By RENATO REYES JR.
Lets’ take a brief review of the events and actions that shaped the year 2018. It was undoubtedly a year of fierce resistance, unity and unshakeable hope. We pay tribute to all those who made sacrifices in defense of our rights and freedoms. We celebrate the big and small victories in our never-ending fight for change. We note the huge challenges we face under a regime of tyrany. We stand firm knowing that the people remain our source of hope and strength.
Check out the year that was.
Persistent efforts for charter change and dictatorship
In January , the House leadership threatened to push with Cha-cha even without Senate and with very self-serving provisions via RBH 8. Various groups opposed Charter change and bogus federalism and formed the broad Stop Cha-cha Coalition in February. A rally was held on the anniversary of the EDSA People Power 1 on February 24.
Also in 2018, the Consultative Committee on Charter Change was formed and drafted its own proposal that was submitted to President Duterte. Various groups opposed the transition provisions of the draft charter which would give tremendous powers to the president. The cha-cha proposal would also open up the domestic economy to greater foreign control.
Towards the end of the year, the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading its own proposal, RBH 15, which sought charter change and the lifting of term limits and postponement of the 2019 polls. The version was so bad that even the members of the Consultative Committee rejected it. So far, the Senate is not keen on pursuing charter change at this time. It remains to be seen how both houses will clash on the issue in 2019.
Removal of the Chief Justice Sereno
From impeachment to quo warranto, the Duterte regime pushed for the removal of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to ensure its control over all three branches of government. Various groups united to defend judicial independence vs the dictatorial maneuvers of regime. Protests were held in different parts of the country. Though removed from office, Chief Justice Sereno would emerge as an opposition leader taking on issues of justice, human rights and charter change.
Fight against contractualization
Some of the more prominent struggles in 2018 were the campaigns against contractualization. Thousands of PLDT workers won a case before the DOLE and demanded to be regularized , until the case was elevated to the Court of Appeals which reversed the decision.
The struggle of NutriAsia workers and the violent dispersal of the picket line gained public sympathy with calls for boycott of the condiments manufacturer reverberating among consumers. Scores were injured and some 19 workers and supporters, including media workers, were arrested during the violent attack on the picket line. The cases were eventually dismissed but the fight for regularization continues.
Scuttling of peace talks (again)
After a series of backchannel talks in June and the initialing of several agreements aimed at reviving the peace talks, the Duterte regime decided to call off the resumption of formal peace talks supposedly because it wanted to hold more “public consultations”. What really happened was the scuttling of the talks for the nth time, with the militarists again gaining the upperhand. Duterte’s termination of the talks saw government hype the so-called localized peace talks and fake surrenders. Most dangerous of all was the militarization of communities and reliance on the militarists within the administration. At least four peace consultants were arrested during the year; Raffy Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Rey Casambre. All face trumped-up, non-bailable charges. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is now headed by a retired general, former Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez.
There remains broad support among different institutions for the resumption of formal peace talks as it is a much more effective way and addressing the roots of the armed conflict than the all-out war being waged by the regime. The CPP will be observing its 50th anniversary on December 26 – a reminder that militarist approaches to the rebellion will ultimately fail.
Stop TRAIN, oil price hikes, rising inflation, rice crisis
The economic crisis was a major issue for 2018, with prices shooting up due to the TRAIN Law and other factors. A “rice crisis” was felt in many areas due to the shortage of cheap rice from the NFA. Oil prices shocked many consumers as soaring world prices were aggravated by the imposition of new taxes on oil products. The peso also ended up weaker this year, thus contributing to increased prices of imported goods. Protests for the scrapping of TRAIN marked the second half of the year.
Approval ratings of the president dipped as prices soared. With inflation peaking at 6.7%, the Duterte regime momentarily backtracked on the imposition of new oil taxes for 2019. However, with the recent decline in oil prices, the new oil taxes for 2019 are a go.
Broad unity, United People’s SONA in July – Labanan ang Cha-cha, biguin ang diktadura
The United People’s SONA led the broadest protest against Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address. In a time when the reactionaries were divided, bickering and jostling for power inside Congress, thus delaying the SONA, the people were united outside Congress. The theme of the broad protest was Labanan ang Cha-cha, biguin and diktadura. In just two years, a broad united front against the Duterte regime had emerged – a sign of the worsening economic and political crisis brought about by the current administration.
Trumped-up charges vs Makabayan 4 foiled
Many were surprised that a 12-year old case against Satur, Liza, Ka Paeng and Teddy would be revived by a Nueva Ecija judge, and a warrant issued against the four. The dire situation highlighted the continuing practice of filing trumped-up charges against critics of the regime. The trumped-up charges were later junked when the case was re-raffled to another judge who found no merit in the allegations against the Makabayan 4.
Revocation of Trillanes amnesty, political crisis
One of the most intense political crisis that affected the Duterte regime was its effort to render void the amnesty granted to Sen. Antonio Trillanes and the attempts to arrest the lawmaker even without a warrant, and solely on the basis of an Executive Order. The move showed the Duterte regime’s penchant for abusing the legal system to go after its critics. The arrest did not materialize when it was pointed out that no warrant existed. There were also reported grumblings within the military who did not like the revocation of the amnesty.
Broad anti-fascist on September 21, Martial Law anniversary, International People’s Tribunal
To mark the anniversary of Marcos’ Martial Law, various groups again came together for a broad action at Luneta. The Duterte regime was increasingly taking on the mantle of Marcos with the spate of extrajudicial killings, ascendancy of the military over civilian authority, the militarization of the countryside, Martial Law in Mindanao, and the persecution of critics. There were however several attempts to sabotage the rally through scare-tactics and disinformation. The people persevered however and protests were held throughout the country.
At about the same time, the International People’s Tribunal was convened and received testimonies regarding the dire human rights situation in the Philippines. The IPT rendered a guilty verdict against Duterte and the US government that supported the state forces committing the abuses.
‘Red October’ psywar offensive, push back against fascism
On the eve of the September 21 protests, the AFP proclaimed what it alleged as the “Red October” conspiracy of different anti-Duterte forces that would stage mass actions to supposedly oust Duterte on from September all the way to December. The psywar scheme made sweeping attacks on all forms of resistance, from workers protests, land occupation to anti-Martial Law film screenings and protests, labelling these as part of an elaborate conspiracy. Several universities were tagged as being NPA recruitment grounds for the “Red October” plot. The mass movement would soon push back and expose the sham conspiracy as nothing more than Red scare tactics and another attempt to muzzle legitimate dissent. Students, school administrators and artists were among those who led the push back against the AFP.
One of the worst human rights violations that happened in 2018 was the Sagay massacre in Negors. Farm workers had sought to till land in a hacienda so that they would have food after sugar season. While the farm workers and their families were resting in a makeshift camp, armed men opened fire on them killing 9. Instead of going after the perpetrators, the PNP, AFP laid the blame on the organization of sugar workers, the NFSW, and framed the incident as part of “Red October” even without a shred of evidence to back this claim. A broad range of groups and personalities condemned the Sagay massacre and called for an independent probe. The revolutionary forces in Negros pointed to private armed goods and paramilitary groups in the service of big landlords as the perpetrators of this most heinous crime.
Weeks after the Sagay massacre, Atty. Ben Ramos of the NUPL in Negros was shot dead near his home.
Deportation of Sr. Pat Fox
Beloved Australian missionary nun and friend of the poor Sr. Patricia Fox was forced to leave the country this year after several months of fighting a deportation order by the Bureau of Immigration. She was targeted by Duterte himself and accused of acts she never committed, in another case of political persecution of critics of the regime. Sr. Pat was an advocate of poor farmers and indigenous peoples. While she has left the country, the Filipino people remain grateful and look forward to seeing her again.
Earlier, Australian human rights lawyer Gil Boehringer was also deported after it was revealed that he was part of a Philippine blacklist of human rights defenders from different parts of the world.
Attacks on Lumad schools, arrest of Satur, Rep. France and the NSM
Under Martial Law in Mindanao, Lumad schools have been under attack by state forces and paramilitary groups. What was supposed to be a humanitarian mission to a Salugpungan school on November 28 turned in to a rescue mission of distressed Lumad students and teachers. However, those who carried out the rescue found themselves arrested, detained and slapped with ridiculous charges of child abuse and human trafficking. The incident put a spotlight on the plight of Lumad schools and communities under militarization and Martial Law.
The arrests of the NSM participants was one of the most recent cases of human rights violations under the Martial Law regime in Mindanao. There have been documented cases of extrajudicial killings, filing of trumped-up charges, as well as forced surrender of civilians labelled as NPA fighters. Martial Law would be extended by Congress for another year during a joint session last December 12.
Fight against Imperialism, US intervention and China occupation
The year 2018 saw continuing resistance against imperialist intervention. US imperialism wanted to retain its foothold in the country through military exercises, counter-insurgency involvement and military aid. While the people welcomed the return of the Balangiga Bells, the unequal US agreements violative of our national sovereignty remain.
On the other hand, various sectors have called out President Duterte for his stand on China and the West Philippine Sea. The Xi visit to the Philippines was marked by protests and criticism of bilateral agreements that will place the country in debt bondage to China. Questions were also raised on the agreement for joint development in the West Philippine Sea vis-a-vis the legal victory that the Philippines had already won in the international tribunal.
Attacks on the church, media, human rights defenders
The year 2018 will also be known as a year when attacks on various sectors critical of Duterte escalated. The Catholic church became a favorite whipping boy of the President after church leaders stepped up its criticism of the drug war. The media was also at the receiving end of attacks, with cases filed against online news outfit Rappler among some of the prominent cases.
Human right defenders meanwhile had to deal with increased harassment, Red-tagging, trumped-up charges, blacklisting and deportation, extrajudicial killings and other forms of attacks on human rights.
Impunity is not forever. This year saw the conviction of notorious human rights violator General Jovito Palparan. Also convicted in a separate case were the police officers who killed Kian delos Santos. Filipino journalists in the line of fire gained international recognition for their reporting in the Philippines. Filipino human rights defenders also performed their work with great distinction despite tremendous challenges. Political prisoners continue to challenge the trumped-up cases filed against them, with cases eventually dismissed and their freedom secured.
I may not have listed down all the important events but feel free to add in the comments section what for you were important developments for the year.
Greater challenges and more intense struggles await in 2019.
The author is the secretary general of the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.