Iris Cecilia Gonzales
is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic
news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories
here and there. She has been blogging
since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human
rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging
competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism
Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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Iris Cecilia Gonzales
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Filipinos protest against Duterte’s martial law

President Duterte’s face slowly disappeared in flames – bright, crimson, intense flames fuelled by anger and rage from Filipino protesters.

On 21 September, the 45th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Filipinos went to the streets to protest what they say is Duterte’s tyrannical rule. Outside the presidential palace, protesters burned an effigy of Duterte.

They called it the Rody’s Cube, which mimicked the popular 3D combination puzzle Rubik’s Cube. The 10-foot effigy depicted the ‘different faces’ of Duterte, now described by human rights groups such as Karapatan and the Human Rights Watch as an authoritarian leader, in the image of Marcos.

The effigy could be matched to the images of the Marcos family, German dictator Adolf Hitler, and a puppet – reflecting how many in the country now see the president.

It was a clear symbol of indignation against mounting issues under Duterte’s rule, including alleged abuses under martial law in Mindanao and the rising number of deaths due to the Duterte administration’s controversial war on drugs.

Effigies are nothing new in the Philippines but mark a turning point in Duterte’s government. During Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, demonstrators, for the first time in 15 years, did not burn any effigy.

In fact, the left-wing National Democratic Front (NDF) led by exiled founder Jose Maria Sison forged an alliance with the Duterte administration last year. Duterte appointed some key players from Left to join his Cabinet, but they were later turned down by the powerful Commission on Appointments, composed of Senators and Congressmen.

Waves of protest

The 21 September protests came just days after Duterte’s Defence Secretary said the president may declare martial law across the entire country.

Every president has had his or her dose of protests from the public, especially left-wing campaigners. The issues range from perennial to new : higher wages, poverty, corruption and cronyism.

But in the case of Duterte, outcry is mounting to both left and right – and he doesn’t seem to care. For instance, Duterte has remained firm and has vowed to continue his controversial war on drugs — now estimated to have resulted in roughly 13,000 deaths.

His authoritarian tendencies are increasingly being seen. Last year, he allowed Marcos to finally be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, rubbing salt on the wounds of the tens of thousands of human rights victims during the 20-year dictatorial rule. To this day, not a single member of the Marcos family or their cronies have been brought to justice.

‘The [parallels] between the Marcos and the Duterte regimes are becoming more pronounced, as the latter not only aids the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses, but also employs the same fascist tactics and anti-people policies of the US-Marcos dictatorship, including threats to impose a nationwide martial rule,’ says Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of Karapatan, an umbrella organization of human rights groups.

‘Duterte and his security cluster have used narratives and tactics straight out of Marcos’s playbook of repression, repeating and justifying rights violations, with increasing frequency and intensity.’

Duterte’s declaration of martial law on the entire Mindanao also remains questionable – the ongoing war against Maute military in Marawi City in the southern Philippines has now remained unresolved for more than three months.

His son Paolo, vice-mayor of Davao, the second most populous city in the Philippines, located on Mindandao island, has been denounced by witnesses as involved in the smuggling of some $400 million worth of shabu – methamphetamine – into the country.

The activist blogger Tonyo Cruz thinks the waves of protests could trigger the beginning of the end for the Duterte administration.‘The public is starting to see the truth’, says Cruz. ‘The all-powerful Duterte can order killings, demand due process for his son, level Marawi to the ground, have a threesome with the US, China and Russia, give oligarchs what they want, consider the corrupt Congress as allies and so on. He is all powerful but he can’t do good for the Filipino people, except for a few palliatives that could be easily taken away.’

‘Tyrants and would-be tyrants could not have chosen a worse foe than the Filipino. Marcos made that mistake and it is not anybody else’s fault but Duterte’s that he has apparently made the wrong choice.

‘Only time can tell if we will come again to that point, and when,’ Cruz said.

High ratings

But some analysts believe Duterte’s popularity remains strong. Duterte had 16 million votes in last year’s Presidential elections – the highest number in the Country’s history.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, says the protests are just a function of democracy and not a threat to the government.

Astro del Castillo, also an analyst, agrees.‘Protests like this happen to all administrations’ he said in an interview. ‘It’s democracy. What can be better gauge is looking at the pulse of the surveys, and there’s business confidence.’,’

Del Castillo said the there isn’t a risk that these protests will lead to a revolution, but they could add to the political noise.

‘These are not even risks but just bumps on the road,’ he said..’

Duterte’s recent trust ratings also show high ratings. According to Pulse Asia Research’s June 2017 survey Duterte is enjoying a majority approval score for his performance – 82 per cent nationwide – a four-percentage-point rise from his 78 per cent rating in the March 2017 survey.

But despite his high ratings, Duterte and his supporters can’t pop the champagne bottles just yet.

As blogger Cruz said, Filipinos don’t like tyrants and successfully fought Marcos, the worse tyrant the country has ever had. Duterte, unless he changes his ways, may suffer the same fate.

As human rights victims often tell the Marcoses, ‘never again!’

The story of Kian

The killing of Kian, 17, in the Philippines war on drugs. Extrajudicial killing
Protest against the Philippine war on drugs at the Philippines Consulate General in New York City. By Flickr user VOCAL-NY

Church bells rang at exactly 8pm and will ring again tomorrow night, and every other night thereafter. And at 8:24pm, every night, there will be a minute of silence.

It was at that hour that Kian Loyd Delos Santos, 17, a grade 11 student, was last seen alive before policemen killed him in a drug operation in Caloocan City, in the northeastern part of Metropolitan Manila.

A CCTV footage showed Delos Santos was dragged by two men at 8:24 on 16 Wednesday last week before he was found dead.

He was among the 82 people killed by police on the night of 16 August, and is among the more than 7,000 victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, according to Human Rights Watch. The extrajudicial killings started when President Duterte launched a war on drugs last year.

It has been bloody, with bodies after bodies strewn grotesquely in the streets of Metro Manila almost every night.

Authorities tell the same story over and over – the victims fought back and so they had to shoot them; but families and relatives of victims say otherwise.

In the case of Kian, at least four eyewitnesses said the 11th grader and son of an overseas Filipino worker who supported President Duterte was murdered. He was given a gun and was told to run, witnesses said.

The autopsy results support this theory. He was shot at the back three times, with no indications that he fought back.

Caloocan City Bishop Pablo David condemned the killing.

‘I don’t believe the police story that Kian Loyd, the grade 11 boy, died because he fought back and engaged three policemen in a shootout using a caliber 45,’ he said in an interview published by The Philippine Star.

‘The CCTV footage showed he was already in their custody. How could he fight back? I am therefore glad that the mayor took the initiative to come up with an independent investigation,’ David also said.

On a rainy Monday night on 21 August 2017, people went out to the People Power Monument in Quezon City to condemn the death of Kian and others before him.

The rally coincided with the 34th death anniversary of former senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr, a man who stood against the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Human rights group Hustisya (Justice) said the Philippines has become a nation of orphans and grieving parents because of Duterte’s drug war in the country.

‘We call for justice for Kian Loyd delos Santos, the 32 persons killed in Bulacan, and the almost every hour killing in the poor communities of Metro Manila. There should not be an ounce of doubt that we call for justice, whether they be involved in drugs or not,’ said Evangeline Hernandez, chairperson of Hustisya.

Hernandez called on the people to be vigilant, and ‘not wait until nothing’s left but the drug lords and the powerful who reign on the impunity and injustice against thousands.’

‘We call on the people not to fear to call to stop the killings. Let us hear the cries of the children, the parents who bury their children. The everyday murders have silenced thousands,’ she said.

Like the others before him, Kian too cried for his life. He was 17 years old.

Civil war, mental illness, poverty, gang violence: the many roots of homelessness

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© Iris Gonzales

Philippines

Maria Precilda met her partner Marvin Bueta in 2014. It was love at first sight. Now a young mother, she lives with her family in one room in a Manila slum.

I was working as a cook for a middle-class family in a city to the east of Manila.

I had left my hometown in the southern province of Leyte to find a job. We didn’t have a lot of money so I had to stop school to support my parents and two siblings.

And then I met Marvin. He was a construction worker across the street from where I worked. He took my breath away. I got pregnant and had to stop my job as a cook. Marvin brought me to his parents in Bicol, a province in the south. I couldn’t go home because I was afraid to tell my parents I was pregnant. I was only 21.

He had to go back to Manila to earn a living while I stayed with his family in their village. There were more than 10 of us who shared a cramped space. I slept in the living room; all the time my belly was growing.

After I had the baby Marvin and I needed to find our own place. We did not know where to start. We stayed with Marvin’s brother and his family in a slum area in Manila for two months. It was another cramped space. And again we slept in the living room. Sometimes our baby cried and woke up the whole household. It was difficult, not good for anyone.

Finally, we had to move. We found a room for rent in the nearby block. It cost $50 a month. It’s expensive and eats a huge chunk of Marvin’s monthly income of $119. I can’t work yet because I have to take care of our baby, Mark. So this is our home for now.

Interview by Iris Gonzales.

Britain

Amanda Dunn lives in Luton just outside London. The 47-year-old mother of three lost her job at a local airport and was evicted when she couldn’t pay the rent. She’s been in a B&B for the past 6 months with her 13-year-old twin daughters.

Shelter

I lived in a two-bed flat. One of the bedrooms I had to shut off because of the damp. Central heating wasn’t working or the cooker. Eventually I called the council. They served the landlord notice to repair it. At this point I refused to pay the rent – I told him ‘You’ve got to come and fix the heating’ – he refused. So it ended up in court. I got evicted and then we were put here.

I had to apply for housing benefit which took forever. When the woman from the council came she said, ‘There’s an eight to nine year waiting list for council properties here in Luton... Your best option is to start looking further north.’

My daughter Katie is just like a stick. She gets stuffed with takeaways every night but the dietician said it’s not the sort of food she should be having. And there have been a couple of instances at school where Rachel has shouted at teachers. They understand though – it’s not like Rachel at all to lose it.

My own mental and emotional health has got worse. I just cry. All the time. I can’t sleep without sleeping tablets.

We looked at a place by the airport. The man was happy with me being on benefits, the woman called me scum.

I want nothing more than to get a job. I’ve always worked – but you go to these interviews and they look at your address and ask: ‘Why are you in a hotel?’

Original interview provided by Shelter. Edited by Amy Hall.

US

Derek Chartrand Wallace lives in Berkeley, California. He is a 37-year-old, full-time college student surviving on financial aid.

A few semesters ago I experienced serious mental trauma including crippling social anxiety, depression and insomnia. I’d never been through anything like that before and was totally unprepared for the effects on my home life, friendships and studies. I couldn’t afford a therapist which meant I had to struggle on my own. I’ve only recently started to get my life back together.

Nithin Coca

In the interim my marks suffered which meant that the financial aid I rely on was put on hold. I couldn’t afford the room I was renting so I had to put my stuff in storage and start staying with friends and co-workers. That gets old fast so this year I’ve often been on the street, sleeping in abandoned buildings, construction sites, even in empty trucks.

Lately I have been using my storage space as a safe house at night. But it is against the rules so who knows how long I can keep that up? Dodging police is always a thrill a minute and being ‘homeless under cover’ has felt a lot like being a superhero with a secret identity.

Homeless shelters here are on a needs basis so the elderly, disabled, women and children have first priority over able-bodied males like me. I applied for Food Stamps [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] but was rejected for being a full-time student on financial aid (even though it is on hold). But there is a lottery for low/no-income dwellings through the County Housing Authority and I’m going to apply for that.

Interview by Nithin Coca.

Mexico

Threatened by gang violence, Osman Rivera, fled his home in Honduras. The 48-year-old father narrowly escaped kidnapping as he travelled north to Mexico.

Tamara Pearson

I’ve been working for 30 years painting cars. But the pandillas (gangs) charge what’s called a ‘war tax’. If you don’t pay, they kill you or your family. I was making only enough to cover costs and pay the tax.

I left on 13 December 2016. I crossed the Guatemala border, then travelled to Mexico. After that I took a combi (van-bus) with six other migrants and two Mexicans. After one of the Mexicans got off, a black combi without number plates began to follow us. It was late and the black combi kept trailing us. I was suspicious.

When our bus stopped to allow the other Mexican to leave, I jumped out too. The road was on the edge of a steep hill and I rolled down. The others were kidnapped [migrants are robbed and held to extort money from their families]. Armed men used lights to look for me. I stayed in a ditch filled with water. I waited six hours, then at midnight made my way to the road. A man on a bike told me the immigration police were near so I went into the forest and kept walking. Eventually I got a lift. I arrived in Mexico City on 30 December.

At the moment I’m staying in the Tochan migrant refuge. I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the common room, because all the rooms are full. My plan is to legalize my stay here and eventually go to Baja California to start a car painting shop. I want to help my family. I have a seven-year-old boy and I want to give him a future.

Interview by Tamara Pearson.

Mr Tough

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‘Forget the laws on human rights,’ said President Duterte, when he promised to liquidate drug dealers. © Erik De Castro/Reuters

There was a time, not too long ago, when no outsider dared enter Barangay178 in Pasay City in the southern part of Metro Manila.

With a reputation for the most chilling criminality, this slum district was considered a place teeming with the maddest of men, driven to desperation by drugs.

Because of them, the filthy, dark and maze-like neighbourhood was a mess, says 31-year-old Jomalene Mabag, a long-time resident. ‘But not any more,’ she attests. Not since president Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking former mayor of Davao City, became the country’s 16th president, she says.

The 72-year-old hardman won on a campaign promise to bring about change in a country of more than 100 million people, whose economy is controlled by a wealthy few.

Many who voted for him belonged to the estimated 25 million Filipinos who live on less than a dollar a day – and are tired of the elitist political class that has ruled the country for decades. His mantra during his campaign, ‘Change is coming to the Philippines’, was a powerful battle cry, earning him 16 million votes, the highest in the country’s history. In percentage terms this is 38.5 per cent, but the Philippines’ electoral system hands victory to the candidate who polls the highest rather than requiring an overall majority.

He vowed to eradicate corruption, crime and drugs, which he believes would alleviate poverty. Duterte also promised to raise minimum wages and pensions, destroy the country’s oligarchs, spread wealth to the countryside and put an end to labour contracting.

From the Philippine capital of Manila to his province in Davao in the south, the masses came in throngs to hear him speak.

It didn’t matter to them that he joked about the rape of a 36-year-old Australian missionary in the Philippines, saying that he should have been first in line instead of the perpetrators; that he called Pope Francis the son of a whore for exacerbating the traffic in Manila when he visited in 2015; or that he has bragged about his womanizing. Duterte, when he was still campaigning, publicly praised Viagra, saying that he cannot imagine life without it.

While the elite and the educated cringed at Duterte’s rape jokes and profanities, the masses applauded him at the end of every speech.

A new religion is sweeping this desperate nation and the messiah is Duterte. Jeepneys and commuter vans have stickers of his nickname, ‘Du30’, plastered all over; and children join their parents in cheering that man from Davao.

Promises, promises

But, months into his office, many of his campaign promises are still just that – mere promises.

For instance, he vowed to raise workers’ wages but employers raised hell over the plan and soon after, Duterte’s economic managers said the proposal was not feasible, as it would raise inflation.

He also promised to end labour contracting so that workers would have security of tenure. But he first allowed himself to be lobbied by the country’s business elite who argued against any such move at a three-hour-long exclusive dinner held at the Presidential Palace on 19 January. Duterte promised a win-win solution to the entrepreneurs. So much for destroying the oligarchs and spreading the country’s wealth.

Duterte also promised to raise the pensions of private-sector employees, vowing to have this in place in his first six months in office, capitalizing on the public rage against his predecessor, former president Benigno Aquino III, who had vetoed the measure.

But he soon realized that the pension hike would be costly for the government. As such, while he approved a minimal increase, he also required a corresponding hike in members’ contributions.

Despite the unfulfilled promises, Duterte’s supporters remain diehard. According to surveys conducted in December 2016, he was basking in trust ratings of 83 per cent.

‘We have to give him more time [to fulfil his promises] but at the end of the day, we already have a showcase, which is Davao,’ says Astro del Castillo, a veteran stock market analyst, referring to the peace and order that Duterte’s leadership in Davao brought to the province.

All-out war

One promise Duterte has fulfilled is in waging an anti-drugs war, mostly in slum areas, which has resulted in nothing but warrantless arrests and deaths of poor people.

To date, authorities have not caught any big fish from the wealthy drug syndicates.

Official data from the Philippine National Police showed that as of 4 January 2017, a total of 2,174 drugs suspects had been killed in police operations, while a further 4,000 were killed by vigilantes – most victims were impoverished Filipinos.

But still Mabag, who has two little girls and fears the criminality associated with drug addiction, swears that the neighbourhood in which she has lived for the past 14 years is now finally enjoying some peace and quiet, and Duterte is to thank for that.

‘These drug addicts – they must learn their lessons,’ says Jun Rako, a construction worker from the province of Masbate in the Visayas region, where drugs are also rampant. Like many, he is little concerned by the human rights issues and the disturbing environment of impunity.

A new religion is sweeping this desperate nation and the messiah is Duterte

Support also comes from some prominent names, including Mocha Uson, a popular social media personality, model and singer who deflects the blame for the killings. ‘Why is it that there are numerous news reports about the extra-judicial killings issue but there seems to be a scarcity when it comes to the possible involvement of drug syndicates and narco-politicians in these killings to protect themselves?’ wrote Uson in a 27 December column in the Philippine Star.

But for the victims of this war and the loved ones they have left behind, Duterte is a nightmare and a curse.

Harra Kazuo was eight months pregnant with her second child when her husband Jaypee Bertes was killed by police officers in July. In August, she faced a Senate panel investigating Duterte’s anti-drug war and testified that police officers killed her husband and his father Renato, when they were brought to a nearby police station. They were beaten up before they were killed, she says.

Another victim was a boy, just six years old, killed in his sleep in his makeshift home in Pasay last December, just a few days before Christmas. His mother, Elizabeth Navarro, says vigilantes knocked on their door and before she realized what was happening, her husband Domingo and their son Francis had been shot dead.

Duterte vehemently denies that his administration is behind extra-judicial killings but no-one can forget his comments during a press conference in October: ‘Hitler massacred three million Jews [sic]... there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.’

Indeed, there seems to be an ‘open season’ for killing anyone suspected of being involved in drugs.

Fond hopes that die: Angelo Lafuente’s mother visits his grave. His body, riddled with bullets and covered in torture marks, was found by a filthy river that feeds into the Manila bay. She blames the police for his death.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The bloodied victims of vigilante-style killings are usually found with packaging tape wrapped around their faces and cardboard placards with messages meant to warn the public: ‘We are drug pushers, do not be like us.’ There is no interest in pursuing the perpetrators.

Similar killings marked President Duterte’s 20-year stint as mayor of Davao. Many believe that it was Duterte himself who roamed the streets of Davao to kill the suspected criminals.

‘In the name of wiping out “drug crime”, President Duterte has steamrolled human rights protections and elevated unlawful killings of criminal suspects to a cornerstone of government policy,’ says Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The war against drugs is a Band Aid solution to a situation where people turn to drugs to forget about their hunger and desperate situations, or simply to eke out a living.

It misses the point and creates bigger problems than it claims to solve, says the Stop the Killings Network, a group of NGOs seeking an end to extra-judicial killings.

‘Poverty must end, not the lives of the poor,’ it says.

Duterte is impervious to criticisms against his violent war on drugs and has publicly attacked the Catholic Church for criticizing his campaign, saying that the institution has done nothing to address the country’s drug problem. Telling of Duterte’s fascist ways are his threats to declare martial law in the country if it becomes necessary to wipe out the drug menace.

Meanwhile, the all-out war continues. The killings go on; gunshots are heard, mostly in slum dwellings in the dead of night; and in the morning when the sun rises, the bodies pile up.

Iris C Gonzales is a Manila-based journalist. irisgonzales.blogspot.com

Marcos' secret burial: not what Philippine heroes are made of

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A protest against the burial of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos at Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, 18 November 2016. Jeffrey Pioquinto under a Creative Commons Licence

Iris Gonzalez reflects on the dictator's legacy and recent burial.

The sound of cannons boomed in the distance. Under the yellow noonday sun, a widow in black weeped as soldiers in crisp white uniform secretly buried the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the National Heroes’ Cemetery. White anthurium’s adorned the dark brown casket and a Philippine flag covered it as it was lowered to the ground. This was the scene at last month's ceremony.

It was a ceremony fit for a hero and it was a place where real heroes including national artists and former presidents are resting in peace. 

But nobody except Marcos’ family and supporters wanted him there.  

Still they insisted and like a thief in the night, the secret burial took place at exactly 12 noon on November 18, leaving the nation in absolute shock and resulting in widespread protests across the country.  His remains, which were preserved in his home province in Ilocos Norte for nearly three decades were brought to the heroes’ cemetery by a military chopper. 

It’s not how real heroes should be buried. On this day, people wore black, students left their classes and schools draped their walls with posters of protests. It was not to mourn the death of Marcos but to mourn the desecration of the memory of heroes. 

It was cunning to say the least because for decades, the public protested the family’s wish for Marcos to be buried in the heroes’ cemetery. And rightly so. He was after all the man who declared martial law so that he could stay in power. 

And his 20-year dictatorial rule left tens of thousands of human rights abuse victims until he was overthrown in a historic People Power Revolution in 1986. 

Marcos is no hero. It’s as simple as that. 

But President Rodrigo Duterte, whose father worked as a member of the Marcos Cabinet, allowed the burial despite widespread protests.   

I felt a pang of deep profound sadness and guilt. 

I wondered – how could I even explain to my nine-year old daughter that the country’s only dictator, he who committed human rights abuses during his 20-year reign and who plundered the country’s resources, had been buried in a place that belonged to heroes. 

Marcos, said his supporters, was a brilliant man and to this day, some of the hospitals and cultural icons built during his term still stand. 

But the more than 10,000 human rights victims that suffered under his 20-year military rule are testimonies of his administration’s dark side. Whatever accomplishments he made have all been negated by these abuses committed by the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary, a military unit with police powers. 

He committed grave abuse of power just so he could stay in power longer. Stories of cronyism, extravagance and corruption abounded throughout his term. He was elected president in 1965 and ruled under martial law from 1972 to 1981. 

It was one of the darkest periods in the history of the Philippines.

The stories of abuses are varied as they are endless. They are all painful and brutal. The women were sexually molested, if not raped. The men were tortured and some disappeared for good, never to be found again. 

There is the story of Marie Hilao Enriquez, head of human rights group Karapatan. As an activist, she experienced abuse under the military and her older sister Liliosa, a student journalist, was the first woman killed during the martial law era.

Witnesses said Lily was tortured, forced to take muriatic acid and was raped by her captors. 

After her sister died, Marie went to the countryside to continue her work as an activist but was later arrested and suffered psychologically because of heavy interrogation by the military. 

Marie's and Lily's stories are just among the many tales of brutality during the Marcos era.

There are many other stories of human rights abuses, torture, media repression and grave abuse of power. 

And finally, Marcos was ousted from power through the 1986 People Power Revolution. 

Now, that’s definitely not what heroes are made of. Indeed, he is no hero. He was a dictator and always will be.

Duterte likening himself to Hitler makes me ashamed, too

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Presidential candidate Rodrigo 'Digong' Duterte talks to the media before casting his vote at a polling precinct for national elections at Daniel Aguinaldo National High School in Davao city in southern Philippines, 9 May 2016. © Reuters/Erik De Castro

I still remember the visit I made to a former concentration camp in the Czech Republic many, many years ago.

It taught me that it really was unimaginable to live during the Holocaust years. I saw blood stained clothes, barbed wires that prevented prisoners from escaping. And letters to home, wherever home was. There's so much pain one can only imagine. But to the millions of Jews, the pain was real.

Coming from the Philippines, the Holocaust was a period in history far from my consciousness, but its ghosts echo far across the globe, even to East Asia, until now.

I’ve read about it and grew up hearing about Hitler’s atrocities. I watched Schindler’s List and Shining Through. I read Anne Frank’s Diary and even visited her house in Amsterdam.

It was all over indeed and it was hell on earth.

And so I am deeply, profoundly ashamed when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte likened himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Worldbeaters profile:
Rodrigo Duterte

Thumbnail for story:

The president of the Philippines he may be, but his reputation is as a Dirty Harry of vigilante politics.

Read more...

He has apologized a day after he said it following a global backlash from Jewish communities, human rights organizations and the German government.

I can imagine that for many Jewish communities around the world, the damage has been done even with the apology.

‘Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there is three million, there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them,’ Duterte said in a recent speech.

Duterte was wrong. At least six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust.

He compared his campaign against suspected drug peddlers and criminals with Hitler's murder of Jews.

As the country’s 16th President, Duterte won the elections on an aggressive anti-crime platform.

He warned that it would be bloody and it has been exactly as he said it would be.

As of this writing, more than 3,000 people have died in police operations and vigilante style killings since he became president.


In a community in Quezon City, one evening in September, a team of police killed an alleged drug pusher as part of its anti-drug campaign. The crowd in the slum community look on as the police take the lifeless body to the morgue for an autopsy. Photo by Iris Gonzales

His 20 year reign as mayor of Davao also saw the rise of vigilante groups.

Duterte indeed has no qualms espousing violence.

But Jewish groups all over the globe and human rights groups said his comments during his recent speech went way too far.

‘What President Duterte said is not only profoundly inhumane, but it demonstrates an appalling disrespect for human life,’ the World Jewish Congress said.

After a worldwide backlash, Duterte and his spokespersons scrambled to control the damage, blaming the media for twisting the president’s words.

But there’s no mistaking it.

The video record proved that indeed Duterte likened himself to the Nazi dictator Hitler and did not contrast himself.

He said he was ready to kill three million drug addicts.

At first, he started by decrying criticisms that portrayed him as Hitler-like.

‘You’re portrayed or pictured to be some … a cousin of Hitler,’ Duterte said, referring to his critics.

But in the same breath, he embraced the comparison.

‘At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have, you know [pointing to himself]. My victims, I would like to be, all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition,’ Duterte said.

Clearly, there was no mistaking it.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments referencing Hitler and the Holocaust are on their face obscene. 

‘But the lesson of the first three months of Duterte’s presidency is that we should not underestimate the impact of his statements on police and others with firearms to lawlessly slaughter their fellow Filipinos without fear of arrest,’ said Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director of HRW. 

Similarly, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, expressed alarm at Duterte's comments in which he reinforced a campaign to kill millions of drug addicts in the Philippines and compared it to the massacre of millions of Jews by Hitler during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany during World War II.

Dieng qualified the statement as deeply disrespectful of the right to life of all human beings.  ‘The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods of the history of humankind and that any glorification of the cruel and criminal acts committed by those responsible was unacceptable and offensive,’ he said.

He added that such statement was also undermining the efforts of the international community to develop strategies to prevent the recurrence of those crimes, to which all countries around the world should be committed to.

Local Philippine broadsheet The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in an editorial also said there’s absolutely no justification for the president’s outrageous statement.

‘This genocide, often described as the worst crime against humanity, is not something to be emulated, or to be used as a benchmark. No self-respecting country or government should measure itself against the systematic mass murder of an entire people,’ the Inquirer said.

Indeed, there's no justification at all.

President Duterte has apologized but the damage has been done. I am ashamed and sorry, too, that this had to happen.

Duterte’s drug war threatens Philippine democracy

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared an all out war against people in the drug trade. There are already at least 2,400 drug-related deaths according to police. In a community in Quezon City on evening of September, a team of police killed an alleged drug pusher as part of its anti-drug campaign. Here, they take the lifeless body to the morgue for an autopsy. © Iris Gonzales

She heard a neighbor shouting her name. ‘Lucy, Lucy, your son!’

It was around 10 in the evening on Victory Avenue, a narrow alley where people live in makeshift homes, shanties of recycled wood and scraps of metal. It is one of many densely populated slum areas in Quezon City.

Here, the men and women survive on odd jobs – a small time contract today, none tomorrow, a day's minimum wage for a month's work or what-have-you. Yet, people take it, because they usually have no other choice.

Lucy dela Rosa’s son, 32-year-old JJ is no exception. He used to sell second hand car parts, mostly stolen side mirrors.

But Lucy said his son needed to earn more to feed his five children.

And so he sold drugs. He started just two months ago. Lucy warned him to find another way. She warned him many times but he wouldn’t listen.

On 1 September, just as she was about to sleep, Lucy heard her neighbour scream.

She rushed outside. JJ, her eldest of five children is dead, gunned down by the police.

He tried to escape and he fought back with a .45-caliber pistol, said police superintendent Christian Ventura dela Cruz, who headed the team that went to JJ’s community for an anti-drug operation that night.

JJ had been on the list a long time, dela Cruz said.

‘He fought back. He had a gun. It was a 45,’ he narrated.

The police tried to arrest him on the streets but he ran and fired at them. He was killed in a neighbour’s house where he tried to hide, a few meters away from the borrowed room where he lived with his mother and children.

A crowd of onlookers had gathered after the shooting incident but nobody wanted to say anything.

A neighbour, a lanky aging woman with protruding shoulders and a cigarette on her hand, does not believe JJ owned a gun, much less shot people.

‘He didn’t seem the type. He was kind and cordial, and funny, especially to the children,’ said the woman.

Lucy rushed to where her son was but the area was already cordoned off.

‘I was told by the police I could not go,’ said Lucy.

It was only when the men from the funeral parlor came three hours later that Lucy was able to see her son, now wrapped in a blue body bag and face covered with blood.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who was catapulted to power on 30 June with 16 million votes, a historic high in Philippine presidential elections, has launched an all-out war against drugs.

There are 3.7 million drug users in the Philippines, about three per cent of the country’s 100 million people but Duterte said the problem is in ‘epidemic proportions’.

‘During my inauguration last 30 June, I said that the fight against criminality and illegal drugs and corruption would be relentless and sustained,’ Duterte declared during his first State of the Nation Address in July.

‘I reiterate that commitment today. And that is why I call on the Philippine National Police, the barangay chairmen, the Mayors, and Governors and all those occupying seats of power and authority, not to lower their guard. There will be no let-up in this campaign. Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.’

The number of deaths as a result of the campaign, however, is stark and telling.

Photo Gallery: visualizing Philippine democracy through UN SDGs

IDD-Philippines-1-590.JPG [Related Image]
A 26-year-old alleged party drug dealer, selling drugs such as Ecstasy and Valium, is caught in the act during a buy-bust operation. View the full photo gallery for this report. © Iris Gonzales

As of this writing, the number of drug offenders killed has reached nearly 3,000, according to the Philippine National Police.

Of this, at least 1,466 suspected drug offenders were killed in the government’s ‘Double-Barrel’ strategy against illegal drugs since President Duterte assumed office on 30 June.

Like double-barreled shotguns firing shots from both barrels, the government’s campaign focuses on big time pushers and small time drug sellers.

There’s a barrel that will target from above, the high-value targets. And there’s a barrel that will target from below, the street-level personalities, the police explained.

Aside from the 1,466 suspected drug offenders, there are 1,490 killed by suspected vigilante groups, which the police classified under ‘deaths under investigation’.

The victims usually have cardboard signs hanging on their bodies with handwritten messages that serve as a warning to others: ‘We are drug pushers, do not be like us.’

‘The number of [police] operations conducted since the launching of [operation] Double-Barrel has already reached 17,389, resulting in the deaths of 1,466 drug personalities and the arrest of 16,025 drug suspects,’ senior superintendent Dionardo Carlos, the police force’s spokesperson, said on 10 September.

He claimed that all suspects who were killed fought it out with the police.

The Malacanang, the residence and workplace of the president, has washed its hands of these vigilante type deaths, saying that these were no cause for concern.

But human rights groups are holding the Duterte administration accountable.

‘If I become president, it will be bloody because we’ll order the killing of all criminals'

Duterte, a former prosecutor and mayor of Davao City, promised to end criminal behavior and warned during his campaign that there would be blood on the streets if he won.

‘If I become president, it will be bloody because we'll order the killing of all criminals, the drug addicts and the drug lords,’ Duterte said in February, two months before he was elected as president in May.

His 20-year stretch as mayor also saw the rise of vigilante groups, with many believing that it was Duterte himself who formed the so-called ‘Davao Death Squad’, the infamous vigilante group in the province to end criminality.

An urban legend of the Davao elderly, repeated only in hushed whispers, says that during Duterte's time as mayor, he would roam the streets of the province on a motorcycle just before the break of dawn to kill criminals.

Indeed, the rising body count since the mayor-turned-president took office last June has shocked the world.

US President Barack Obama has said the campaign against illegal drugs must be within the bounds of the law, while the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killings are indeed alarming.

‘Duterte is steamrolling the rule of law and its advocates both at home and abroad.

He has declared the soaring number of killings of alleged criminal suspects as proof of the “success” of his anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum,”’ said Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

A consortium of more than 300 organizations, the International Drug Control Consortium, also urged the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board to help put a stop on the drug-related killings in the Philippines.

They called on the two international bodies to assert that President Duterte’s actions to incite these extrajudicial killings cannot be justified as being in line with global drug control.

All measures taken to control drugs in the Philippines must be grounded in international law, the consortium said.

‘Poverty must be ended, not the lives of the poor’

They also want the two influential bodies to convince Duterte to uphold the rule of law and ensure that the right to due process and a fair trial is guaranteed to all people suspected of committing drug-related crimes.

Back in the Philippines, local organizations have also raised their concerns on the so-called ‘cardboard justice’, referring to the vigilante-style killings of men in bonnets or masks.

The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, a group of student activists has called on the president to tackle the rising incidence of these summary executions in the country.

More importantly, President Duterte should address the root of the problem, which is poverty, according to the Stop the Killings Network, a group of non-government organizations seeking an end to the extrajudicial killings.

‘We are one with the people who want an end to the drug menace in the country. But no amount of killing is bound to end this problem,’ the coalition said in a manifesto.

It said that the most effective way to solve the drug menace is to address the socio-economic roots of this problem.

‘The Duterte administration has yet to produce jobs, end contractual work, improve social services, provide free or affordable decent homes to the homeless and informal settlers and distribute land to the tiller-farmers, to make the majority poor Filipinos productive and positive contributors to nation-building,’ it said.

‘Poverty must be ended, not the lives of the poor,’ the group added.

Indeed, most of the drug peddlers that were killed came from slum areas and poor communities, who were just too desperate to eke out a living.

The Philippine economy has been growing steadily but it has not been enough to trickle down to the poorest of the poor.

A quarter of the country’s 100 million population still lives below the poverty threshold, surviving on roughly a dollar a day.

But President Duterte would hear no criticism when it comes to the war on drugs.

He also seems to have his way with the law.

While he promised that he would do everything within the bounds of the Constitution, some fear that there may be signs that Martial Law, which the Philippines experienced for 20 years, may be coming back.

For instance, when a bomb exploded in President Duterte’s hometown of Davao on 2 September and caused at least 14 deaths, he immediately declared a State of Lawlessness, a chilling pronouncement especially to human rights victims during the military rule.

‘It’s an assault. It means you have a weak system. It means that you do not trust your own system'

But for Rolando Tolentino, former Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, it may be too early to call it the return of military rule.

‘For the most part, the Lawlessness declaration, its main thrust is for the police to mobilize the army but we do not get that at this time. It’s really more police visibility, and to a large extent, more courteous police visibility,” Tolentino said.

But he believes that the Duterte administration’s war on drugs is indeed a threat to democracy, which the country started to enjoy again in 1986, only after Martial Law ended.

‘It’s an assault. It means you have a weak system. It means that you do not trust your own system – justice, penal system, police – that you would resort to short cut procedures or more short-term kind of resolutions rather than strengthening the laws or arrest procedures, and gathering enough evidence to really convict people,’ Tolentino said.

But it is a war that Duterte believes in. He is protecting his country, said the 71-year-old tough-talking president.

‘We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish,’ he said.

It is a message he likes to repeat every chance he gets.

In the meantime, in the stillest of hours and in Manila’s darkest of streets, slum dwellers will hear a gunfire – one, two or three shots. They will know in that instant that a neighbor has died. The men in bonnets are around. Or maybe, the police have come.

Photo Gallery: visualizing Philippine democracy through UN SDGs

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Manila, capital city of the Philippines. © Iris Gonzales

Today is the International Day of Democracy. UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 addresses democracy by calling for inclusive and participatory societies and institutions. It aims to ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.’ The goal provides a measure for all countries to live up to. As part of our special feature, this photo gallery offers a glimpse into how the Philippines is measuring up to these goals. All photos by Iris Gonzales.

Corruption

Traffic in Metro Manila has worsened in recent years, prompting novelist Dan Brown to depict it in his book Inferno as the Gates of Hell. It is estimated that the traffic costs $57 million a day in potential income. Corruption in road construction, which has caused poor quality road and highways and the delay in the bidding of new trains has been among the major reasons for the traffic.

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

Poverty

The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, has a population of more than 100 million. About a quarter of the population, however, live below the poverty threshold or around a dollar a day. Many take odd jobs to survive, selling food, vegetables or bootleg shoes and clothes on the streets. Many of these people are also homeless, sleeping in makeshift slums or even just in the streets. They are proof that economic growth – 6.9 per cent in the first half of the year from 5.5 per cent previously – has not been inclusive. The population continues to grow because the Catholic Church has always stood strong against contraceptives.

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

Drug war

President Duterte has declared an all out war against people in the drug trade. There are already at least 2,400 drug-related deaths according to police. In a community in Quezon City, one evening in September, a team of police killed an alleged drug pusher as part of its anti-drug campaign. The crowd in the slum community look on as the police take the lifeless body to the morgue for an autopsy.

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

Below, a 26-year-old alleged party drug dealer, selling drugs such as Ecstasy and Valium, is caught in the act during a buy-bust operation.

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

© Photos by Iris Gonzales

Philippines’ war on drugs is ‘steamrolling the rule of law’

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Family members of people alleged by police as drug pushers and were killed during an illegal drugs 'meth raid', wear masks during a Senate hearing regarding people killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August, 2016. © REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Harra Kazuo, 26-years-old, is seven months pregnant with her second child. Her eldest is only two-years-old.

This early, the young Kazuo knows that she and her children face an uncertain future because her husband Jaypee Bertes, 28-years-old, was killed by police officers last month as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s all out war against drugs.

Jaypee and his father, Renato, 48, are among more than 1,900 people killed because of their alleged involvement in drugs since President Duterte took office seven weeks ago.

Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Ronald dela Rosa testifies regarding people killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs, at a Senate hearing in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August 2016.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The United Nations, militant groups and human rights organizations have expressed concern on the wave of extra judicial killings, which have been linked to vigilantes, groups that also sprouted during President Duterte's 22 year term as mayor of Davao City in the southern Philippines.

The various groups have been urging the government to investigate the killings but as of this writing, no one has yet been made accountable on the spate of deaths.

Among these deaths, the killings of the Bertes men stand out.

Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Ronald dela Rosa (L) testifies regarding people killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs during a Senate hearing in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August, 2016. At right, women wearing masks are family members of alleged drug pushers killed during illegal drugs raids by the police.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Local police arrested the younger Bertes inside the family’s home in a slum area in Pasay City, in the southern part of the capital region on the evening of 6 July. Home is a cramped room shared by Jaypee and Ronaldo with their families – there are eight of them in all in that small, dark space.

The police said the Bertes men were caught gambling in the neighborhood that night.

They arrested them and found ‘shabu’, slang for methamphetamines, in their possession but Kazuo told a different story.

Speaking under oath, she told a Senate panel investigation into the killings that the arresting officers barged into their home and demanded to know where the drugs were.

The two were brought to the police station, where Kazuo said, they were beaten up.

Policemen accused by a woman of killing a couple who she says are her parents, alleged by police as drug pushers during an illegal drugs 'meth' raid, testify at a Senate hearing in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August, 2016.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The police, however, said that inside the jail cell, the older Bertes tried to grab an officer’s gun. Jaypee, too tried to grab a gun, prompting the officers to fire successive shots at the two and killing them.

Kazuo faced the Senate hearing wearing large sunglasses and her face partly covered with a dark brown checkered shawl. She fears for her and her children's lives because she has been receiving death threats since her husband and his father died.

She told senators that the police version of the events was a blatant lie because the two men did not know how to handle a gun.

A woman wearing mask, whose father and mother were alleged by police as drug pushers and were both killed during an illegal drugs "meth raid", testifies regarding people killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs during a Senate hearing in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August, 2016.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Their neighbors also saw how the officers beat up her husband and his father inside the police vehicle on their way to the nearby police station, Kazuo told senators.

Her husband, a small-time drug peddler had been planning to surrender because he was afraid he would be killed in the anti-drug war, Kazuo also said.

About 600,000 people suspected of being drug dealers or users have turned themselves in to escape being killed since the antidrug campaign began, the authorities have said.

In the meantime, the killings continue. Almost every night, a suspected drug pusher or user is killed.

President Rodrigo Duterte last May, talking to media before casting his vote in national elections.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

These alleged drug suspects turn up dead in the dark alleys of Metro Manila, their bodies, dumped carelessly for everyone to see the next day and usually plastered with signs: ‘I am a drug pusher or I am a drug lord,’ signs of vigilante-style killings.

Despite the daily deaths, President Duterte stands by his war on drugs and vowed to fight anyone who gets in the way.

He has resorted to shaming his most vocal critic, Senator Leila de Lima who is leading the Senate inquiry, saying that she has an illicit affair with her married driver who in turn, takes pay offs from drug convicts.

Senator Leila de Lima speaks at a Senate hearing regarding people killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines 23 August 2016.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The New York based Human Rights Watch said the killings are alarming as it called for a global intervention into the matter.

‘Duterte is steamrolling the rule of law and its advocates both at home and abroad. He has declared the soaring number of killings of alleged criminal suspects as proof of the “success” of his anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum”. He has sought to intimidate domestic critics of that campaign and dismissed international critics as “stupid”. Other countries, including the United States and European Union members, should make it clear to Duterte that inciting such violence is unacceptable and will reap potentially severe diplomatic and economic costs, beyond the human one. Otherwise, it’s hard to envision when these killings will end,' said Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.

A good day for the Philippines

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U.S. Navy flies over islands in South China Sea. by U.S. Navy

Iris Gonzales reports on the historic ruling against China’s claim over disputed territory.

The United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague has ruled in favour of the Philippines, saying that the West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines and not to China.

In a landmark historic ruling, the international tribunal ruled that China’s claim over the disputed territory is invalid.

‘[A]s between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the “nine-dash line” are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention,' according to the award released on July 12.

In its ruling, the tribunal said there was no evidence that China has exercised exclusive control over the disputed waters or its resources.

‘The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line,’ the PCA said in a press release.

Furthermore, the PCA concluded that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

As such, the tribunal found that it could – without delimiting a boundary – declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.’

However, China said it does not and will not recognize the ruling.

‘On 22 January 2013, the then government of the Republic of the Philippines unilaterally initiated arbitration on the relevant disputes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. On 19 February 2013, the Chinese government solemnly declared that it neither accepts nor participates in that arbitration and has since repeatedly reiterated that position,’ the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China said in a statement.

It declared the award null and void and said it has no binding force.

‘On 7 December 2014, the Chinese government released the Position Paper of the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines, pointing out that the Philippines' initiation of arbitration breaches the agreement between the two states, violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and goes against the general practice of international arbitration, and that the Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction,’ it also said.

China also claimed that the unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Philippines was done in bad faith.

‘It aims not to resolve the relevant disputes between China and the Philippines, or to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, but to deny China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea,’ the Chinese government said.

As such, it stressed that the initiation of the arbitration violates international law.

It is now up to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to act on the ruling and defend the country’s territory.

In the meantime, fishermen who used to bring home $1,000 worth of fish on a good run from Scarborough Shoal, one of the disputed areas, could no longer enjoy such a catch. They are keeping their fingers crossed that things will really change with this ruling.

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