MANILA – A group of Thailand-based Filipinos recently organized a forum to call for an end to President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, saying the issue of extrajudicial killings was a “personal” one for them, as they sympathized with overseas Filipino workers who were forced to return home to bury their children.
“For Filipinos based in Thailand, the issue hits home in more ways than one. On one level it is an assault to the principles of human rights and democracy,” said Advocacy Network Against Killings in the Philippines (ANAK), the organizers of “Dying Democracy: A Public Forum on the War on Drugs and Human Rights in the Philippines” held on October 5 at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok.
“On the other hand, it is also very personal to us as we feel deeply for many overseas Filipino workers like Minda (Siapo) who end up having to go home and bury their children. Raymart is not just Minda’s child, he could be our child, nephew, cousin, neighbor, or our close family member,” they said in a press release.
Before participants from media, civil society, the academe, and the international community, Luzviminda Siapo, an OFW in Kuwait, recalled the death of her 19-year-old son Raymart. According to reports, he was seized by 10 bonnet-wearing persons from a friend’s home in Navotas City in March. He was later found dead, with a bullet to his head.
“I cannot tell you how painful it is to have to beg to come home to be able to say goodbye to my son,” Luzviminda said. “Raymart was interrogated at the barangay hall, made to sign a pre-drafted statement that stated his admission that he was peddling drugs. This was what sealed his fate as a drug peddler.”
Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento emphasized that Raymart was only one of the many minors who had been killed during the war on drugs since last year. She added that the CHR continues to be committed to protecting the rights of Filipinos, despite the hurdles they face, such as the P1,000 budget for 2018 which the House of Representatives approved for the agency initially.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard, who, like the CHR, has been criticized by Duterte for their opposition to the human rights violations in the Philippines, lauded the growing movement in the Philippines against EJKs. This put pressure on the international community to respond.
Via video call, she called to mind the statement of 39 states at the UN Human Rights Council, where they expressed concern over the drug-related killings and called on “the Philippine government to take all necessary measures to end incidences of EJKs and pursue independent investigations.”
The regional coordinator of the Asian Network of People that Use Drugs, Anand Chabungbam, also participated in the event.
“Drug abuse and trafficking will not be solved by ignorance, and stigmatizing and killing users and peddlers. It only works to divide communities and drive people into isolation. Drugs and drug use are a public health issue that is best addressed from the lens of evidence, health, and human rights,” he said.
According to ANAK, the personal accounts and technical expertise shared in the forum recognized that Duterte’s war against drugs is mostly a war against the poor.
Luzviminda left this message to Duterte, “Sana makita ninyo ang katotohanan sa tokhang. Wala namang natotokhang na mayaman, puro lang mahihirap, kabataan, at mga nakatira sa squatters. Kaya kung maaari po tigilan niyo na ‘yan kasi wala naman siyang nararating kundi ang pahirapan ang mga katulad namin na nagtatrabaho para lang maitaguyod ang pamilya namin.”
[I hope you can see the truth behind your war on drugs. Rich people are not the ones being killed, only poor people are, and they are mostly young, and live in squatters’ areas. I ask you to please stop the killings as it is going nowhere but to make life difficult for us, who are working hard to provide for our families].”