By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — “We are appalled. Appalled and ashamed that the Philippine government has yet again sided with the United States in refusing to support the ceasefire. Gaza is being reduced to rubble, children are dying after being crushed under the weight of their destroyed homes, and the Philippine government is refusing to take a stand. Filipinos do not agree with this!”
Muslim leader and secretary general of the Moro (Muslim)-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) Amirah Lidasan is both angry and distraught. At the recent November 14 protest in front of the United States Embassy in the Philippines, she spoke atop a pick-up drop to a gathered crowd of protesters — students, government employees, church people and members of other sectors. Her breathing came in hitches – an attack of asthma, she explained to the audience, but it is easy to understand why she is upset.
For the last six weeks, Israel has been raining bombs on Gaza in Occupied Palestine after the liberation fighters of Hamas sprung a surprise attack on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on October 7 and held hostage an unverified number of individuals among Israeli settlers and supposedly killed hundreds of others.
The different agencies of the United Nations such as United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) have been unable to determine the real numbers of Israeli settler casualties or the number of killed members of the IDF, but news of the supposed massacres done by Hamas are now being disputed as fabricated news by agencies allied with Israel such as the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and CNN News.
Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas then consequently released have narrated in media interviews that they were treated humanely by their captors and that their neighbors who were killed were actually gunned down by the IDF in their running pursuit of the militants.
Holding Israel and the US accountable
But all of that, Lidasan pointed out, are secondary to what Israel has done in retaliation and what it has been doing to Palestinians for the last 75 years of the illegal occupation backed and supported by the US.
“The Western media and the allies of Israel and its main backer the US government keep saying Hamas is a terrorist group attacking Israel and Israeli settlers, but they consistently ignore the crimes of Israel against the people of Palestine. For 75 years and counting since the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) when the US and the United Nations created Israel on Palestinian land, the agony Palestinians have been facing has been continuous and unending,” she said.
The Nakba refers to the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians when Israel was created as a Jewish majority country on the land that was Palestine, which back then had a two-thirds majority Palestinian Arab population.
“The Nakba continues to happen, and the displacement of Palestinians and the destruction of Palestinian life has been happening all this time since Israel was created,” Lidasan insisted.
In the Philippines, Muslims among Filipinos call themselves Moros, and their own ideals for liberation are called the Bangsamoro.
“The Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples in the Philippines hold the US government accountable for all the Palestinian men, women, and children killed during Israel’s genocide,” she said. “We are ashamed of the Philippine government as well for abstaining from voting on the resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.”
As of November 18 reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more than 13,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed since the latest Israeli war campaign against Hamas began on October 7. Over 11,000 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and the West Bank. Included in the dead are at least 53 journalists and media workers. Some 6,4000 Palestinian children have also been killed, of whom 1,755 are still buried under the rubble.
In the meantime, a total of 1.6 million people have been displaced due to incessant aerial bombardment in Gaza since October. The West Bank and other communities are also being bombarded, and there are reports on the ground of extrajudicial killings of Palestinian civilians, community raids, mass arrests, and detention. Israeli bombings also damaged infrastructure including hospitals and power sources/transformers.
Lidasan sees the similarities between Israel and the Philippines. Both these countries, she said, are run by leaders who rely on the support of the US.
“Marcos Jr. has been silent on the crimes of humanity being conducted by Israel even as officials of other countries and more importantly their citizens are denouncing Israel and taking to the streets in outrage against the Gaza bombings,” she said.
Marcos, she argued, ignores and dismisses the crimes and atrocities of the US and Israeli governments in return for increased military aid, sales of war armaments, and political support that worsen the human rights violations in the Philippines and aggravate tensions between the US and China in the Asia Pacific.
Impact of Israel’s war on Filipino Muslims
The possibility of the Philippine government escalating attacks against Moro civilians in the wake of Israel’s onslaught against Palestinian Muslims has also crossed Lidasan’s mind.
Last October 13, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said that they are prepared against the possible spillover of violence from sympathizers of Palestine. He said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is monitoring potential “copycat” effects among groups supporting Hamas.
“Hamas is not the issue here. The Moro people in the Philippines, who have long endured oppression and terror labeling, will be greatly affected by the government should it make good on its threat to go on high alert for a potential ‘ISIS spinoffs,’” Lidasan said.
“Sec. Teodoro’s threat is directed against those who advocate for peace and stand in solidarity with other Muslims and victims of oppression. We will not put it to pass the government to label the solidarity demonstrations for Palestine led by various groups, particularly the Bangsamoro people in Manila and Mindanao as acts of terrorism. Moros are always under government suspicion whenever the word “terrorism” is mentioned and this is most unjust and dangerous for Moro civilians,” she explained.
Lidasan also takes issue against former President Rodrigo Duterte who gave advice to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last October 10. The former president said that if he were in Netanyahu’s place, he would make Gaza “the world’s biggest cemetery”.
“These are the words of a dyed-in-the-wool human rights violator, a monster who condones genocide and is even eager to do it,” Lidasan said. “He himself is like Netanyahu who is guilty of massive crimes against humanity — over 25,000 killed in his so-called war against drugs, and many more in the war against Marawi city in Mindanao,” she said.
Filipino Muslims consider Marawi as their Mecca in the Philippines, their crown Islamic city. It was razed to the ground during the war operations conducted by then Duterte government from May and October 2017. Based on the Bangon Marawi (Recover Marawi) Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Program, a total of 369,196 individuals – majority being Moros — were displaced by the war.
In September 2018, Duterte personally thanked Netanyahu for the latter’s “critical help” in ending the war. Duterte was on an official state visit to Jerusalem in Occupied Palestine and said that the five-month siege “could have dragged on were it not for the very substantial and crucial equipment” from Israel.
The Philippines is the third biggest buyer of Israel weapons (US$275 million) next to Azerbaijan (US$295 million), and India (US $1.2billion) as of 2023. Philippines imports from Israel are also substantial at US$472.83 million in 2022 alone, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
As of last count, there are 40,000 Filipinos legally working in Israel, many of them care workers.
Filipinos for Palestine
As the international clamor demanding that Israel stop its bombing operations in Gaza and its military operations in the West Bank and in the Palestinian governorates, protests are also happening in the Philippines.
In key cities and regions solidarity actions denouncing Israel and calling for a ceasefire have been erupting, especially in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Student governments and academics from leading universities such as the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila, De la Salle University and the University of Sto. Tomas are sponsoring symposia and discussions on the history of Palestine. Doctors, teachers, and factory workers and their unions are joining peace rallies and protests in front of the Israeli and US embassy offices, and religious groups led by Protestant and Catholic denominations hold ecumenical ceremonies with Muslim imams to support international calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.
While is true that majority of Filipinos are largely unaware of the Israel’s occupation of Palestine and actually believe the Israel government’s claims that Israelis are the “chosen people”, progressive groups like those of Lidasan consider their work cut out for them.
The Philippines-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA), for instance, has declared its mission to “counter the disinformation and false narratives” of mainstream media which they said were meant to vilify the Palestinian resistance movement. The group is comprised of Filipino-Palestinians and Palestinians residing in the Philippines.
Even Filipino children are involved in the solidarity actions for Palestine.
At nine years old, Marcelo Suarez is a spokesperson for the child rights advocacy groups Salinlahi and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). In a recent activity celebrating International Children’s Month this November, Suarez said that Filipino children also experience what children Gaza are going through.
“During times of conflict and war, children always suffer the most. Police and even soldiers harass and threaten Filipino children in peasant and indigenous peoples communities. Some have even by killed when they were accused of being child soldiers or when their farmer parents were accused of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) who fight against private companies who drive away farmers from their land,” he said.
Suarez said that it is important for children like him to know the truth about what is happening in Palestine so they can also give their support the children there.
“So many children are being killed and the world’s governments are not doing anything to stop Israel. How many more Palestinian children have to die before the United Nations (UN) take action?”, he said.
Peace rally for Palestine
On November 25, church-based organizations and sectoral groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN or New Patriotic Alliance), the PPFA, and the Moro Consensus Group will be holding a “March for Peace in Palestine” in Manila. Leaders of the major religious formations of the Catholic and Protestant churches have issued a call to world governments to uphold International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Human Rights in Palestine and Israel.
“As people of faith, we cannot stand idly by as an onslaught of bombings, injuries and destruction rain down upon the people of Gaza. The IHL principles of proportionality and distinction between civilians and combatants have already been grossly crossed,” they said in a collective statement.
The signatories – among them the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David and Most Revd. Joel O. Porlares, Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Church—said that they “ believe in standing with the oppressed.”
“Having said this, we also see that it is important to delineate that victims can also become oppressors of others. Victimhood is never a permission for violating the human rights and dignity of others. Past war crimes will not justify present ones,” they said.
Renato Reyes Jr., president of BAYAN – the biggest network of progressive sectoral groups in the Philippines—said that it was the duty of all peace-loving citizens to support the call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
“It cannot be denied that Israel is actively committing the crime of genocide. Israel is using different inhumane methods to ensure ‘the destruction of the essential foundations of the life’ of Palestinians. Israel has cut off food, water, fuel, and electricity in Gaza, and continues to deny Palestinians access to healthcare. Netanyahu’s government has forced 1.1 million people out of their homes, bombed evacuation routes, and even bombed hospitals, churches, mosques – killing patients and doctors and other health workers. We cannot remain silent on this issue, and Filipinos will stand with Palestine and the Palestinian people,” he said. (RVO)