PHILIPPINES: Fear overwhelming the lives of ordinary Filipinos

The life of an average citizen in the Philippines these days is beset with fear. Even the expression “rule of law” evokes cynical reactions among ordinary folk, as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo uses the very same expression to justify blatant and brutal repression.  Sloganeering about anti-terrorism and anti-crime drives is used as a weapon to subdue millions suffering from extreme economic hardship who lack any legitimate channels through which to have their voices heard and some relief obtained. Even people who dare to cry out that they are hungry and impoverished face threats, rather than support, from government officials and the members of local elites. 

Throughout the country, steps are being quickly taken to silence complainants rather than address their grievances. Protesters and human rights defenders are being aggressively repressed. Laws are being used to ban meetings where permits are not first obtained, going against the very culture of a people who in the 1980s overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and hold the right to protest dearly. Targeted killings are continuing daily right across the archipelago. Trade unionists, land reform advocates, farmers, journalists and human rights defenders are among the victims. In areas of outright conflict, such as in the south of the country, large-scale bloodshed is a fact of life. 

What is happening in the Philippines is itself part of a negative trend throughout Asia: ideologically-driven propaganda is being used to deny the basic rights of the ordinary people in the name of law-and-order. However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has observed that in the Philippines the situation is worse than in most neighbouring countries. In other countries it has been possible to develop effective campaigns to counteract and prevent the hardening of extremist ideological positions by the authorities, and thereby offset the worst effects of the repression they are designed to justify. By contrast, in the Philippines there seems to be as yet no serious efforts towards this end. The result is rapidly worsening rule of law, despite the rhetorical commitments of the government to the contrary, and an accompanying very deep sense of frustration among the ordinary folk. 

The Philippines is at an extremely dangerous point in its history. Widespread frustration about the collapsed rule of law may completely alienate most people in the country from the elite and authorities. At that point the Philippines could well face upsurged violence, perhaps on an unprecedented scale, accompanied by the building of parallel systems and institutions of “justice” in defiance of those under control of the state. 

The defence of human rights in the Philippines is at its lowest point in many years: a new approach is needed. Filipinos must concentrate more on shoring up and reinvigorating their institutions of justice. They must take calls for reforms to these institutions to the public. Though this may be a very difficult task initially, if a measure of confidence can be restored, a movement could be quickly mobilised and have a strong effect. For the sake of those who are daily dying from the bullets of assassins, or crying from hunger, this work needs to begin now. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-109-2005
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Administration of justice, Judicial system, Rule of law,