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ICC cleared to proceed with investigation into Philippines ‘war on drugs’

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Clyde Hughes, Tue, July 18, 2023

July 18 (UPI) — The International Criminal Court’s appeals chamber said on Tuesday that an investigation into former President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s “war on drugs” can move forward.

The appeals court ruled 3-2 in favor of continuing the investigation, rejecting the government’s attempt to block the probe into the campaign where critics charged that authorities participated in the killing of alleged drug leaders and others under the approval of Duterte while he served as president and earlier while mayor of Davao City.

In January, the ICC initiated an investigation into the government’s war on drugs after the Philippines government’s promise to do its own investigation did “not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps.”

“The ICC appeals chamber decision rejects Philippine government claims that the ICC should not investigate in the country,” Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “President [Ferdinand] Marcos should back up his stated commitment to human rights by cooperating with the ICC prosecutor’s inquiry.”

Officials said 6,252 people died during the drug crackdown under Duterte’s presidency, but rights groups say that up to 30,000 may have been killed, including innocent victims.

“[Victim families] look forward to the ICC indicting the ‘most responsible’ — the masterminds and administrators of a cruel and criminal government policy that targeted killing thousands of poor people,” said the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and the Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a coalition representing the families of alleged victims.

The Philippine government argued that ICC judges mistakenly found that the court has jurisdiction and that they erred in assessing ongoing national proceedings.

The ICC said in January that it would resume its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines in Duterte’s war on drugs. The Hague had temporarily suspended its investigation in November 2021 after Manila requested a deferral to conduct its own review.

    ‘Ama Namin’ blasphemy? Bishop unearths ‘seeds’ from Duterte years

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    Jul 15, 2023, Paterno R. Esmaquel II

    ‘A drag song and dance against the ‘Ama Namin’ offends indeed, but some matters are more offensive than this,’ says Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas

    MANILA, Philippines – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas challenged Filipino Catholics on Saturday, July 15, to look at themselves and examine their consciences even as they criticize the “blasphemous” viral video of Filipino drag queen Pura Luka Vega.

    The video showed Pura Luka Vega in a Jesus costume while the crowd danced to a rock version of the “Ama Namin” (“Our Father”), the foundational prayer of Christianity since it is believed to have been taught by Christ himself. 

    In an advanced Gospel reflection for July 23, Villegas said the video “was a plunge into a deeper cliff of vulgar blasphemy,” but “it was bound to happen in time.”

    Villegas, one of the staunchest critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte, cited the “seeds of blasphemy” that were planted during Duterte’s six years in office. 

    Duterte was known to attack the Catholic Church before and after he became president of this predominantly Catholic country. During his presidential campaign, Duterte called Pope Francis a son of a bitch. When he was already chief executive, Duterte said God is stupid and also urged Filipinos to “kill bishops.” 

    Despite his tirades against the Catholic faith, Duterte won the presidency by a landslide with 16 million votes in 2016. He also enjoyed high survey ratings while his allies kept “supermajorities” in Congress, with opposition bets failing to win any Senate seat in 2019. In 2022, Duterte’s ally Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became the Philippines’ first majority and first continuity president in decades.

    Villegas said: “The seeds for this scandalous video were already planted in the field when we allowed vulgarity by high leaders in government to become a joking matter. Our cooperative indifference and supportive laughter, as we heard those vulgarities, make us accomplices in blasphemy. This was a small beginning like the seed of weeds.”

    “The small seeds were already planted when we chose cowardly silence as God was cursed by the highest government official. We giggled and later on voted for more officials who support such vulgarity. We were in cahoots,” he added.

    Villegas said Filipinos also “conspired by our silence” after “enemies of God” threatened bishops with murder. Villegas, a protégé of the late Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who helped oust dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, was one of the prominent Catholic leaders who received death threats during Duterte’s term. 

    “A drag song and dance against the ‘Ama Namin’ offends indeed, but some matters are more offensive than this,” the archbishop pointed out.

    “We call God our Father but do not treat one another as brothers and sisters? We call God our Father but nodded with approval when drug addicts were killed? Killing others made our lives safer? Is that the way to worship God as Father? They are seeds of the weeds,” Villegas said, referring to extrajudicial killings under Duterte, which are now being probed by the International Criminal Court.

    Villegas said Filipinos also “conspired by our silence” after “enemies of God” threatened bishops with murder. Villegas, a protégé of the late Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who helped oust dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, was one of the prominent Catholic leaders who received death threats during Duterte’s term. 

    “A drag song and dance against the ‘Ama Namin’ offends indeed, but some matters are more offensive than this,” the archbishop pointed out.

    “We call God our Father but do not treat one another as brothers and sisters? We call God our Father but nodded with approval when drug addicts were killed? Killing others made our lives safer? Is that the way to worship God as Father? They are seeds of the weeds,” Villegas said, referring to extrajudicial killings under Duterte, which are now being probed by the International Criminal Court.

    ‘Hallowed be your name’ but…

    Villegas continued by dissecting elements of the “Our Father” and asking Filipino Catholics to reflect on how they themselves have desecrated the prayer in daily life.

    “Our lips pray, ‘Hallowed be your name’ and yet our hands on our gadgets confect calumny and gossip and slander? Is God’s name adored by our fake news? We have even baptized gossipers and rumor mongers as Marites. These are seeds of the weeds.

    “We beg Him ‘to give us our daily bread’ but accept money to sell our votes? Is God honored when we tolerate and benefit from the stolen money of public servants? Is not our acceptance of the culture of graft and plunder of public money a greater blasphemy of the ‘Ama Namin’? These are seeds of the weeds.

    “We ask God ‘to forgive us’ and yet we have chosen to solve our social problems by the ‘extrajudicial’ way (outside the court of law) by killing and later covering up for the murderers of those who were never proven guilty? How can the defenders of mass murderers and crimes against humanity pray to ask God for forgiveness when their lifestyle is its exact opposite?” the archbishop said.

    He then urged Catholics to ask themselves, “In what ways have I contributed to the vulgarity and blasphemy, desecration and profanity of language and lewdness of action against the Ama Namin?” 

    “If we are honest and humble enough, we should be ready to admit that we planted the seeds of weeds in the past by our indifference, cowardice, and connivance. The weeds came from me. The enemy is me. I must now change myself first,” he said. 

    Voices from the Senate

    Pura Luka Vega’s video has drawn criticism from a wide range of sectors in the Philippines, including the Senate. 

    In a move unseen when Duterte attacked the Catholic Church, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Thursday, July 13, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the extremely blasphemous and offensive video that has gone viral showing people in a club making a mockery of the Christian faith and disrespecting the Lord’s Prayer.”

    Zubiri, a Duterte and Marcos ally, then urged authorities to look into the matter, as “a criminal charge can be filed” against Pura Luka Vega. 

    Senator Robin Padilla, who is also allied with Duterte and Marcos, told Pura Luka Vega in a public Facebook post that the Our Father “is a holy prayer that you expressed in a very, very unholy manner.”

    “I pray and hope that you stick that to your thick skull,” said Padilla, a former Jehovah’s Witness who later converted to Islam.

    “If it’s very hard and difficult for you to apologize, you better just shut up and lay low or face the consequences,” the action star-turned-senator said. “You’re dragging spiritual people to extremism.” – Rappler.com

    Activists fight back as online threats rise

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    By Mariejo Ramos via Reuters, Interaksyon.philstar.com, July 12, 2023 – 3:13 PM

    • ‘Digital authoritarianism’ seen rising in Southeast Asia
    • Independent news outlets, journalists targeted
    • Rights groups fight back by boosting cybersecurity savvy

    MANILA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — When hackers targeted independent Filipino news outlet Bulatlat.com, flooding its website with a torrent of rogue traffic, staff had to rely on digital forensics experts in Sweden to track down the perpetrators.

    “Building the case means you must come up with evidence. But digital forensics is something we simply don’t have any resources for,” said Frank Lloyd Tiongson of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represented Bulatlat over the 2018 attack.

    Whether targeting ordinary people, journalists or activists, online threats from doxxing to domain blocking and digital surveillance are rising in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, highlighting a lack of resources and expertise to fight them, experts say.

    Governments are often behind such online threats in nations including Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, said Bangkok-based digital rights group, DigitalReach, a global phenomenon dubbed digital authoritarianism.

    “It’s become a trend in Southeast Asia when a repressive government knows how important the digital space is for civil society and thinks it’s part of the state’s job to control it,” Sutawan Chanprasert, DigitalReach’s founder, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Last month, two Thai activists sued the government for allegedly using Pegasus spyware to monitor their mobile devices.

    The hacking on Bulatlat five years ago, which the newspaper says was “targeted, deliberate and well-organized”, was the first known distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against a Filipino media organization.

    Hackers involved in DDoS attacks direct high volumes of internet traffic towards targeted servers in a relatively unsophisticated bid to knock them offline.

    Lacking the technical expertise to track down the hackers and respond to the attack, senior staff at Bulatlat called a digital security helpline operated by Access Now, an international digital rights advocacy group.

    Access Now put them in touch with Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation, where digital forensics specialists were able to trace the intrusion to two Philippines-based IT companies.

    The companies, which were also linked to DDoS attacks on three other independent news websites in the Philippines, agreed a financial settlement in the civil case brought against them.

    How can hackers be stopped? 

    For digital rights activists, however, the case was a relatively rare success story of holding hackers to account.

    The Philippines ranks second — after Mongolia — among countries most plagued by web threats worldwide, according to a 2022 report global cybersecurity company Kaspersky.

    But there are only 300 practicing cybersecurity experts in the country, which would ideally count on 200,000, according to the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

    With 85 million internet users, or more than 70% of the population, the country should invest more in cybersecurity measures and make the issue a key priority, said a 2022 report by The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit.

    Growing concern about online threats has prompted civil society groups in the region to look for new ways to respond themselves.

    Some are offering digital security training for individuals at risk on safeguards such as digital encryption, virtual private networks (VPNs) and safe applications.

    But Sutawan said that while digital security training works on the individual level, Southeast Asia needs to adopt a more collective approach.

    This includes having local focal points that are trusted by dissidents with whom they can share their experience in their own local languages and conducting more technical research to analyze the threats in each country.

    Stronger cross-border cooperation, as in the Bulatlat case, is also seen as vital for preserving internet freedom.

    While there are “very palpable digital security threats” against journalists and activists, Marlon Nombrado of digital rights group Out of the Box said ordinary citizens are also affected, for example in the form of phishing scams, doxxing or personal data misuse.

    Last January, his group trained 20 women in a poor urban community in Manila on digital rights and internet security, including how to prevent and respond to so-called doxxing — the malicious posting of personal information on social media.

    While different to the digital authoritarianism that targets dissenting voices and journalists, Nombrado said fighting online abuse in all segments of society was about protecting basic rights and freedoms.

    “Because the media landscape is evolving, issues of digital security and safety cannot be separated from human rights,” he said.

    — Reporting by Mariejo Ramos. Editing by Helen Popper. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news

    [OPINION] Why we need to remember SC verdict on Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth 

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    Jul 12, 2023 2:32 PM PHT

    Ruben Carranza

    The July 2003 decision is the single biggest recovery of ill-gotten wealth against the Marcoses. It also said clearly: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos stole from their own people.

    Twenty years ago this week, the Philippine Supreme Court declared that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had stolen billions from the Filipino people. 

    It will be 20 years ago this week, on July 15, since the Philippines Supreme Court declared that the $680M (₱36B) in Swiss bank deposits in the name of over 14 Swiss entities were in fact part of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family. The Supreme Court explicitly described the Swiss bank funds as “money stolen by the Marcos spouses from the Republic.” The Court ordered the money forfeited in favor of the government.  

    Why is the July 15, 2003 decision important? 

    It is important not only because it is the single biggest recovery of ill-gotten wealth against the Marcoses but also because the highest court in the Philippines said it clearly: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos stole from their own people. What else can that mean but that they committed corruption – from taking kickbacks to accepting bribes, from using intelligence funds for shopping sprees to outright stealing from government banks, agencies and the national treasury?

    How did the Supreme Court reach the conclusion that the Swiss bank deposits were “money stolen by the Marcoses from the Republic?”

    By looking at the value of assets and income declared by Ferdinand Marcos as a lawyer and legislator before he became president, analyzing the tax returns the Marcoses filed during the dictatorship, calculating the salaries they earned as President and Governor, respectively, and arriving at the conclusion that the total income and assets they legally earned in the 21 years they were in power was only $304,000. How can a public official with only $304,000 in legal assets and income be able to deposit $680M in Swiss banks?

    This is the reason why Republic Act 1379, the forfeiture law, was enacted in 1954: for the assets of public officials grossly disproportionate to his or her legal income, to be presumed ill-gotten and – unless they prove how they legally acquired those assets – to be forfeited in favor of the people. One of co-sponsors of the bill that became the 1954 law was an Ilocano congressman named Ferdinand E. Marcos. In sponsoring the bill, Marcos said it was a way to get back what a public official stole if that official cannot be prosecuted right away or at all. That 1954 Marcos-sponsored law was applied by the Supreme Court on the Marcoses. Their Swiss bank funds were presumed ill-gotten. 

    Could the Marcoses have presented evidence showing how they acquired $680M legally? They could have. 

    Marcos’ non-defense

    But in the more than 15 years that the case was litigated in the anti-corruption court and, when I was in the Presidential Commission on Good Government, they never did. The Marcos family – including now President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr who was part of the case after his father’s death – never submitted a single piece of paper to prove and show how they got so rich, how they could afford the luxurious lives they lived, and where the money to pay for all of that came from. Not a single document. Their only “defense” was their thick shamelessness: Marcos Jr. testified in court not to prove how his parents made so much money but to insist on a compromise (“Over what assets?,” he was asked. “All of it,” he said). 

    We refused to compromise with the Marcoses.

    A few months before the July 15 decision, Imelda Marcos sent her American lawyer James Linn to the PCGG. Why she would send an American lawyer to discuss a Philippines case says a lot about what she thinks of Philippine justice – that it isn’t to be taken seriously, while a white man, or so she thought, could convince brown people to bend. She was wrong – at least about us. The great Haydee Yorac asked me what I thought we should say. “Show us what assets you actually have that we haven’t found yet and are about to recover. And maybe we might recommended leniency in the prosecution of criminal cases.” Haydee of course was even more adamant: she wanted the Marcoses to commit to pay taxes on all of those assets. Her meeting with Imelda’s lawyer was very short. 

    Months later, the Marcoses were once and for all declared by the Supreme Court, in a final decision that they can no longer change even with all the power that their lies have given them back. 

    After that decision became final, I took two last steps before I left the PCGG. First, I asked every PCGG lawyer handling a Marcos ill-gotten wealth case to file a motion for summary judgment invoking the Supreme Court ruling. Why? Because the ruling meant that all assets the Marcoses claimed as theirs – from jewelry to paintings to land and bank deposits elsewhere (such as the $50M Arelma account in New York) is ill-gotten because these assets are far beyond the $304,000 legal income they had. This led to subsequent SC decisions in 2012  and 2017 forfeiting Imelda’s jewelry and art collections and judgments in the US recognizing those PH rulings. 

    The other step I took was, in many ways, more personal. As someone whose brief detention by the dictatorship caused my mother to endlessly worry about my life and safety, I could only imagine the pain of those whose loved ones were killed, disappeared, sexually abused or tortured by the dictatorship. They deserved justice – justice that the $2-billion judgment by a US court against the Marcoses could not fully give because it was not the State officially  acknowledging the victims of the dictatorship and, even today, the US court judgment is one that the Marcoses have simply ignored.

    I drafted a bill that set aside $200M from the $680M we recovered from the Marcos family, to pay for reparations for their victims and to memorialize their heroism – real, selfless heroism and not the kind founded on lies and given by a murderer with political debts. I drafted the bill in 2004, the year I left the PCGG [and the same year I left the country to study in New York and later to work here too.]

    Not jailed – but so what?

    Those who spread lies for the Marcoses and those who were made to believe in those lies will evade the meaning of the Supreme Court’s description of the Marcoses as  by insisting that neither Ferdinand or Imelda Marcos has been jailed for corruption. That doesn’t mean they were not corrupt or that they did not acquire and hide ill-gotten wealth. Ferdinand Marcos died before he could be prosecuted.

    Imelda Marcos has been spending the rest of their ill-gotten wealth to buy delays in the cases against her or worse, to wield the influence that her dictatorship justice secretary still wields in the judiciary including in the Supreme Court. That she was finally convicted at the anti-corruption court in 2018 is proof of how difficult it has been to have judges who can be more consistent (than their colleagues) in seeing the distinctive context of dictatorship crimes and exercising extraordinary righteousness in handling cases involving people as powerful as the Marcoses.

    This conviction in fact relies on the same facts that the July 15, 2003 decision of the Supreme Court relied on to describe the Marcoses as  corrupt. If the Supreme Court – as it is now composed – truly respected precedent and the justices individually and collectively value their integrity, then there is only one legally-consistent, historically-founded and necessarily courageous way to rule on Imelda’s appeal over her conviction.

    So, 20 years later, now that the Marcoses have lied their wait back to power, it  is even more important to celebrate this hard-fought victory: remember Jovito Salonga and those in his first PCGG. Remember Frank Chavez who assembled the case that led to the judgment. Remember even Justice Francis Garchitorena, whose anti-corruption court decision opened the door to our own decision (led by then solicitor-general Sonny Marcelo and those of us in the Yorac-led PCGG) to take the risk and bring the case to the highest court to end even more of the  Marcoses’ delaying tactics.

    And most of all, remember those who fought the dictatorship and how they never lost hope – even when the Marcoses were at their most powerful. As I told the families of dictatorship survivors and victims when they asked me to speak last year at ceremonies to remember those among them who had passed away: “We remember those we lost not simply because they were activists, organizers, fighters or even bystanders taken in the line of the dictatorship’s fire but because they were people we loved, respected, gave birth to, cried for, searched and waited for, took care of, buried and still miss. We must seek justice for them because we love them. We must tell the truth about them because no one else might. But how do we know we can defeat the family that took them away? Because we defeated the Marcoses once before – made them flee in haste and hide in shame, and so, we know that we can defeat them again.” – Rappler.com

    The author  was Commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government from 2001-2004 and now works as Director of Reparative Justice Programs and Senior Expert at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in New York.

    The peace talks, then and now

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    By: CMFR Staff, Posted on: July 5, 2023, 2:00 pm, Updated on: July 6, 2023, 4:09 pm

    ANOTHER CHAPTER looms in the on-again off-again peace talks between the government and communist insurgents. Given the long history of peace negotiations, journalists should provide background and context to reports of current developments. 

    On June 8, newly appointed Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said in a press briefing that he was against reviving peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF), political wing of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), describing the move as a “subversion of the democratic process.” If the second Marcos administration turns its back on the negotiation table, it will be the first administration since 1986 to do so. 

    While the media reported on Teodoro’s remarks and included reactions of other groups and officials, coverage failed to include the bigger context and the background of the conflict and peace negotiations. 

    How the Media Reported

    Rappler, in an exclusive report on June 7, talked with NDF negotiating panel interim chair Juliet de Lima in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She said the NDF had yet to see the Marcos administration’s interest in resuming negotiations. Bulatlats article on June 9, which cited de Lima’s statement, echoed the same points.

    Manila Bulletin and Manila Standard, both on June 11, cited lawmaker Rufus Rodriguez who said the state should talk peace instead of “finishing off” the communists. “Just one Filipino the government could save by talking with communists is worth all the effort,” he said.

    Similarly, Bulletin and Inquirer.net, on June 6, reported House Deputy Minority leader France Castro’s statement urging Teodoro to call for peace talks and let the military focus on external aggression amid the tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Meanwhile, think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform were cited in Business WorldandInterAksyonwhereboth argued that negotiation is the least costly option.

    On June 9, only TV5’s Frontline Tonightexplained that other communist groups in other parts of the world are legal. The report also reviewed what Philippine laws and past presidents have said on communism.

    A Long Fight

    After taking office in 1987, then President Corazon Aquino initiated the peace process by releasing political prisoners detained during the dictatorship of Marcos Sr. She set up the Peace Commission that laid the ground for peace negotiations. In 1992, President Fidel V. Ramos established the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) and repealed the Anti-Subversion Act, thus assuring communists of political space. 

    It was also under Ramos that two important agreements were signed: the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl). Because of these agreements, there was a real sense of the possible paths to peace. 

    But the talks stalled under different administrations. President Joseph Estrada pursued a more militant approach, deploying troops to attack and take CPP’s strongholds. The negotiations under Present Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo broke down after the United States listed the New People’s Army (NPA) and CPP as terrorist organizations. Under Benigno Aquino III, the talks ended after the NDF demanded the release of political prisoners.  

    From Friend to Foe

    President Rodrigo Duterte was a more enthusiastic advocate of peace talks, having been friendly with communist leaders as mayor of Davao City. He boasted that he was a “left-leaning” president. In 2016, there was hope that the negotiations would progress quickly. He declared himself open to the negotiations, released political prisoners, and appointed leftist leaders to his Cabinet. 

    The government and the NDF had been inching toward affirming past agreements and drafting a bilateral ceasefire agreement. They also agreed to fast track discussions on the third agreement on the agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms

    However, tensions flared between the two camps amid intensifying military and guerilla encounters. Soon after, the ceasefire ended, the Jasig terminated, and the talks canceled. In December 2017, Duterte formally issued Proclamation No. 374, labeling the NPA as a “communist terrorist group” and declaring an “all-out-war” against the rebels.

    ‘Whole of Nation’

    In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) 70 which institutionalized a “whole of nation” approach in dealing with communist rebels. It created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as the key agency that would facilitate this approach. The task force included winning back communities who were supposedly under the influence of the CPP-NPA-NDF and help conflict-affected areas by responding to their social needs.

    However, as CMFR has pointed out, while the NTF-ELCAC aimed for poverty alleviation in far-flung communities, it waged a propaganda war and legal offensive against not only the CPP-NPA-NDF but also individuals and groups that it deemed to be communist supporters and sympathizers, including civilians. This propaganda warfare, coupled with the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Law in 2020, launched the practice later labeled as red-tagging.

    CMFR previously cheered and published these other explainers:

    Why Is this Important?

    Amid the backdrop of the fighting between government troops and communist insurgents, communities suffer from human rights violations and the trauma of many forms of insurgency-related violence. Most recently, on June 14, a couple and their two minor children were massacred in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental. The husband had earlier been red-tagged.

    That incident, along with other cases, should prompt local government units, peace advocates, and the public to push both sides to resume negotiations. The news media have a role to play in all this. Instead of treating the word war and armed clashes as separate incidents, they should provide news with both broad and close contexts. 

    The military approach may decimate the remaining lightning forces in NPA camps. But such challenges will rise again if more Filipinos continue to burden injustice. 

    Media should also engage the public in the discussion, finding points of relevance to different sectors. An approach involving peace journalism can lay bare the ground where seeds of insurgency thrive: injustice, deprivation and poverty, and the glaring inequalities that burden Philippine society.

    Former Jollibee Workers Protest at Restaurant after Being Illegally Terminated

    After filing a National Labor Relations Board complaint, a group of Jollibee Workers  and community members delivered a letter to management to demand reinstatement and backpay.

    This is the first ever community-supported worker protest in a Jollibee location in North America.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 6th, 2023

    Media Contact: Patrick Nevada, [email protected], 808-388-8438

    Former Jollibee Workers Protest at Restaurant after Being Illegally Terminated

    Jersey City, New Jersey – Former Jollibee workers protested at the popular Philippines-based fast food restaurant at Journal Square in Jersey City, New Jersey, after being illegally terminated for organizing for higher wages and a fairer workplace. Workers attempted to deliver a letter to management demanding reinstatement, backpay, and a public apology from Jollibee Food Corporation before they were forcibly removed from the restaurant by police.

    The protest and letter delivery occurred on National Fried Chicken Day, one of the busiest days of the year for Jollibee workers, during which many Jollibee workers have reported increasingly dangerous working conditions and maltreatment from management. 

    The action occurred a week after the workers filed a formal complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for unfair labor practices against Jollibee, namely the February 20th termination of nine employees in retaliation against their organizing efforts to petition management for higher wages and better working conditions.

    “It is disheartening to witness the abuse of power and the suppression of those who dare to stand up for what is right. Yet, I refuse to remain silent, for silence only perpetuates the cycle of injustice. We do our jobs right and we received this– getting laid off because we want a better workplace, holiday pay, and a $3 wage increase to support ourselves and our family.”, said Keyser Garganera, Former Jollibee Worker

    “I trusted that a big company like Jollibee who… is loved and supported and seen as a representation of… back home to many Filipinos would be a place that value workers and their rights. Jollibee keeps on getting bigger and richer but at the expense of workers.They need to stop with their lies and give dignity to workers’ rights towards equal pay across location,” said Mary Taino, Former Jollibee Worker

    “We are here today to expose the wrongdoings of this company, for everybody to hear our voices, and to alert everybody to look out for industries like this. We greatly appreciate the help that’s been given every step of the way and we will ensure that this will be our win!” said Patricia Bui, Former Jollibee Worker

    “[After we were laid off,] my respect for the Jollibee was gone because of what they did to me. I got depressed and isolated… while my co-workers were struggling with their jobs due to increased workload. They needed us like we needed them. For all fellow workers who have experienced or currently experiencing similar struggles, we want you to be brave and take action. We hope that you will join us. Let us unite as Jollibee workers,” said Vincent Cruz, Former Jollibee Worker

    Attorney Jackelyn Mariano of Mission to End Modern Slavery (MEMS) remarked that “concerted activity is protected under federal labor law. The termination of these workers was clearly an attempt to undermine their efforts to improve their workplace conditions. Jollibee’s Journal Square store proceeded to hire new workers within two weeks of terminating these workers.” 

    The workers are supported by numerous community groups including Pilipinos Organizing for Worker Empowerment and Rights (POWER). “Jollibee claims to be a family-oriented company saying they have a ‘warm and caring’ work environment. In reality, the conditions in the stores create tremendous stress for workers and their families,” said Chris Phan of POWER.

    Jollibee workers in the United States, the Philippines, and across the globe have reported labor issues such as wage theft, chronic understaffing and scheduling issues, misclassification of workers, and worker mistreatment despite the company making record profits.

    Jollibee workers at the Jersey City location experienced similar labor issues, prompting them to take action for better working conditions, only to be met with surveillance, harassment, and eventual termination by management. 

    The action is the kick off event of the #Justice4JollibeeWorkers campaign. It was preceded by community members leafleting across Jollibee locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to spread awareness about what happened to the workers at Journal Square.

    The Filipino-based fast food chain restaurant is set to open 500 stores in North America in the next five to seven years, adding to the over 6,300 stores across the globe. The chain made $31 million in profit  in the US in 2022, with 40% of their total revenue coming from overseas. Despite this growth, workers are reporting deteriorating working conditions and harmful work practices.

    About the Justice for Jollibee Workers campaign. The Justice for Jollibee Workers campaign is an effort led by workers at the Jollibee Journal Square branch who were illegally terminated for organizing for higher wages and better working conditions. They are supported by community members and labor organizations in their fight, and encourage all workers at Jollibee locations across the globe to organize with them.

    ###

    (https://www.justice4jollibeeworkers.com/blog/j4jwlaunchpr)

    A Year into the Marcos Jr Presidency: Parties, Foreign Trips, and Sell out of Sovereignty Amid Worsening Poverty, Rights Violations, and Discontent

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    by the People’s Summit convened by BAYAN Philippines, June 2023

    In the past year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and his family indulged in lavish parties and junket foreign trips while many Filipinos suffered from poverty and hunger brought about by soaring inflation, low wages, and inadequate social services.

    Pandemic recovery has been slow and the country’s economic trajectory remains biased in favor of the local and foreign elite, with Marcos continuing the neoliberal policies of his predecessors. This has led to the continued dependence on importation policies to the detriment of local producers and farmers, privatization and liberalization of services which caused rate increases in public utilities, and the suppression of wages and labor rights.

    Marcos pivoted closer to the United States as he allowed the building of four more “agreed locations” under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. It paves the way for greater US military intervention and heightened tension in the region. As Marcos barters away our patrimony and sovereignty, he continued Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign to stifle dissent and consolidate power.

    Marcos spoke about the scourge of “fake news” even if his family was the principal beneficiary of a massive disinformation campaign. He whitewashes the bloody legacy of the Martial Law regime of his dictator father by reviving discredited programs like the Masagana99 while peddling false solutions like the Maharlika Investment Fund.

    Ahead of the second State of the Nation Address, the Marcos government is embarking on a roadshow founded on deception and exaggeration. But Marcos and his minions cannot sugarcoat the worsening crisis and the growing discontent in the country.

    People’s Summit

    After the 2022 elections, we initiated the People’s Summit and drafted a People’s Agenda which challenged the new government to address the urgent demands of the country’s basic sectors. We formed six thematic clusters that monitored the performance of the Marcos presidency. Here’s a summary of the cluster reports.

    Economy.

    Serving concurrently as Department of Agriculture Secretary, Marcos aggressively pursued importation as a solution to high food prices caused by the long neglect of local agricultural production and price manipulation by entrenched cartels.

    Such massive importation hurts our local farmers. Not learning from the disastrous effects of the rice liberalization, Marcos now wants to pursue sugar import liberalization. Meanwhile, smuggling of food and agricultural products has remained rampant. The proposed food stamp program reflects Marcos’ penchant for band aid solutions while obscuring the reduction of the budget for emergency cash assistance.

    In the face of record-high inflation, Marcos did nothing to address the demand of workers for a substantial wage hike. His priority bills do not include support for land reform or salary increases. Instead of strengthening domestic agriculture and manufacturing to create sustainable jobs and provide people-centered services, utilities and infrastructure, the Marcos Jr regime touts failed and harmful economic liberalization as the magic bullet for development.

    Social services. Neglect, inaction, and repression characterized the response of the Marcos government to the legitimate demands of the people for better delivery of social services such as education, health, and housing. The national budget continue to prioritize debt servicing, military spending, and allotment for the intelligence funds of the president and vice-president instead of expanding the scope of social services.

    Marcos has not issued a statement about the demand for an increase in salary and benefits for public school teachers and health workers. Instead, the government has ramped up its red-tagging against unions and leaders of people’s organizations.

    Good Governance.

    Good governance has not been achieved due to the perpetuation of unacceptable practices like failing to crack the whip on corruption and scandals involving Duterte officials; deciding on appointments based on patronage instead of competence; prioritizing confidential and intelligence funds over social services in the national budget; misusing public funds in the guise of a sovereign wealth fund; awarding contracts like the Malampaya deal to favored cronies; downsizing the bureaucracy; and refusing to overhaul the untransparent automated election system and to implement electoral reforms like enactment of an anti-dynasty law. Marcos Jr’s governance is also marked by his coddling of Duterte to prevent the crumbling of the so-called Team Unity. A major indication of this is Marcos Jr’s refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its investigation of Duterte’s crimes against humanity.

    Human Rights and Peace.

    Policy-wise, there has been no change with the current regime’s approaches to the “drug war,” counterinsurgency program, just and lasting peace, and human rights. In all these markers, the Marcos regime has committed grave human rights violations at rates alarming enough to put it firmly on the path of mirroring, if not surpassing, the notoriety of the Duterte regime. The government has blocked efforts of the International Criminal Court to investigate Duterte’s crimes against humanity. The number of political prisoners has soared with former Senator Leila de Lima remaining in detention. Marcos is also the first president since 1986 who has yet to appoint a panel that will negotiate for peace with the National Democratic Front. Instead of pursuing a just peace, the regime has stepped up the terrorist labeling of revolutionary groups and intensified IHL violations. The massacre of civilians ranks as among the worst atrocities of this regime.

    National Sovereignty.

    Marcos established closer ties with the US government which allowed the expansion of US military facilities in at least nine sites, frequent and larger joint military exercises, and the reduction of foreign policy into support for US geopolitical agenda in the region. Marcos, who identifies as a climate justice advocate, has renewed the push for mining liberalization, destruction of waterways and their ecosystems through massive reclamation and mega dams, and the push for foreign investments and ownership of our lands (Charter Change) and its various ecosystems.

    Freedom of Expression.

    There is continuity in the information policies of the Duterte and Marcos governments. The first law signed by Marcos is the SIM Card Registration Act, which was first passed under Duterte and is a tool for mass surveillance. Media killings have persisted with impunity, security forces continue to red-tag independent media outlets, and repressive libel and cyberlibel laws remain in effect. Marcos has not reversed the arbitrary and baseless blocking of 27 websites, which include the accounts of several independent media and people’s organizations, based on the instigation of the National Security Adviser.

    The anti-poor, anti-Filipino, and anti-democratic policies of the Marcos government have driven many to resist, organize, and assert the people’s collective rights. Residents of Sibuyan formed a people’s barricade to block mining activities. This was replicated in Brooke’s Point, Palawan. The transport strike by PUV drivers and operators garnered popular support. Activists pushed back against red-tagging and legal persecution. Farmers in Hacienda Tinang stood their ground and successfully fought for the defense of their lands. Retrenched Wyeth-Nestle workers held protest actions against labor rights violations. The Marcos government is desperate in trying to silence dissent but the people are fighting back. ###

    Read also: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-61379915

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-61389684

    Awra Briguela’s Violent Arrest Shows Us How Much the PNP Hates Transwomen

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    By Brando Suarez  , Esquiremag.com, June 2023

    Watching videos circulating online of Awra Briguela’s arrest at the hands of the Makati City Police, I can’t help but be reminded of how morally unsalvageable the PNP is as an organization. These cis policemen, coddled by overlords with masculinity only as fragile as theirs, have consistently failed to serve and protect minority groups, particularly transpeople. It’s always been, after all, such a disgrace of an institution.

    They treated her despicably. The Southern Police District arrested Briguela recently for physical injuries, alarm and scandal, direct assault, and disobedience to a person in authority. Mark Christian Ravana, one of the complainants here, told the police that the incident occurred during a party in the Poblacion district of Makati City. He told the authorities that the actress approached him and his posse, starting the confrontation.

    Ravana and Briguela would find themselves in the street, where, as the guy says, she tore his shirt. Hence, the terrible ordeal. Her friends joined and everything went downhill from there. According to the police, the star was said to have been “verbally abusive” toward the officers, pushing one of them. This would lead to her eventual arrest.

    Friends, including those who had been present, were quick to point out, however, that the PNP failed to consider key elements in the scuffle.

    Content creator Zayla Nakajima, who was with Briguela at the time, said in a now-deleted post that Ravana’s group was the instigators. They were allegedly harassing some of the Ang Probinsyano star’s friends. One of Ravana’s people was even said to have attempted to touch one of them. That was when Briguela confronted the man.

    Of course, no surprise here. The PNP chose to favor the cis male’s side of the story, instead of exercising some prudence. What’s even more upsetting is the fact that Briguela was tragically handcuffed and arrested like a warty pig. That’s just excessive use of force. Is this what defending women should get you? The men from Ravana’s camp, on the other hand, get all the benefit of the doubt, and left controlling the narrative. Briguela was the only person charged here. And yes, she’s still in jail as of this writing.

    There’s something twisted about this brand of transmisogyny. And it’s all the more appalling when it is those in authority who exercise it. Miss Trans Global 2020 Mela Habijan summed it up perfectly in a tweet. “People, usually men, accuse trans women of being threats to cis women. Yet, when trans women protect their cis women sisters from harassers (who are men), trans women end up getting all the punches and blows.”

    It’s funny, too, how predictable that the police would instead protect predators than victims, men over transwomen (boys will be boys until the end, aye?). The prejudice is apparent everywhere, really. It might be because they’ve been desensitized to reports of alleged abuses and cases of misconduct within their ranks over the years. Part of it may also be the dangerous precedent the Jennifer Laude case had set when judges freed Joseph Scott Pemberton. But of all things, all these forms of aggression and violence stem from the fact that men in this country don’t care about transpeople.

    I know it’s a bold thing to say. But really, prove me wrong. We love them as our “performers” on television and film, reducing them to products of entertainment; while still dehumanizing and even fetishizing them without creating safe spaces for them to exist freely. Rare are the rights we’ve conceded to the trans community, frankly. The SOGIESC Equality Law is still, unfortunately, only a dream.

    There have been 41 transgender people killed in the Philippines between 2008 and 2016 (the real death toll is disputed as this has been an underreported topic), according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project of Transgender Europe. This is the highest rate in Southeast Asia. Another study from the Philippine Journal of Psychology in 2014 concluded that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Filipinos were twice as likely to contemplate suicide as heteros.

    Hell, most people still deadname our trans friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Straight men, in particular, just love transwomen, until they need to actually respect them as people, not just as some kinks they hide from their wives. They love imposing their straightness on transpeople. They make transwomen the butt of the joke, the punchline at the party where transphobes, homophobes, and misogynists waggle their wieners in the air. The mockery. The horror. “They’re not real women.” You can just hear it. Such a shame.

    In the Makati City police’s case, this also isn’t the first time they’ve persecuted transwomen by crossing ethical and legal boundaries. We may recall reports of a sketchy operation back in 2020 by the name of “Oplan X-Men.” Dozens of more operations like this happen a lot more than we’d like to believe.

    At the time, the Makati City police were alleged to have profiled transwomen. Authorities reportedly invited individuals to their headquarters, which was, in itself, a violation of their rights, which bleeds into what could be warrantless arrests. The police said that they did so to save them from “exploitation and human trafficking.”

    In times like these, who are transwomen supposed to go to for help then? Lawmakers are duds. Toxic men prevail almost always. The token Pride slogans from brands and companies can only do so much (Pride should always be a protest anyway). Nobody turns to the police anymore for justice. And for good reason. Most cops just aren’t interested in it.

    Yeah, this is a “Happy Pride Month” from the PNP, I suppose.#