate of killings, intimidations, forced disappearances and military abuses can prevent the people from fighting for their rights and those of the oppressed people.

"Social, economic and political deprivation and inequities are exploding. At the same time, Filipinos continue to wage their heroic struggles for their economic, social and cultural rights. These include but go beyond just finding work and making a living. They are about building a society where everyone can live a decent life with dignity, where all have a chance to develop to their fullest, and which is free from exploitation and oppression. The advance of these struggles are what give cause for celebration as International Human Rights day is observed, " said Ibon.