At the very least, the Canadian government should be doing its own investigation into the realities on the ground.

An altar draped in cloth and objects from the Philippine culture
The worship altar from the World Communion of Reformed Churches consultation on Indigenous Theological Education in Asia, held at the Shalom Centre in Manila.
Credit: Carmen Lansdowne/The United Church of Canada
Published On: September 12, 2023

In October 2022, I spent a week meeting with our partners in the Philippines. The last time I visited that country was in fall 2008. I was surprised to find out that not only were some of the human rights challenges still happening, but in some respect they have gotten worse.

The current campaign in Canada to urge the Canadian government to stop funding counter-terrorism and the war on drugs in the Philippines is underway because the Philippine government uses these programs to criminalize dissent, attack critics of the government as enemies of the state, and make them targets of political persecution.

Throughout my time, I met people—mostly church employees and leaders—who were facing criminal prosecution for exercising their right to freedom of speech. I met parents of young adults who had been killed in extrajudicial killings, and Indigenous activists charged with cyber libel for defending Indigenous rights and for speaking up against police and government brutality. I met local Indigenous miners who talked about the ways that real estate and mining companies benefit from the political vilification of communities that try to defend their villages, people, and the planet.

Most concerning to me was the fact that the Canadian government supports the counter-terrorism program in the Philippines with financial, program, and technical support. While I did have the opportunity to meet with local diplomats at the Canadian Embassy to the Philippines, they left the impression that they have too little capacity to really monitor human rights on the ground—they rely a lot on the information coming from the police and the government. This means that Canada’s assessment of the situation in the Philippines is based on whatever narrative the Philippine government provides to Canadian officials.

The counter-terrorism programs, including the war on drugs, do not meet international norms. In July 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected an appeal by the Philippine government that the ICC stop investigating the Philippines for human rights abuses. The ICC has empowered its office of the prosecution to expedite a full investigation of extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs and other human rights abuses resulting from persecution of dissent. While the case is primarily designed to target the Philippine government, Canadians should be concerned about how our government’s resources are used to support such repressive policies.

International organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines continue to document the ways that red-tagging (a controversial practice from the Cold War where one is accused of communism or terrorism regardless of political position), and the persecution that comes as a result, impacts families and communities. Despite President Marcos Jr.’s promise to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines, there has been little tangible action.

At the very least, the Canadian government should be doing its own investigation into the realities on the ground in the Philippines. But there is already ample evidence in the public record—through documentation provided by credible international organizations, and the cases before the ICC—that Canada shouldn’t need to do more than consider these other sources, and Canada should not rely only on government-to-government sources of information.

The United Church of Canada calls on the Government of Canada to stop funding counter-terrorism in the Philippines.

Moderator Carmen Lansdowne

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.

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