Buried under six thousand names in the 2016 six months kill list of President Duterte’s War Against Drugs, are those of civil society leaders like anti-mining activist Jimmy Saypan and environmental youth activist Joselito Pasaporte who were killed in separate incidents in Compostela Valley; anti-crime crusader Zenaida Luz killed by two policemen in Mindoro Oriental; and tricycle transport organisation leader Joel Lising who was shot dead in Tondo, Manila during Human Rights Week in December 2016.
Killings of political activists and rights defenders continue in the Philippines but are now virtually concealed amidst the widespread and systematic killings in police operations and vigilante attacks against suspected drug offenders. This further erosion of the rule of law and the dismantling of human rights standards have led to insecurity in the homes and streets in mostly impoverished communities and provided a new excuse for harassing and silencing political, environmental and community rights defenders.
Duterte won the presidency by a plurality of 39% of electoral votes by championing populist campaign promises such as the annihilation of suspected drug pushers and addicts as well as the end of traditional politics and elite rule. His campaign team exploited the image he created for himself as a ‘man of the masses’ which hid the fact that Duterte comes from a traditional political clan, and that 89% of his P334.8 million (USD$6.72 million) campaign fund came from only 13 big donors with an additional 8% from just a group of 18 campaign fund donors.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported that within six months of the elections, half a dozen of these donors and their relatives - who represent companies that do business with the government or engage in utilities, mining, and the exploitation of natural resources - had been appointed to Government Cabinet and other positions. Furthermore, upon winning the presidency, Duterte’s economic team has declared that they will continue the neoliberal economic paradigm of the previous administrations and will even work to reform laws and amend the constitution to allow more foreign business and investments into the economy.
Activists and rights defenders will continue to struggle against the threat of political, economic and cultural disintegration of communities and environmental destruction of ecosystems from the continuous drive for resource plunder and labour exploitation by global corporations and the local elite. They will have to seek justice for victims of human rights violations perpetrated against their members and society at large, even as they defend themselves from the brutal coercive apparatus of the state. They will now do this in the context of blatant impunity for killings supported by the president’s War Against Drugs, the impending reimposition of Death Penalty, and authoritarian and neoliberal amendments to the Philippine Constitution. The struggle for survival has become frighteningly literal.