This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
On December 10, Filipinos held rallies in key cities around the country to commemorate Human Rights Day and blast the administration of Benigno Aquino III for the country’s dismal human rights situation.
Millions of Filipinos fell victim to Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda). The affected regions already faced immense poverty. Supporting these victims is a daunting task that has not been made any easier by the Aquino administration’s crackdown on human rights defenders that serve these communities.
The Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan), a human rights group in the Philippines, has already documented six extrajudicial killings in 2014. According to Karapatan, from July 2010 to August 2013 there were 152 extrajudicial killings, eighteen enforced disappearances, eighty instances of torture and 168 unsuccessful assassination attempts.
The headlines are focusing on the recent peace agreement between the central government in Manila and separatists in Mindanao, but the US press in particular has largely ignored these human rights violations, which are taking place in an increasingly militarized environment. Both the Philippine government and the United States have used the maritime disputes with China and the alleged prevalence of terrorists on the islands as a pretext to justify US support for the Philippine military as well as additional US troop presence in the area. The humanitarian disaster created by the typhoon has also provided an opening for the militaries of both countries to amplify their role at the expense of civilian actors.
History of Repression
President Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had a policy of eliminating all forms of opposition.
In 2002, as part of the US-initiated “global war on terror,” the Philippine government launched the counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch), a holistic approach to counterinsurgency aimed at all manner of opposition activists in the country. The plan made no distinction between armed combatants and civilians. Regions where the plan was implemented saw escalating numbers of civilian killings, including many members of leftist popular organizations that the government alleged to be “Communist fronts.” The attacks were not limited to political party activists but extended to lawyers and judges who had been involved in human rights work or cases where government interests were at stake.