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Jersey City Municipal Council Unanimously Passes Resolution to Provide Sanctuary to Human Rights Defenders for the Philippines and Endorse the Philippine Human Rights Act

December 17, 2021

Jersey City—On the evening of Wednesday, December 15, Jersey City’s Municipal Council unanimously passed the Resolution Protecting Jersey City Human Rights Defenders for the Philippines and Endorsing the Philippine Human Rights Act (Resolution 21-866). Jersey City is now the first city on the East Coast to have endorsed the Philippine Human Rights Act and the first in the country to extend protections for human rights defenders who may be targeted by the Philippine government. 

The municipal council resolution was the initiative of the New Jersey for the Philippine Human Rights Act Coalition (NJ4PHRA) which includes Anakbayan NJ, GABRIELA NJ, Malaya Movement NJ chapter, ICHRP, and Migrante NJ, as well as other allies and community leaders in Jersey City. The resolution was introduced by Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro. 

The Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act was signed into law on July 3, 2020 by the Philippines President Duterte; has vague definitions of terrorism; effectively criminalizes dissent against the Philippine government; and authorizes the government to conduct arrests without warrants, surveil suspects for up to 90 days, and detain suspects for up to 24 days. The extraterritorial applications of this law has implications for Filipinos and non-Filipinos both inside and outside the Philippines.

Jessamyn Bonafe, a local organizer and member of Anakbayan North Jersey, a grassroots Filipino youth organization, shared her experience of being red-tagged, or labeled as a terrorist, by the Philippine government. “Organizations like Anakbayan have been integrated within this community for over 10 years. We have had various campaigns that served the Jersey City community.  Even as COVID hit, we helped to address the needs of the people through a food distribution program called Peace Land and Bread. Jersey City community members have also supported our cause and refuted these claims of us being terrorists.”

Kristianne (Kate) Molina, artist at Mana Contemporary, member of GABRIELA NJ and NJ4PHRA emphasized, “the resolution is to de-escalate confrontations between opposing groups claiming activists as terrorists and work on making an equitable, healthy, and safe city while keeping our political liberties intact for critics of the Philippine War on Drugs and the government’s delay in COVID-19 aid”.

Bernadette Patino, a leader in the Malaya Movement New Jersey Chapter, said that local activists are targeted by the Philippine government, “My fellow organizers are being targeted by the highest levels of government in the Philippines, being called ‘extremists’ simply for advocating for our U.S. tax dollars to be spent on our communities here and not go into the hands of a murderous dictator in the Philippines.”

Councilman at-large Rolando Lavarro said the “extraterritorial implications of the Anti Terror Law is real, and as a country we should protect U.S. citizens whether here or travelling abroad and ensure that their rights protected and that they are not subject to human rights violations.” Lavarro led the introduction of the resolution in the Municipal Council.

Ward E Councilman James Solomon expressed his support, “Thank you to all the activists who spoke so movingly and powerfully on the authoritarian regime targeting free expression and political actions.” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh shared, “I commend the community members that bring this forward and there are a lot of community members we need to protect.”

Members of Our Revolution and Democratic Socialists of America, who were calling in to support the Medicare for All Resolution, also extended their support. Joel Brooks, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, said, “Hundreds of Filipino Healthcare workers have been frontline caregivers sacrificing their bodies during this pandemic and we need our tax dollars to stay in the United States and not fund repressive anti-human rights governments.”

In passing the Resolution, the city council also endorsed the Philippine Human Rights Act, which will suspend assistance to the police or military of the Philippines until its human rights abuses cease and the perpetrators are held accountable. The bill currently has the support of 28 US representatives, none of whom are from New Jersey. Community members hope that passage of this resolution will help convince NJ legislators, such as Representative Albio Sires, Representative Tom Malinowski, Representative Andy Kim, and Representative Chris Smith, to cosponsor the bill. 

Organizing locally can affect governments internationally and it takes twice the collective effort to organize under a pandemic. The Resolution Protecting Jersey City Human Rights Defenders for the Philippines and Endorsing the Philippine Human Rights Act (Resolution 21-866) was a collective effort and is a testament to the diverse solidarity within the Jersey City community.

For reference: Kristianne Molina & Bernadette Patino, New Jersey for the Philippine Human Rights Act (NJ4PHRA) Coalition  [email protected] 

NJ4PHRA is a coalition of organizations and individuals based in New Jersey organizing to defend human rights in the Philippines by passing the Philippine Human Rights Act in the US Congress. @nj4phra

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