Photo depicting the green lawn in front of the Capitol building covered with white flip-flops. A banner rests in the foreground with black text that reads "Stop the Killings! Pass the Philippine Human Rights Act Now!"

OPINION: If Biden Stands for Human Rights, Pass the Philippines Human Rights Act Now!

by Jessica Valdez and Michael Alcantara

The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission. 

Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, is a major date for organizations concerned with the situation in the Philippines. For over a year, activists from the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and the Malaya Movement, which organize Filipinos and allies in the struggle for a genuine and lasting peace in the Philippines, have lobbied Washington representatives, including Adam Smith, to take action to address the human rights crisis by supporting the Philippines Human Rights Act (PHRA). 

On Dec. 10, the activists will stage a die-in and rally outside of Congressman Smith’s Renton office to pressure him to cut U.S. military aid to the Philippines.

The Philippine Human Rights Act intends to “suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces.” Included in the PHRA’s provisions are the suspension of security assistance from the United States to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, two institutions that have been accused of the gravest human rights abuses. 

Since the election of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, ICHRP has closely monitored the human rights situation in the Philippines. Democracy in the Philippines was already troubled, but under the Duterte administration, it has worsened. 

The regime is currently under investigation for the over 30,000 killings of the urban poor, students, journalists, peasants, legal activists and movement leaders, human rights workers, and Indigenous people. Duterte is a categorically antidemocratic figure in Philippines politics who stands against free speech, and has targeted multiple national media outlets critical of his administration (Rappler and ABS-CBN). U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to supply weapons to a regime that violently targets its political opponents.

Concurrent to this action, on Dec. 9 and 10, President Biden convened world leaders he deems as nations against the forces of authoritarianism at his Summit for Democracy. On Tuesday, the fascist President Duterte from the Philippines confirmed that he will attend the Summit, showing that this administration has a very different idea of the current human rights situation worldwide. The themes of this summit are “strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights”. 

President Biden’s summit resembles an attempt to rehabilitate the United States’ global image as a beacon of democracy, following the diplomatic nightmare of the Trump years. U.S. adversaries Russia and China, and even historic allies such as Saudi Arabia, are notably not invited. 

However, by inviting leaders such as President Duterte, Biden offers a seat to an authoritarian leader and government whom even the U.S. Department of State reports are responsible for human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and corruption. 

A recent report by Investigate PH agrees: “Philippine security forces are perpetrating extrajudicial killings — and obstructing justice … In ‘tokhang’-style raids, police and military in Negros, Panay, and Southern Tagalog have extrajudicially killed farmer leaders, city councillors, teachers, lawyers, doctors, peasant leaders, human rights defenders, trade unionists, [I]ndigenous leaders, and urban poor organizers in their own homes or going to or from their work. Harmful impacts of repression are now widespread across civil society. The justice system participates in suppressing dissent both by weaponizing the law to facilitate human rights abuses, and by failing to enforce legal protections.”

Despite its loudly proclaimed commitments to human rights, the U.S. government continues to fund the Philippine state’s well-documented atrocities, sending $550 million U.S. taxpayer dollars in military aid since 2016. The irony is not lost on the activists in ICHRP and the Malaya Movement who anxiously await news from the Philippines of another deadly police raid, another indiscriminate bombing, another life senselessly lost in the now five-year-long war on drugs.

A recent letter to President Biden urged the president not to invite President Rodrigo Duterte to the Summit for Democracy and to instead invite human rights defenders from the grassroots movements for human rights in the Philippines; however, as of Tuesday, Dec. 7, President Duterte has been confirmed to attend despite his collection of human rights violations. In fact, President Biden shared with the Inquirer, he looks forward to welcoming Duterte and hearing his ideas on “how we can foster a more democratic, equitable, inclusive and sustainable world.”

As the world commemorates International Human Rights Day, Seattle-based activists will be clamoring for their elected officials, including Congressman Smith and President Biden, to stand on the side of Filipino people, condemn the human rights abuses in the Philippines, pass the PHRA, and cut U.S. military aid to the Duterte regime. Washington voters should pay close attention to their response.

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Jessica Valdez and Michael Alcantara are Seattle coordinators for the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.

📸 Featured Image: A recent action where 3,000 tsinelas (flip-flops) were laid on the Capitol lawn, representing the 30,000 lives lost in the Duterte administration’s infamous “war on drugs.” Photo courtesy of the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.

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