Photo depicting Lumads joined the protest in Mendiola, Manila, marching down a street carrying a banner demanding justice for the 3 Lumad-Manobo farmers who were massacred by the military.

OPINION | People’s Rights Reflections on Philippine Solidarity Week

by Meesh V. and Wade J.

Feb. 4 marks the beginning of Philippine Solidarity Week, an annual week of programming to commemorate the Philippine-American War. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) will be holding events to raise awareness and support for the Filipino people’s persisting struggle for national liberation. These events include a People’s Rights teach-in at The Seattle Public Library’s Columbia Branch on Monday, Feb. 6, at 6:30 p.m., and a film screening of Revolution Selfie at The Beacon Cinema on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 5 p.m.

Since colonial control was wrested from Spain in the “mock” Battle of Manila Bay on Feb. 4, 1899, U.S. military presence has continued to oppress the people of the Philippines. After the U.S. rejected Philippine independence as declared in 1898, the Spanish-American War ended with the revolutionary Filipino government barred from treaty negotiations and struggling against a new colonial adversary: the United States. The subsequent brutal Philippine-American War led to the deaths of 200,000–1,000,000 Filipino civilians over the following decade. Yet over a century after the Battle of Manila Bay and technical independence from imperialist Japan and the United States in the wake of WWII, genuine Philippine sovereignty is still undermined by the colonial influence of the United States.

U.S. military and naval bases, coerced agreements and treaties, and billions of dollars in military funding have continued to fuel human rights abuses in the Philippines into the 21st century, paid for with American tax dollars. Under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime (2016–2022), labor activists, peasants, journalists, and Indigenous and environmental land defenders were suppressed, tortured, and killed. These human rights abuses continue under the leadership of current President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. — the son of the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who imposed martial law for 14 years (1972–1986). Marcos Jr. took presidential office last year in a highly contested and biased election marred by decades of media misinformation and voting manipulation. Sara Duterte — the daughter of the previous dictator — was also “elected” as vice president, upholding their families’ political dynasties.

While Donald Trump openly praised the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs” that resulted in an estimated 30,000 extrajudicial killings, Marcos Jr. recently received an even warmer welcome from the Biden administration when he visited New York in September of last year, in spite of the $353 million contempt order issued against the Marcos family. Despite the visit falling on the 50-year anniversary of Marcos Sr.’s imposition of martial law (which resulted in 3,000+ extrajudicial killings and over 30,000 citizens tortured), Joe Biden completely disregarded the historical significance of the collaboration with Marcos Jr. as well as the horrendous human rights records of the current political dynastic regimes. 

Biden was one of the first heads of state to congratulate Marcos Jr. for his stolen election “win,” even before the final count was issued, while also supporting Marcos Jr. in striking business deals with world leaders and investors on U.S. soil. And despite the outcry from Filipino organizations and activists in the Philippines and internationally, the Biden administration later moved forward with approving another $100 million for military aggression in the Philippines. 

In Seattle, local representatives such as Rep. Adam Smith (Dem., District 9) have explicitly not supported the protection of human rights in the Philippines despite consistent protest from local constituents, including members of Malaya Movement and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Seattle).  Smith — who was also the chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee from 2019 to 2022 and oversaw billions of taxpayer dollars being sent abroad — has repeatedly rejected support for the Philippines Human Rights Act (PHRA), a legislative effort to stop U.S. funding for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police until their human rights abuses have been addressed and stopped. Smith remained resistant throughout the entire congressional session even after student activists from Anakbayan-UW protested his speaking on campus and after a community town hall confrontation on the bill where he vehemently confirmed he would not support passing the PHRA. Smith was locally reelected in District 9 and remains the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, all while accepting hundreds of thousands in donations from weapons manufacturers and military defense corporations. In spite of Smith’s refusal to support, Malaya Movement, ICHRP, and Kabataan Alliance have continued to push for the PHRA and have secured numerous endorsements, including those of Rep. Pramila Jayapal and from the Seattle Education Association (i.e., the largest educator’s union in the city with over 6,000 members).

When perpetrators of military aggression like Adam Smith try to spin their lack of support for the PHRA as vague support for “democratic processes” in the Philippines, they also conveniently ignore the well-documented biases of the elections (i.e., mass-scale vote-buying, media and social media manipulation, and violent state repression of political opponents). The New York Times also had the audacity to call the Philippines “Southeast Asia’s oldest democracy” while covering the return of the Marcos family to power last fall. These false declarations of “democracy” ignore the extensive violations of human rights in the name of foreign super-profit and geopolitical posturing — rights such as Indigenous people’s access to ancestral lands, self-determination without foreign interference, protection of culture and language, genuine democratic government, and genuine peace. All of these rights asserted in the 1976 Algier’s Charter (the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples) are routinely overlooked by human rights frameworks of the Global North, which instead prioritize individual entitlements such as access to private property and rights of commercial interests over the people’s collective rights. 

ICHRP’s Philippine Solidarity Week teach-in will explore these people’s rights topics in more detail. The event will be open to the public at the Columbia Branch of The Seattle Public Library and can also be streamed online to registered guests on Monday, Feb. 6, at 6:30 p.m. 

The Beacon Cinema will also be hosting a screening of Steven De Castro’s 2017 film Revolution Selfie on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 5 p.m. The film is a frank depiction of the poverty, political oppression, and landlessness crisis that has sparked the current revolutionary struggle in the Philippines — one of the world’s longest ongoing struggles for national liberation.

Learn more about and endorse the Philippine Human Rights Act, individuals and organizations can visit To learn more about the work of local Filipino organizations, visit the Instagram accounts and websites of Malaya Seattle (@malaya.seattle /, ICHRP Seattle (@ichrp.seattle /, and Kabataan Alliance Seattle (@kabataanalliancewa /

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The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

📸 Featured Image: Photo by Santino Quintero/

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