'Shoot them dead': Duterte's orders alarm Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Defenders
Amid the global COVID-19 crisis, IWGIA strongly condemns Duterte’s shoot-to-kill orders targeting individuals and organisations seen as ‘troublemakers’, a general term that includes ‘communists’, ‘leftists’ or anyone seen as opposing his rule, including Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Defenders. Such an order turns these important defenders into open targets for Philippine police and armed forces.
In a national televised message on 1 April 2020, the president responded to the previous night’s protesters demand for food packs in Manila slums, warning the public: “Do not intimidate the government. Do not challenge the government. You will lose.” He continued by giving direct orders to police and military to shoot dead “anyone who creates trouble”. *
As such, anyone critically voicing any opinion against the Duterte regime, or even asking for economic aid, food, medical assistance, mass-testing or any other government support, can be deemed a ‘troublemaker’ and therefore become an open target to be killed under Duterte’s new orders.
“This pronouncement of the president… is basically a state order to implement mass murder,” Windel Bolinget, chair of the Cordillera People Alliance (CPA), said.
Risking life defending Indigenous rights
Windel Bolinget is a life-long Indigenous human rights defender, close partner to IWGIA and key actor in the National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines (KATRIBU). He explained that under Duterte’s repressive administration, he and his colleagues have been vilified and labelled as communists, or at times even as terrorists.
In his over three-decade long experience as an activist and Indigenous human rights defender in the Philippines, he has almost grown accustomed to the brutal use of military and police forces to suppress, threaten and intimidate the work of CPA, their allies and Indigenous Peoples.
“Throughout the years that I have been one of the leaders of CPA, I have received real threats. My colleagues have been victims of enforced disappearances, victims of extra judicial killings, illegal arrests and detentions,” Bolinget explained.
Due to the circumstances caused by the pandemic, already precarious conditions for Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders all over the world have intensified. These circumstances present opportunities for authoritarian leaders, like Duterte, to consolidate their own power and to silence critics and/or ‘troublemakers’ under the guise of protecting the population from a worsening spread of the virus.
“Instead of focusing their efforts against COVID-19 they [the Duterte government] are exploiting the situation to further declare an authoritarian rule or tyranny. And we know for a fact that since Duterte became president it has been his agenda to impose martial law, even if not formally,” Bolinget continued.
The potential implementation of Duterte’s shoot-to-kill order poses a severe treat to Indigenous Peoples and anyone critical of his government. His regime has proven to be capable and willing to perpetrate mass killings of citizens, seen as part of the measures taken in recent years to curb the country’s illegal drug issues where more than 20,000 people have been killed without due process.
Bolinget further explained that the monitoring (and potential killing) of Indigenous Peoples and ‘troublemakers’, seen as the opposition, are facilitated and increased during the pandemic lockdown, as public transportation and other utilities are suspended, cutting defenders off from their support networks and confining them in easy to locate spots. Furthermore, the prevalence of civil, military and police checkpoints increases their risk.
“So these directives of shooting us, with the use of snipers or by whatever other means they will do, is a really serious threat. It is not just rhetoric, but it is a really serious threat. It is real. The regime has already demonstrated that it can do massive killings,” Bolinget said.
Calling for solidarity
CPA has released an urgent alert condemning Duterte’s offensive speech, bringing attention to the fact that his orders are a display of martial rule to enact civic mass murder. The lockdown prevents any possibility to address cases of human rights violations whether through the mobilisation of protests, legal measures (as courts are suspended) or media attention, which is currently difficult to get. Therefore, Bolinget, on behalf of CPA and KATRIBU, calls for solidarity from local governments, the church and the legal community, all the way up to global institutions, to pay attention to their dire situation.
“We are calling… all human rights organisations, lobbying organisations and institutions nationwide and worldwide. We are calling states and governments to urge the Philippine government, to pressure the Philippine government, to withdraw such orders to shoot us,” Bolinget implored.
The exploitation of the coronavirus situation by the Philippine government is accompanied by their misuse of capital resources.
CPA reports that during the Easter holidays in the province of Sagada, rather than military helicopters dropping vital supplies for citizens, they instead dropped leaflets with information claiming that essential civil society organisations, which are working to provide relief to the affected communities, are dangerous, and that these organisations are part of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People's Army (NPA)￼ – ‘troublemaker’ groups against which the shoot-to-kill order has been issued.
“In this time of crisis and problems with the budget to fight COVID-19 and provide for people’s basic needs, this waste of people’s money must not be allowed,” Bolinget said.
This act shows the skewed priorities of the Philippine government, as such initiatives and budgets should instead be used for delivering relief and information to alleviate peoples’ struggle brought on by the pandemic.