The International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS) and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), in cooperation with local organizations, held a demonstration on Friday, February 23 at the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa to protest the extension of Martial Law in the southern island of Mindanao to the end of 2018.
Under the slogan of “Movement Against Tyranny”, AnakBayan Ottawa, Migrante Ottawa, the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, together with representatives of Solidarity Ottawa, the ALBA Social Movement, the Revolutionary Student Movement, the Communist Party of Canada, and the Revolutionary Communist Party, demanded that the government of President Rodrigo Duterte end Martial Law, stop the military intervention in Lumad (Indigenous peasants) lands that supports mining companies, and restart the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front to end fifty years of civil strife in the country.
The demonstration coincided with the anniversary of the 1986 Peoples Power uprising that ended the US-backed military dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos. The call Never Again to Martial Law resonates with millions of Filipinos worldwide as they remember the end of the Marcos dictatorship. Martial law was a dark period in Philippine history, marked by extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and widespread suppression of political, economic and social rights.
The concern voiced by demonstrators was that history appears to be repeating itself. Hundreds of political prisoners continue to languish in Philippine prisons. In December 2017, the Duterte regime extended Martial Law in Mindanao after pulling the plug on the peace process with the National Democratic Front in favour of renewed military violence. The New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines were declared as terrorist organizations, and Duterte announced his intention to annihilate the NPA by the end of 2018. Duterte openly muses about extending Martial Law to the entire country. By his own admission he is a puppet of the Philippine military, and essentially the figurehead in a new military dictatorship.
Protesters also expressed alarm about the grim human rights situation under the Duterte Regime, including his war on drugs that has killed thousands of poor people in the Philippines without due process. The war on Islamic militants destroyed Marawi City (population 300,000) and the repression in other parts of Mindanao has resulted in military occupation of Indigenous schools and communities. Assassinations of Indigenous leaders, national minorities, human rights and anti-mining activists by military death squads are now a common occurrence.
Despite this terrible human rights record, the Canadian government had approved the sale of 16 Bell helicopters to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), with the expectation that they would only be used for search-and-rescue operations. Despite concerns expressed by 35 Canadian civil organizations, it was only after a Filipino general said they would be used for internal security operations that the Canadian Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne ordered a review of the sale. Rather than be subjected to Canadian restrictions, President Duterte indicated he would cancel the contract. This and other arms deals with the Philippines should continue to be monitored and our government called to account for dealing with a government and military that has no qualms about the mass murder of its own citizens.
All these concerns are captured by the call at the demonstration – NEVER AGAIN TO MARTIAL LAW!