September 22, 2021
By Veronica Silva Cusi
The Philippine Reporter
Filipinos in Toronto on September 19 commemorated the 49th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines with a protest vigil calling for the end of rule of President Rodrigo Duterte, who they likened to the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
“Never again, never again to Martial Law!” protesters numbering around 50 all cried out during the event held at Bathurst Wilson Parkette at the corner of Bathurst St. and Wilson Ave. west of the city.
Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972, allowing him to stay in power beyond what was constitutionally allowed. Even after the lifting of Martial Law in 1981 and up until his ouster in 1986 through a People Power revolution, his rule was marked by human rights violations, curtailment of press freedom, and thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Protesters said this is quite like what has been happening under the five-year-old Duterte regime, which organizers referred to as de facto Martial Law.
Kababayans lit candles honouring victims of martial rule, which was known for desaparecidos, or the missing who were snatched without due process and simply disappeared, many of them presumed dead. They also honoured those who survived Martial Law and those who continue to fight to this day.
In the administration of Duterte, extrajudicial killings numbering about 27,000, including some 122 children, persist through his so-called war on drugs. Getting rid of the drug problem was one of his presidential campaign promises, and was his justification on the war on drugs.
The International Criminal Court recently said it authorizes an investigation into these killings. But Duterte refuses to cooperate with any probe.
Aside from arbitrary killings, protesters said graft and corruption are rampant in the administration of Duterte, quite like in the Marcos era.
And the COVID-19 pandemic has made life worse for millions of Filipinos. World Bank data released in June show that the economy contracted 4.2% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021. This is due to “weak domestic demand, driven by the combination of containment measures, weak confidence, and rising inflation.”
“As the Philippines continues to reel from a historic economic recession made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights violations continue to escalate at unprecedented rate,” said Anakbayan Toronto chairperson Rosetta Lucente, in her opening remarks at the event.
She added that lockdowns, which were supposedly aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, are used by the Duterte government to further suppress concerns of Filipinos.
Organizers said Martial Law is still relevant to Filipinos these days, including to Filipinos based in Canada. They reminded the crowd that it was Marcos who instituted the Philippines’s labour export policy, which continues to drive many Filipinos abroad.
Protesters said Duterte’s rule adversely affects Filipinos in Canada, particularly migrant workers and the undocumented.
Leny Rose Simbre, chair, Migrante Ontario noted the lack of social services supports for thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the proposed national budget for 2022, an election year.
“In addition, there is a lack of repatriation funds, and assistance is barely extended to them (OFWs),” said Simbre at the event. “Moreover, rampant corruption continues at all levels of government to raise funds for the 2022 national election, and the Filipino people are suffering even more.”
Duterte’s term will end in 2022, and under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the president can hold office for only six years.
Protesters also called out the Canadian government for its ties to the “pompous and murderous Duterte regime.”
“Canadians need to know why … Canada is not pressuring the Duterte regime to uphold the human rights of the Filipino(s) and end his genocidal war against the poor and their human rights advocates,” said Malaya Movement in Canada in a prepared statement read at the event by convenor Ed Muyot.
The International Coalition for Human Rights (ICHRP) Canada Chapter reiterated its call for the Canadian government to end its military support to the Philippines.
“We call on Canada to immediately suspend sale of arms to the PH government, to vocally support the peace talks process, to call on its ally the United States to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act in [U.S.] Congress, and to participate in multilateral global efforts to investigate and condemn the extrajudicial killings and other abuses,” said Ryan Greenlaw of ICHRP in a prepared statement read at the event.
Duterte is also being compared to Marcos due to the recently enacted anti-terror law and red-tagging of any critic – including human rights defenders, farmers, students, and journalists — who questions his policies. Both policies further suppress Filipinos’ human rights as critics are considered as either “terrorists” or “communists.”