Martial law in Mindanao

On 23 May 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the whole of Mindanao island under martial law. This was done ostensibly to fight the armed Maute group, which has engaged Philippine military in a series of gun battles in Marawi City in Mindanao.

The ongoing battle between the Philippine forces and the Maute group has already displaced around 100,000 residents of Marawi City, according to some sources. Refugees are traveling in droves to other towns and cities in hopes of escaping the devastating effects of the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, the situation of displaced people in refugee camps is dismal. Food is scarce, and health and other services are badly needed to stave of hunger, disease and other problems.

In addition, the declaration of martial law for the whole island is a cause for worry, given the recent pronouncement of the Duterte that he will be as “harsh” as Ferdinand Marcos when the latter declared martial law in 1972. 10,000 people became victims of extrajudicial killings under Marcos’ rule, while tens of thousands more were illegally detained. Furthermore, Duterte is exploring the idea of expanding the coverage of martial law to the whole country. Human rights abuses against civilians have already been reported, perpetrated not just the Maute group but also by alleged government forces, in Marawi and other places in Mindanao.

Martial law has almost always resulted in human rights abuses, whether in the Philippines or in other countries. The government should respect of the rights of the Filipino people while ensuring sufficient food and other services for those displaced by the fighting in Marawi.

(Photos from Jerome Aba and Suara Bangsamoro)

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Unhealthy public health system

The Philippine health budget for 2017 was pegged at PhP90.9 billion, down from 2016’s PhP 122.63 billion. This means that the government is spending an average of only PhP2.39 per day for every person for the country’s 104 million people.

Such low allocations for the public health care system has dire consequences on the well-being of people living in the Philippines. In government institutions like Fabella Hospital, for example, maternity wards are overcrowded, with four to five mothers and their new-born babies sharing only one bed. Other hospital wards are in more or less the same situation. Public health workers are overworked and underpaid, forcing many of them to look for work in private hospitals or overseas, where the pay is better. Facilities are years behind modern health technology. Medicine also doesn’t come cheap, adding to the economic burden of Filipino families, many of whom are poor and earn less than PhP100 per day. In addition, despite pressure from various health rights groups, the government seems keen on continuing the privatization of the last few remaining public hospitals in the country. This will certainly add more burdens to the people, as many with health issues will be forced to go to private hospitals and clinics for medical attention.

In the countryside, there are areas where farmers and indigenous peoples have not seen doctors set foot on their communities for a decade or more. More often than not, there is only public health clinic for every town, if there is one at all. Many people from the rural areas would have to travel far just to get medical attention for themselves or their families or community members.

Public health workers and community health workers also become targets of human rights violations, such as the case of rural doctor Dreyfuss Perlas, who was shot and killed by unknown assailants on 1 March 2017. Another example is the extrajudicial killings of Rosalie Calago and her husband. Calago was a barangay health worker from Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental province while her husband was a barangay kagawad. On 24 May 2015 they were shot by suspected military personnel and then burned inside their home.

The right to health is a basic human right that should be enjoyed by the Filipino people and is an essential part of the right to development. Yet as the situation of the health system in the Philippines continues to worsen, one is led to question the government’s commitment in providing accessible health care for–and upholding the right to health of–the Filipino people.

(Photo: Sonia Narang, 2015)

IN PHOTOS: New book on landgrabbing launched

The Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP) launched the book Landgrabbing Cases in the Philippines: Hunger, Greed and Resistance on 17 May 2017 at Max’s Restaurant in Quezon Memorial Circle. According to Bulatlat, “the case studies presented delve on the state of the country’s agricultural lands and other land resources and how these are being diminished by the government laws, policies and programs to the detriment of those who directly work the land.”


(Photos by Mark Ambay III)

Profit versus genuine development

The government promised jobs and development when the Philippine Mining Act was signed in 1995. 22 years later, genuine and sustainable development has yet to be seen by the people living in or near mining sites approved by the government. Instead, what they and the rest of the population experienced was environmental destruction on a scale never before seen in the country, such as that seen in this photo of a mining site in Agusan del Norte province in Mindanao. This environmental destruction is primarily brought about by large scale mining companies who do not feel they are accountable to the people. Laws and policies favoring large scale mining companies continue to be implemented, laws and policies that are more often than not detrimental to the lives of the people living on or near mining sites.

Aside from environmental degradation, large scale destructive mining has time and again been associated with grave human rights violations. Especially affected are farmers and indigenous peoples, with a big number of mining sites located in or near indigenous ancestral lands. The current administration has so far failed to establish and implement a viable plan for genuine sustainable development for the country that does not involve environmental destruction on this large a scale.

(Photo from Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies)

When disaster strikes

Because of its location in the Pacific Rim of Fire, the Philippines is considered one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. In November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) hit the Philippines, resulting in the death of over 6000 people. The typhoon also rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless while damages to property and the economy were estimated to be at over PhP30 billion. With climate change knocking on the world’s doorstep, the effects of typhoons, droughts and other natural calamities have intensified.

Poverty has exacerbated the effects of natural calamities on the Filipino people. Many of the poor do not have access to resources that could otherwise mitigate the effects of natural disasters. With many of the poor earning less than P100 per day, natural disasters wipe out what little finances and savings the poor have. Buffer food stocks are scarce while the price of food, especially in cases of disasters such as Haiyan, tend to be beyond the reach of low-income families.

Government preparations for natural disasters such as Haiyan are often inadequate to minimize the effects of natural disasters on the poor. Effective mitigation and adaptation techniques on a nationwide scale have yet to be finalized and implemented. In addition, accusations of corruption during relief distribution and rehabilitation operations abound, further lessening the resources the poor can tap to rebuild their lives.

(Photo from Getty Images)