APRN Joins CSOs, POs, and Human Rights Defenders in Fact Finding Mission in Palawan, Philippines

The Program on Building Democracy and Claiming Civic Spaces is committed to resisting militarism and fascism as well as uniting with CSOs and POs in the struggle against structures of oppression and inequality. Embedded in this Program is the Workstream on Militarism. The Workstream seeks to systematize the broad spectrum of work in terms of research, policy advocacy, information dissemination, campaign, and lobbying with the perspective of strengthening people’s movements and facilitating the voices and actions of marginalized sectors against militarism and fascism.

In line with this, the Asia Pacific Research Network accepted the invitation from Tanggol Magsasaka to join a fact-finding and peace mission in the heavily militarized island of Palawan in the Philippines. Tanggol Magsasaka is a broad platform of individuals, CSOs, and POs that advocate the general upliftment and development of the lives of rural-based sectors. The delegates of the fact-finding and peace mission range from international networks including IBON International and the People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty to local and national platforms – Children’s Rehabilitation Center Inc., KARAPATAN – Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, PAMALAKAYA Pilipinas – National Federation of Small Fisherfolk in the Philippines, and KASAMA TK. 

Tanggol Magsasaka, collectively assessed and analyzed several cases of alleged human rights violations, threats and harassment to residents, and heavy militarization in affected barangays of Paly and Sitio Montevista Poblacion, Municipality of Taytay, Palawan Province. Included in the data-gathering is an investigation on the current situation of the people’s livelihood and how these the deteriorating human rights situation affect their holistic development. Part of the conduct also included media work to jumpstart the campaigns of and for the people in the area. 

General findings indicate that the presence of the 3rd Marine Brigade adversely affects the already dire situation of people. Palawan’s Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (TF-ELCAC), a policy framework that seeks to implement Duterte’s EO 70 and Joint Campaign Plan Kapanatagan locally, has served as a blanket authorization for authorities to baselessly accuse local leaders of being rebels, arrest citizens without due process, and permit the presence of state forces in these barangays and in many other areas in Palawan. Since 2018, the elements of the Philippine Marines have been billeted in both barangays resulting in de facto martial law.

The trend of militarizing the countryside and the rise of Militarism on the global scale has been the result of the intensive competition between global and regional superpowers vying for dominance in each of their respective areas of control, planning to enlarge their scope and accumulate more wealth and power. This is indicative of the current neoliberal framework wherein the the primacy of wealth and power results in aggressive or overly-defensive military policies and strategies, which in turn churn-out local authoritarian policies that secure the profit of the few to the detriment of the majority. 

Fascist and authoritarian states enable the dictatorship of local authorities, hiding behind the facade of ‘development’ as justification for the collusion with companies that aim to grab resources with the use of force, be it state-sponsored or private. For instance, Guevent Investments Development Corp., a local corporation that seeks to establish a Bamboo Farm in an agricultural lot at the expense of the residents and farmers who depend on the said land for their livelihood. The local corporation asked for the help of local authorities to ensure their stake on the land, with the latter responding by deploying and concentrating armed forces in the nearby area. This partnership results in the extraction of wealth from the majority who are poor and the curtailment of people’s civil rights and liberties.

To be able to adapt to their current poor conditions and partly in response to the emergence of the military in their respective areas, the residents of Paly and Sitio Montevista, Poblacion; formed organizations, namely PAMALAKAYA-Paly and PLORMM (Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Okupante, Residents, Magsasaka, at Maralita) respectively, to cater to their specific socio-economic needs. For PAMALAKAYA, this includes successfully campaigning for against restrictions in fishing. For PLORMM, this entails consolidating their membership to ensure that their right to land and livelihood is being upheld by the municipal government and GIDC. For both people’s organizations, this is resistance against the attacks by the military, initiating dialogues with local authorities, and conducting cooperative activities for development. 

Despite this, it has become inevitable for the local authorities to react to the people’s push for civic space with excessive use of force. For instance, PAMALAKAYA-Paly was the object of reprisal for their successful campaigns that ensure that all residents on the island can fish freely and, consequently ensure income for their families. Since the people’s organization was at the forefront, they were threatened, harassed, and intimidated. In focus group discussions in Paly, at least 18 individuals were victims of false allegations and various forms of threats and intimidation by the 3rd Marine Brigade.

Similarly, PLORMM founder and Chairperson Norlie Bernabe was illegally arrested with trumped up murder charges. Soon after, other leaders were threatened by the elements of the 413rd Marine Brigade as they made rounds at the homes of PLORMM members and coerced them to sign questionable templated affidavit of surrender and a commitment not to join any organizational activities. A total of 17 cases were recorded during the mission. The Marine Brigade’s persistent harassment eventually led to the fracture of the organization. 

In both cases, it can be observed the space for CSOs and POs has shrunk as the people’s rights to organize are being curtailed. The relentless repression of local authorities with the state armed forces as their machinery has also endangered the lives of their family members. 

This is not an isolated case, it is clear that governments around the Asia-Pacific prioritize the accumulation of power and profit; and deals with transnational corporations more than the people’s welfare, that these institutions are willing to use brute force towards the helpless for their own selfish interests. 

The same trends can be observed in India and Indonesia, with military spending taking up a large chunk of both countries’ national budgets. The jingoistic nationalism by the Indian government comes at the expense of the autonomous residents of Kashmir and Jammu, who are negatively affected by the military forces barging in a sovereign territory, culminating into a civil war. Likewise, Indonesia’s claim on West Papua has hindered self-determination for its locals, with an ongoing civil war between the Indonesian military and the West Papuan armed movement. Due to this local organizations for self determination are being tagged as insurgents, and are treated as such. The excessive use of force has already been documented across the region. Harassment and persecution of peasants, human rights defenders, environmental rights defenders, and activists, as well as cases of enforced disappearances, has been the normative response by state-forces. Dissent is now considered a criminal offense. Human rights abuses and violations have become more rampant, with a growing number of victims at a very alarming rate and the normalized use of the military as a tool for repression towards civilians only makes it worse. 

Militarism is rapidly becoming normalized due to the dominant neoliberal world, and shall further breed conflict and repression, be it externally with other nations, or internally with its own people; as long as the roots of this imperialist and expansionist ideology are not addressed.#

References:

Fact Finding Mission

Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Feb 19-20, 2020

Fact Finding Mission Report

Tanggol Magsasaka

Useful Links:

Tanggol Magsasaka: Tanggol Magsasaka network concludes fact-finding mission in Taytay, Palawan

Author: PAMALAKAYA: National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines

Source: AngPamalakaya.org (https://angpamalakaya.org/2020/02/23/tanggol-magsasaka-tanggol-magsasaka-network-concludes-fact-finding-mission-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR1jHxx1B2QdpQ8iI2yeG2hCsq0r5ProsRrIPRjoHF4bCLBeLfs_X-aGkHI)

Date: February 23, 2020

Amid impact of Fisheries Code and Duterte’s EO70: Amihan denounces harassment vs. fisherfolk, peasant families in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Amihan: National Federation of Peasant Women

Source: amihanwomen.org

(https://amihanwomen.org/2020/02/24/amid-impact-of-fisheries-code-and-dutertes-eo70-amihan-denounces-harassment-vs-fisherfolk-peasant-families-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3uXVCGV5VKXT0DGQxYnNW419ff3qkZ3J_7rvEBZHzaJ7k6wxasFXUBW2w)

Date: February 24, 2020

Anakpawis slams continuing abuses against Fisherfolk and Farmers in Taytay, Palawan 
Author: Anakpawis PL 

Source: Anakpawis.net

Date: February 23, 2020

Amid impact of Fisheries Code and Duterte’s EO70: Amihan denounces harassment vs. fisherfolk, peasant families in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Amihan: National Federation of Peasant Women

Source: amihanwomen.org

(https://amihanwomen.org/2020/02/24/amid-impact-of-fisheries-code-and-dutertes-eo70-amihan-denounces-harassment-vs-fisherfolk-peasant-families-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3uXVCGV5VKXT0DGQxYnNW419ff3qkZ3J_7rvEBZHzaJ7k6wxasFXUBW2w)

Date: February 24, 2020

Network exposes rights abuses vs Philippine Fisherfolk and Farmers in Palawan

Author: People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty Global

Source: FoodSov.org (http://foodsov.org/network-exposes-rights-abuses-vs-ph-fisherfolk-farmers-in-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3YoHxdrdB23QKqnYi9u84BWPYz9D7QZE7PmZ_Gz4IgvLk6S9bTYulfhVs)

Date: February 24, 2020

Palawan fisherfolk lament fishing regulation, harassment by state agents

Author: Bulatlat

Source: Bulatlat.com (https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/02/25/palawan-fisherfolk-lament-fishing-regulation-harassment-by-state-agents/?fbclid=IwAR34rAgxaV83KvNKMIJLon4Ctsuf-D-xV3ahkb0gxB2JHgTvwEgm3q5A4r4)

Date: February 25, 2020

Int’l coalition: PH farmers, fisherfolks starved to displace them from island province

Author: People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty Global

Source: FoodSov.org (http://foodsov.org/intl-coalition-ph-farmers-fisherfolks-starved-to-displace-them-from-island-province/?fbclid=IwAR2o15Zn-P6VBdrZhklBNj6kOpYe-SNV4ti_8qkHD8yVGtGJpYVl_RfmnQ0)

Date: February 26, 2020 

Fact-finding mission finds heavy military presence in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Stacy Ang

Source: Current PH.com (https://currentph.com/2020/02/27/fact-finding-mission-finds-heavy-military-presence-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR0nCBXdY2TopCnpxNuitCNmyRznidvd25hY56l2X2ug3A78dvbrkSPbNTA)

Date: February 27, 2020