PHILIPPINES: ‘Historical memory of martial law under Marcos Senior gives us strength to persevere’

CrisitinaPalabayCIVICUS speaks with Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of Karapatan, about the human rights situation in the Philippines since the start of Ferdinand Marcos Junior’s government.

Founded in 1995, Karapatan is an alliance of civil society activists and organisations working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. Its founders and members have been at the forefront of the human rights struggle in the Philippines since the time of Ferdinand Marcos Senior’s martial law regime.

What have the government’s policy priorities been in its first year?

Ferdinand Marcos Junior, known as Bongbong Marcos, the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was inaugurated for a six-year presidential term on 30 June 2022, succeeding Rodrigo Duterte, whose rule was marked by closing civic space and attacks against civil society activists.

While the new government tries to make it look like its policy priorities are aimed at addressing the economic crisis and its impacts on the debt-ridden domestic economy, this is not the case. Inflation and unemployment rates continue to rise while disproportionate shares of the budget are allocated to militarist policies rather than social services. These are insufficient palliatives and the government continues to invoke the crisis situation to justify the continuing violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

No substantial efforts have been made to curb corruption. But one after another, graft allegations against members of the Marcos family are being dismissed by the courts, which enables them to keep the money siphoned from the nation’s coffers.

The new administration tries to present itself as more humane than its predecessor in relation to the so-called ‘war on drugs’, but reports from the ground prove that extrajudicial killings and abuses of power by the police are ongoing. Moreover, Marcos Junior stands firmly behind Duterte in rejecting the International Criminal Court’s independent investigations into the thousands of killings committed under Duterte’s watch.

While mainstream surveys say that Marcos Junior maintains the trust of the population, people on the ground are increasingly questioning his rule because they see that his campaign promises to lower the prices of basic commodities and costs of services aren’t being fulfilled.

Have conditions for civil society worsened under Marcos Junior’s rule?

There seems to be no essential or substantial change in the relationship between the government and Filipino civil society, which continues to be hostile. If there is any change at all, it seems to be rather negative, considering the cumulative effect of the continuing human rights violations, attacks on civic and democratic space, dire lack of justice and accountability, and the prevalent culture of impunity.

The conditions for civil society have worsened due to the accumulation of restrictions that the state has continued to impose on civic space. These include red-tagging – the practice of labelling people and groups as associated with or sympathetic to the communist movement or progressive movements, judicial harassment and illegal or arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders (HRDs). We have witnessed an increased use of counter-terrorism laws against HRDs, political dissenters, journalists and workers in churches and faith-based institutions. Violations of freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly have clearly continued.

The recently adopted National Security Policy bodes ill for those working towards the achievement of just and lasting peace and upholding and defending human rights, because it affirms all the policies of the Duterte administration, including the institutionalisation of a government task force that has been notorious for committing red-tagging and other forms of human rights violations. Additionally, Marcos Junior hasn’t issued a clear policy statement concerning human rights.

What challenges does Karapatan face as a human rights organisation?

Filipino civil society organisations remain steadfast in our collective work to uphold and defend human rights in the Philippines. Our historical memory of martial law under Marcos Senior gives us the strength to persevere in our human rights advocacy despite all the restrictions and challenges.

Karapatan specifically continues to face numerous challenges. One of our staff members, Alexander Philip Abinguna, remains in jail on trumped-up charges. Our national officers continue to face judicial harassment, threats and red-tagging. We are in constant fear of physical attacks and the use of draconian laws against us. However, at our recent National Council meeting, we expressed an even stronger determination to continue doing our human rights work, demanding justice for all victims of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, resisting all forms of authoritarianism, fighting for a truly democratic country and building a human rights culture.

What international support does Filipino civil society receive, and what further support do you need?

We appreciate the tenacious political, moral and material support that the international community provides to Filipino civil society to defend and uphold human rights. Karapatan calls on its international friends and allies to further strengthen this spirit of international solidarity by amplifying our calls to your communities and peoples, to your parliaments and governments and to international mechanisms such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. We likewise appreciate any political and material support for victims of human rights violations, including HRDs at risk and their families and communities.

Civic space in the Philippines is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Karapatan through its website or its Facebook page, and follow @karapatan and @TinayPalabay on Twitter.



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