OTTAWA, A recently adopted report of Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled CANADA’S ENGAGEMENT WITH EAST ASIA dated November 2018 cited concerns over both extra-judicial killings in the Philippines and the poor reception these concerns received when raised with the government in Manila. Specifically, the report cites troubling government behavior in the Philippines with concerns raised about violence and human rights violations associated with Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
The observations on the human rights situation were based largely on the Committee’s May 2018 visit to the Philippines. While the report did offer comment on the high profile war on drugs, it missed opportunities to highlight other critical human rights issues, such as the extrajudicial killings of Lumad, farmers, environmental and anti-mining activists, the growing number of political detainees in the Philippines, Martial Law in Mindanao, the militarization of the government, the military initiated collapse of the peace talks with the NDFP all of which are recognized here in Canada as part of a growing trend towards authoritarianism.
On the issue of engagement around human rights the report indicates that in both China and the Philippines, the Committee received pushback from authorities when engaging on issues related to human rights. The Committee, however, felt strongly that it is appropriate to comment on foreign governments’ domestic actions where they are contrary to their international commitments, particularly violations of international human rights obligations, it had the sense that many did not want what they perceived as “lectures” on the topic.
OCHRP supports the committee’s position in that, basic social and political rights should be respected regardless of situation. However, the Canadian government needs to be consistent in its approach to criticizing both friends like the Philippines with equal measure to governments it has less amiable relations with such as China.
One of the key recommendations to the Canadian Parliament was for continued promotion of respect for human rights, democracy, gender equality, and the rule of law. It suggested continuum of engagement strategies tailored to local circumstances and focused on supporting the positive change from quiet diplomacy and indirect action to open and frank dialogue. OCHRP notes the later strategy of frankness has been used by the Canadian Prime Minister with some effect based on the highly negative reaction of Duterte for being called out on human rights abuses at the 2017 APEC conference.
Since the Committee visited the Philippines the overall situation has worsened, human rights workers and unionists receiving death threats, farmers and Lumad have been massacred, individuals such as lawyer Ben Ramos have been assassinated, the left threatened with an Indonesian style liquidation, militarization has increased beyond Mindanao to a number of provinces in the Visayas and Bicol and there have been a proliferating number of cases of judicial harassment of activists, all of this in the context of a pervasive war on drugs which now increasingly is taking on a political dimension, with widespread allegations of complicity in drugs for political opponents of the regime. In this context of growing authoritarianism, Canada needs to reimagine its relationship with the Philippines,
For human rights activists in Canada, the report raises the need for the government to follow through on its recommendation in the report and to do more.
It needs to work with allies such as the EU to both speak out and strengthen democratic institutions and institutions of civil society, it needs to do more to both support and protect human rights defenders.
In this vein, we call on the Canadian government to further investigate the Human Rights situation in the Philippines including conducting hearings and calling witnesses before the Sub-committee on Human Rights.
At the same time, Canada also needs to look at its own complicity in the Philippines and the growing impact of Canadian mining operations on the displacement of indigenous populations, human rights violations and widespread environmental destruction.