Posts Tagged ‘Duterte administration’

Philippines ‘extremely dangerous’ for Human Rights Workers — report

January 14, 2019

39 human rights advocates were killed in the Philippines last year — At least 60 human rights advocates were killed in the Philippines in 2017

The working environment in the country has been especially challenging for defenders of land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights, a report by  Dublin-based human rights organization Front Line Defenders said.

At least 39 rights advocates were killed in the Philippines last year, Front Line Defenders, which focuses on human rights workers at risk, said in its Global Analysis 2018, which was released earlier this month.

“Although there were fewer HRDs killed in 2018 compared with the previous year in the Philippines, the country remains an extremely dangerous working environment for defenders of land, indigenous peoples and environmental rights,” the organization said.

At least 60 human rights advocates were killed in the Philippines in 2017, according to an earlier report of Front Line Defenders.

In this September 25, 2018 photo, members of local rights group Karapatan condemn the killing of human rights defender Mariam Uy Acob.

Facebook/Karapatan, released

In December, responding to a call by a UN special rapporteur for the government to end attacks on rights defenders, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo claimed that “organizations presenting themselves as so-called human rights defenders never had it so good under the Duterte administration.”

RELATED: Philippines has highest number of killed environmental defenders in Asia

It noted that most of the killings were linked to struggles against mining and other extractive industries.

“Defenders working on land and environmental issues across Asia continued to be one of the most at-risk groups of HRDs and targeted by multiple actors, including states, companies, local vested interest groups and paid thugs. HRDs have been killed, evicted, hit with trumped-up charges and intimidated and harassed in different ways,” Front Line Defenders said.

‘Terror’ tag

Front Line Defenders, moreover, stressed that branding of human rights defenders a terrorists was one of the tactics used to silence rights workers, citing the government petition to label more than 600 people accused as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorists under the Human Security Act of 2007

At least 80 recognized human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ representatives and representatives of community-based organizations were on the list, UN said.

The Department of Justice has since, in an amended petition, drastically cut down the number of supposed communist terrorists on its list. It filed an amended petition after a Manila judge cleared four people of involvement in the communist movement.

RELATED: From 649 to 8: DOJ cuts communist terror list

“This type of labelling is especially dangerous in the Philippines where the killing of activists alleged to be involved with the New People’s Army has increased under President Duterte and is generally met with impunity,” the Dublin-based rights organization said.

Last week, Duterte claimed that rights defenders see the government as the enemy and want to undermine it.

But Amnesty International Philippines section director Butch Olano said that human rights both at home and abroad “have not stopped working” even as leaders such as Duterte continue to hurl threats against them.

Detained Sen. Leila De Lima, a former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, also said that Duterte’s accusation puts human rights defenders at risk.

“Combine this label with his previous threats and this will most likely make human rights advocates targets for harm, harassment or even liquidation,” she said.

The Philippines was included in the United Nations’ list of countries that it said has carried out the “shameful practice” of harsh reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders and activists.

In a world report released in December, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst called on the Philippine government to end all forms of violations against human rights defenders.

In response, the Palace said it is “fed up with this practice of using the UN as a platform to parrot baseless criticism of local interest groups who are supported by politicians belonging to the opposition.

RELATEDDuterte Year 2: ‘Without rights, a return to rule by tyrants’




Incomplete justice

December 29, 2018

Lady Justice is traditionally depicted as blindfolded to represent impartiality—that politics, wealth or fame do not influence the decisions of a court of law. But in the Philippines, with its sorry state of justice, the blindfold has come to mean something else—that the judicial system willfully shields its eyes from the abuse or corruption of the law.

Consider the report about a 21-year-old man who, earlier this month, was arrested for allegedly stealing a can of luncheon meat worth P199 from a convenience store in Mandaluyong City. The man was hungry and desperate, and resorted to stealing for his food. A similar story was reported last year, of a 21-year-old sales clerk arrested for filching a can of corned beef in a supermarket in Santa Ana, Manila. The price of the can of corned beef? P31.50.

Contrast that with the cases of influential, high-profile people who are seemingly able to get away with their misdeeds involving huge sums of public money. The latest is former senator Bong Revilla, who was acquitted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan. A “consuelo de bobo,” if you will, was that he was still ordered by the court to return P124.5 million to the government. But Revilla’s arrogant response? “What will I return?”


The Sandiganbayan’s wisdom and foresight were such that it managed not only to befuddle the public with a decision an Integrated Bar of the Philippines official called “illogical, laughable”; it also left out any mention of a legal mechanism to force the money out of Revilla. Will Revilla be clapped back in jail should he fail to pay up? It didn’t say. Those millions, said the Anti-Money Laundering Council, were found in Revilla’s bank accounts at about the same time his aide Richard Cambe was dealing with Janet Lim Napoles’ bogus foundations, apparently to launder the senator’s pork-barrel funds. But in Revilla’s incredible telling, he had nothing to do with the suspect money in his very own bank accounts. And the court believed him. And now Revilla is adamant about not returning anything.

That sense of brash defiance could only have been inspired by other cases of administration allies or factotums likewise acting with temerity even after having been found to have misused public funds.

Cesar Montano, former chief of the Tourism Promotions Board, was driven to resign in May this year following allegations that he released some P80 million to the scuttled “Buhay Carinderia” project before it even really started, and sans public bidding. Has the money been recovered, or Montano charged? The Palace hasn’t been heard from again about the matter, so consider all that gone with the wind.

Former tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo also resigned in the wake of public uproar over P60 million in ads she had approved for placement in a show on state-run PTV-4 produced by one of her brothers. The conflict of interest was blinding—the kind of clear malfeasance the Tulfo brothers have no trouble eviscerating others for. But Ben Tulfo, mouthing movie dialogue not unlike those found in Revilla’s action movies, gave the country the finger thus: “Sa mga nagsasabing isauli ang pera at hinihintay daw ang P60 million, mamuti na mga mata niyo! Wala kaming isasauli (Those asking us to return the P60 million, we’re not returning anything even if your eyes turn white)!” And so nada until now—the national till made poorer by P60 million. But do the Tulfos think the people will forget?

Last month, Germany agreed to one-time reparations for hundreds of Jews who, as children, fled Nazi rule some 80 years ago. In October, Spain’s parliament approved the exhumation of the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco from the hallowed Valley of the Fallen mausoleum near Madrid, where thousands who died in the country’s civil war are also laid to rest. For these countries, reckoning with the mistakes and abuses of the past remains an ongoing, vital task—a way to heal, to learn, to ensure that such dark periods in their history do not happen again.

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For the Philippines, the takeaway for the year about to close is the opposite: The likes of Revilla, the Tulfos, and the biggest transgressors of them all, the Marcoses—all of them remain unrepentant, and so the pursuit of justice against them is still accordingly incomplete. Absent such accounting, there can be no forgiveness, in this or any other year. “Forgiveness without truth is an empty ritual,” said the late senator Jose Diokno.

“Reconciliation without justice is meaningless, and worse, an invitation to more abuses in the future.”

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Philippines: Free Press Under Assault as Duterte Says “Kill the [Catholic] Bishops”

December 7, 2018

The charges against internet news source Rappler are clearly meant to intimidate and threaten the website and, ultimately, to shut it down.

As a former journalist, I often find myself straining to explain press freedom in the Philippines. Many people I meet seem to have a rather straightforward view: Either the press is free or it is not. I wish it were that simple, I tell them.

Image result for duterte photos

The Philippines, officially, does not have prior restraint regulations that prevent journalists from publishing. Pretty much anything goes, which is why the Philippine press has been classified as free, rambunctious even. Filipino journalists struggled quite a lot, particularly during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, when many paid with their lives to make sure the press stayed that way.

So Filipino journalists are free to say even the darndest things. The problem is what happens after: Over the years, many have faced criminal libel suits or have been murdered. The Philippines has often led the world in the most journalists killed in a particular year.

In this way, Maria Ressa, the founder and executive editor of the spunky website Rappler, can count herself lucky – but not that lucky. On Decemver 3, Ms Ressa posted bail of about $1,500 after a court issued a warrant for her arrest. The charge? Rappler Holdings Corporation, the company that owns Rappler, failed to supply authorities with the correct tax information. It is just one of 5 cases that Rappler is facing in two courts in Manila.

The charges against Rappler are clearly meant to intimidate and threaten the website and, ultimately, to shut it down. This is because of its reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “drug war,” which has killed more than 12,000 mostly poor Filipinos. The Philippine Department of Justice began building up a case against the publication as early as December, 2016, after it became clear the website was going to be a very critical voice against the government.

‘I will not resist arrest, I will not escape. Haharapin ko ito,’ says opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV

While other Philippine media outlets have reported critically on the Duterte administration, none, in my view, has done it quite like Rappler. Its coverage of the “drug war” has been exemplary and consistent, providing a counternarrative to the often-unchallenged claims of the Duterte administration.

This excellence in reporting comes from the many highly regarded and award-winning journalists employed by Rappler – the majority of them women. Ms Ressa herself won the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual award in November, among other honors.

Rappler is doing its job – and that’s why it has become a favorite target of the Duterte government. The court cases are only the beginning. Rappler journalists face online abuse on a daily basis. When covering the presidency beat, journalists are harassed, with Mr Duterte himself leading the charge. The President even barred journalist Pia Ranada from entering the presidential Palace at one point.

What’s being done to Rappler reflects the Duterte administration’s wider confrontational attitude toward the media. Through social media, the President’s office has unleashed its attack dogs on news organizations and journalists who report critically on the “drug war.”

Prior to Rappler, Mr Duterte personally threatened the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the country’s most prestigious newspaper, with a tax case and flirted with the idea of denying the congressional franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network, which has likewise reported critically on the “drug war.”

More widely, this antipathy toward the media is consistent with an attempt by an increasingly authoritarian President to dismantle institutions that can check his abuse of power. It began with the jailing on trumped-up drug charges of Senator Leila de Lima, the most vocal and consistent critic of the “drug war” and of human rights violations linked to Mr Duterte when he was mayor of Davao City in the south. Mr Duterte and his allies have also sought to muffle critical voices in other branches of government, such as the judiciary, including by forcing out a chief justice. Civil society, including the Catholic Church, is also under siege.

Court cases against Filipino journalists are not new. Libel remains a criminal offense in the Philippines. A number of reporters have spent time in prison merely for publishing. But coupled with the physical, violent attacks against Filipino journalists, legal cases such as those Rappler faces are a new weapon against press freedom in the Philippines.

It is critical for Canada and other long-time friends of the Philippines to call for the charges against Ms Ressa and Rappler to be dropped. In the meantime, Filipino journalists will confront this heightened threat with the same determination and courage they showed when they fought the Marcos dictatorship. And it starts with this: #StandWithRappler. –

Carlos Conde, former correspondent for The New York Times in Manila, is the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.


Duterte administration: Philippines Cracks Down on Dissent, Free Speech, Free Press

December 5, 2018

Philippines in unstoppable tailspin back to its dark days

On Wednesday last week, it was former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and 16 teachers, congressional staffers and pastors. On Monday, it was news website Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa.

The latest wave of arrests against vocal government critics paints a disturbing pattern of a crackdown on dissent under the Duterte administration.

Image result for Maria Ressa arrested, photos

Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa

Ocampo, Castro and 16 others were arrested by police in a checkpoint in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, on the evening of Nov. 28.

Philippine Inq

By all accounts, Ocampo’s group was part of a solidarity mission that responded to a distressed call from teachers in an indigenous “lumad” school in Barangay Palma Gil.

The teachers reported that the 56th Infantry Brigade of the military and the paramilitary group Alamara had imposed a food blockade and closed the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) schools, which they accused of being fronts of the New People’s Army.

Fearing for their safety, the teachers fled with their students until they met up with Ocampo’s group.

On their way to Tagum, the convoy was flagged down close to midnight and the rescuers and teachers, including 14 children, were held at the police jail.

It was not until noon of the following day that the group — which included Ocampo, Castro and two of her staffers, the executive director and nine teachers of the STTICLC, and four pastors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the United Methodist Church in Davao — was informed of the charges against them.

They were released on P80,000 bail for each person two days after the arrest.

The charges?

Kidnapping and human trafficking — accusations that raised many eyebrows and even laughter for their sheer incongruity with the circumstances that brought Ocampo and company to the area.

That the police are only now receiving supposed complaints from parents of some of the children betrays the haste with which the authorities moved to pin down the group.

A notable member of the Duterte Cabinet, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr., called the charges against Ocampo “bullsh*t,” while Sen. Francis Escudero said the charges were “hard to believe and preposterous.”

Even Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, under whose presidential administration some cases were filed against Ocampo, said he and Castro deserved “a certain level of dignified and respectful treatment.” (Ocampo is 79; following the police’s Imelda Marcos logic, shouldn’t his age and health have been taken into consideration, too?)

It begs asking if the charges brought upon Ocampo and other critics is part of a bigger witch hunt by an administration that has shown aggressive intolerance to criticism.

In Ressa’s case, the enmity of the President toward her and her organization has been undisguised and sustained.

In February, Rappler was banned from covering the President; in March, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s operating license for supposedly violating foreign ownership rules, followed by the filing of tax evasion charges by the Bureau of Internal Revenue; and in October, the Department of Justice issued its indictment.

The same weekend as Ocampo et al.’s arrest, a warrant of arrest was issued against Ressa. Ressa preempted her arrest by presenting herself to the judge on Monday to post bail.

Ocampo and Ressa are but the latest names in a seemingly politically motivated campaign of retaliation that started with the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima, the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the cases filed against Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and the regular shaming of churchmen, human rights advocates, activists, media owners and practitioners, and other perceived thorns on the side of the President.

In a healthy democracy, legitimate and peaceful dissenting voices are essential to debating government policies and scrutinizing the actions of people in power, for the common good of the people in whose name such governance is being carried out.

Absent that space, or the necessary questioning of the burgeoning environment of repression, what may follow is the country’s unstoppable tailspin back to its dark days: midnight arrests of critics and clear-as-day assaults on a free press.

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Philippines: Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Never Had Any Real Priority in Duterte Government

November 27, 2018

Neither China nor the Philippines known for expertise in drug treatment and addiction recovery where “it’s just easier to kill them”

Remember former Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chair Dionisio Santiago?

A year ago, he made the remark that setting up a mega drug rehabilitation facility, specifically the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC) inside Fort Magsaysay in Palanan City, Nueva Ecija, was a “mistake.”

Philippine Inquirer

It was too high-maintenance and impractical, said Santiago; the P1.4-billion used to build the facility could have been better spent on smaller community-based rehab centers that would accommodate 150 to 200 residents and allow for a family support system, which is vital for a recovering drug user.

That remark did not sit well with Santiago’s boss in Malacañang.

Saying he was “offended” by the statement, President Duterte promptly sacked the DDB chief.

Not surprisingly, the DDB board expressed full support for the facility, and even allotted P5 million from its budget for the center.

Perhaps the President’s pique was understandable. The DATRC, after all, was touted as the centerpiece of his administration’s antidrug program when it was inaugurated in November 2016.

The facility, sitting on 100,000 square meters of land, could accommodate up to 10,000 drug surrenderers and was meant to spearhead treatment for the supposedly 3-4 million drug addicts the country has — a figure Mr. Duterte often cited in his speeches despite the DDB’s official data putting the number closer to 1.8 million current drug users.

The DATRC was a donation by real estate Chinese tycoon Huang Rulan, who, then Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial hastened to assure, had no business interests in the country and merely wanted to lend a hand to the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs.”

As to questions about the huge amount and daunting logistics needed to run and maintain the facility, Senators Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto said there were enough funds for it in the DDB’s 2018 budget of P150.93 million.

That was the last the country heard of the mega rehab facility, which some observers might have thought was an indication that things were humming along nicely on the rehabilitative side of the President’s antidrug program, while the other, more controversial side — the eliminationist “Oplan Tokhang” — cut a bloody, unforgiving swath across the country.

That is, until recently, with reports emerging that all’s not been well in the DATRC.

Specifically, the center has been hit by a flurry of employee desertions; at least 40 have left their jobs because of delayed salaries and other concerns.

The facility used to house some 1,000 drug surrenderers (only a tenth of its maximum capacity) along with about 100 employees; more than half of the workers who resigned were from the original 25 psychometricians assigned to the facility — case managers overseeing programs to reform drug dependents.

This means that, from the ideal ratio of 25 residents per psychometrician, the ratio is now 1-to-50.

“Some left because salaries were not released on time. Others left for job prospects closer to their homes,” said Dr. Nelson Dancel, DATRC chief.

Without explaining the cause of delayed salaries, the DATRC chief said he hopes the facility would get a bigger allocation of at least P86 million in 2019 as proposed by Malacañang.

Excluding staff salaries, the center spends some P7 million a month on electricity, gasoline, water and meals for residents.

Now Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones is singing a familiar, once-dangerous tune: The center is too big, he said by way of explaining the DATRC’s current woes; and it was merely donated, so the government did not have a choice.

Going forward, the Duterte administration, he added, would no longer pursue its original concept of three mega rehab centers, one each for Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

A sensible decision, if the problematic run so far of the DATRC is any gauge.

It’s fair to ask, though, whose fault it is if the center is bogged down these days by neglect, wasteful undercapacity and a much-diminished number of critical health professionals.

Even if drug dependents from other rehab centers in the country are sent to the DATRC, the more fundamental problem — a seeming lack of priority focus on this project and inadequate support for its staff and resources — needs to be addressed first, and urgently, if the rehab program is to have any chance of success at all.

Unless, of course, rehabilitating drug users was — is — never a really a serious objective in the administration’s agenda.

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The money spent to construct the mega drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija could have been used to fund smaller, community-based anti-drug programs, DDB Chairman Dionisio Santiago said. File photo

Image result for Philippines, overcrowding, jails, photos

Detainees, the majority still waiting for trial, are assembled in the exercise area of the overcrowded Quezon City Jail, in Metro Manila November 21, 2008.  © 2008 Reuters

South China Sea: “Philippine government is not giving up any inch of its territory” — But in many ways, China already “owns” the Philippines

November 17, 2018

President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent pronouncements on China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea might once again place the Philippines at a disadvantage, a law expert said Thursday.

In an ambush interview with reporters in Singapore, the president acknowledged Beijing’s occupation of Manila-claimed features in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

In recent months, China has installed new missile systems and jamming equipment on Fiery Corss, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

“I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands so why do you have to create frictions… military activity that will prompt a response to China,” Duterte told reporters Thursday.

The president made this comment upon expressing his opposition to military exercises in the South China Sea and the United States’ constant naval presence in the area.

Locsin: Not an inch or iota of sovereignty

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., on the other hand, clarified that the Philippine government is not giving up any inch of its territory.

“Absolutely not. I have repeatedly said not an inch nor an iota of sovereignty,” Locsin said in a press conference at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

Asked about Duterte’s remarks on China’s occupation of West Philippine Sea features, Locsin said, “I was not present at that ambush [interview]. I don’t really know what happened there.”

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that the president’s latest remarks might be used against the Philippines.

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“He is acknowledging China’s possession, so to that extent he is recognizing China’s current occupation of disputed features,” Batongbacal told

“And he opposes anything that will create friction with China on the issue. Yes, it is a unilateral declaration that can be used against [the Philippines],” Batongbacal added.

RELATED: Palace: Never too late to assert arbitral award in South China Sea

Doctrine of unilateral declaration

If China accepts this pronouncement from Duterte, this would waive the Philippines’ rights stemming from the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea arbitration.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio earlier warned that such statements from Duterte, as representative of the state, could bind the country in declarations in a dispute.

This doctrine is known as the doctrine of unilateral declaration, according to Carpio.

“If the president says ‘I am setting aside the ruling’, the doctrine is that that binds the country if it is accepted by China. That declaration is a declaration against the interest of the state and it will bind that state because the president is the representative under international law,” Carpio said in July.

Under the United Nations’ guiding principles applicable to unilateral declarations of states, “a unilateral declaration that has created legal obligations for the State making the declaration cannot be revoked arbitrarily.”

A unilateral declaration binds the State internationally only if it is made by an authority vested with the power to do so. By virtue of their functions, heads of State, heads of Government and ministers for foreign affairs are competent to formulate such declarations. Other persons representing the State in specified areas may be authorized to bind it, through their declarations, in areas falling within their competence.

Beijing continues to reject the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea. The United Nations-backed tribunal also concluded that China violated its commitment under the Convention on the Law of the Sea but Beijing insists on having indisputable sovereignty over the area. — Patricia Lourdes Viray




Is the Philippines’ Pro-China Policy Working?
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to their bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (May 15, 2017). Image Credit: Etienne Oliveau/Pool Photo via AP

Is the Philippines’ Pro-China Policy Working?

The Diplomat

To the extent that his words matter and policy has followed suit, President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to engineer a dramatic pivot in the Philippines’ foreign policy. Early in his administration, he antagonized traditional economic and political allies like the United States (then under President Barack Obama) and later the European Union (due to its calls to respect human rights in the midst of the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs). Duterte also promptly initiated a rapprochement with China, and most recently he even began discussions of possible joint exploration of the resources in the West Philippines Sea (Manila’s name for the part of the South China Sea it claims). Duterte claimed all of this is part of an effort to build a more “independent” foreign policy for the country.

There are mixed views on whether and to what extent the country has achieved a truly independent foreign policy, yet one can credit the Duterte administration for its audacity. The Philippines’ relationship with China — even given the territorial disputes — could still be a fruitful one, economically. One question, however, is whether this approach has necessarily yielded more economic benefits for the country.

This brief analysis outlines a surprising trend in terms of the country’s evolving relationship with China — more inflows of tourists and workers, yet still very little by way of investments and trade. These trends raise both opportunities and risks from an economic development and national security perspective.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.People Flows

Arguably, the country’s rapprochement with China has drawn more Chinese nationals to the Philippines. As a matter of fact, from August 2015 to August 2016, there was a marked surge – an increase of about 79 percent — in Chinese tourist arrivals. This was followed by 33 percent and 42 percent growth in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

China is now the second largest source of tourists, registering about 645,000 arrivals in the first eight months of 2018 and only behind South Korea.

Figure 1: The number of Chinese tourist arrivals in the Philippines, measured in thousands, from August 2007 – August 2018. Data from the Department of Tourism.

Table 1: Comparison of tourist arrivals in the Philippines by country of origin (in thousands). Data from the Department of Tourism.

Shadowing this increase in tourism is a reported increase in the number of Chinese workers in the Philippines. In 2016, at least 41,000 foreign workers were given alien employment permits (AEPs) — a remarkable leap of almost 47 percent from the previous year, which saw only about 28,000 working permits.

Of these, Chinese nationals account for a remarkable proportion – some 45 percent — of foreigners issued working permits. Though there seems to be a growing number of officially recognized Chinese workers entering the country as early as 2012, a dramatic spike is very evident since 2016. The number of Chinese workers with work permits grew by about 108 percent between 2015 and 2016 in comparison to a mere 7 percent growth for Japanese and Korean workers combined. The number of Chinese workers then grew by 27 percent in 2017.

Figure 2: The number of foreign nationals issued an Alien Employment Permit (AEP) in the Philippines, 1978-2017. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

But while the share of Japanese and Korean investments grew by 18.25 percentage points during this period, Chinese investments share expanded by a mere 0.38 percentage points. Clearly, for a smaller share of investments, the Chinese have been sending more workers into the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Philippines-China trade has also experienced a rather mild improvement, rising from $699.48 million to $939.98 million between August 2017 and 2018, a 34 percent increase. Investments from China are also lagging in terms of magnitude, when compared to other source countries. In 2017, China’s share of new capital investments in the country was only a minuscule 0.9 percent of the overall net equity capital.

While it is true that the Philippines saw a surge in equity capital from both China and Hong Kong in 2016, data from the Philippine Central Bank reveals that most of this surge occurred only in the last two months of 2016 — immediately after Duterte’s first state visit to China. The fact that this surge was not sustained, and was still smaller than equity inflows from Japan in the same year, underscores the minor character of the investment gains of the China pivot. Central Bank reports indicate that part of the 2016 China investment surge may have been partly caused by the entry of Chinese offshore gaming firms, though other kinds of investment in the financial sector, real estate, and professional services, among other sectors, were also involved.

Table 2. Net equity capital in the Philippines by source country, 2013 – 2017 (in millions, USD). Data from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Meanwhile, Philippines-China trade has also experienced a rather mild improvement, rising from $699.48 million to $939.98 million between August 2017 and 2018, a 34 percent increase. Investments from China are also lagging in terms of magnitude, when compared to other source countries. In 2017, China’s share of new capital investments in the country was only a miniscule 0.9 percent of the overall net equity capital.


Chinese investments have grown dramatically, however, in the areas of real estate and online gaming. In 2016, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor) issued rules to regulate operations of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, entities who offer online gaming services to foreign players. More than 50 offshore gaming firms were given permits to operate and cater to Chinese clients. The demand for Mandarin-speaking workers, tied together with the more relaxed visa application, helped boost influx of Chinese nationals in the country.

In turn, the resulting immigration led to a high demand in properties near the areas where online gaming firms are located. Ayala Land, one of the county’s biggest real estate developers, revealed that in 2017, 49.4 percent of its international sales were from Chinese buyers. American and Singaporean buyers followed at 15.2 percent and 5.4 percent of sales, respectively.

SM Prime Holdings, on the other hand reported a 10 percent increase (from less than 5 percent in the previous year) in international sales from Chinese nationals. DMCI Holdings, another big player in the real estate development industry, also disclosed that more than 50 percent of their international sales during the first quarter of 2018 were accounted for by the Chinese.

While it’s true that Chinese investors now drive part of the real estate growth in the country today, and that local real estate developers make remarkable profits in the blooming ties between the Philippines and China, this nevertheless leaves the local economy vulnerable in different ways.

One-Sided Economic Growth?

The surge of foreign Chinese workers in the country (mostly toward the gambling areas in Manila Bay) has fueled a scramble for properties for living and working areas — anecdotal evidence suggests that this has increased the real estate prices in some areas particularly affected.

In the last three months of 2017, prices of houses along Manila Bay increased by 27 percent, while condominium unit sales are at an all-time high, with 52,600 units sold in 2017. The increase in housing prices makes living costs for the average family more expensive and may offer them no choice but to move farther away from the areas they prefer to live in.

Meanwhile, reports from a few local government units cited social problems brought about by the influx of Chinese immigrants, which include excessive drinking and gambling.

There has also been speculation that a large number of Chinese immigrants illegally entered and are illegally working in the Philippines. In December 2016 to January 2017, more than 1,000 Chinese illegally working in Clark were caught and sent back to China.

As noted earlier, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), only 45,000 foreigners (of these, 29,000 Chinese) have been issued alien employment permits (AEPs) in the Philippines. Yet there are an alleged 400,000 foreigners — most of them Chinese — who are employed by the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO). This is almost 10 times the total number of foreigners that received official work permits. If these numbers are true and there are allegations of corruption, then this should be investigated immediately — these raise not simply economic but also national security issues.

The launch of POGO in 2016 by the Duterte administration increased the number of Chinese nationals applying for AEPs, from 5,412 workers in 2013 to 18,920 in 2016. The AEPs are supposed to be issued to foreigners in the event that no local worker is capable of executing the job. This brings up the question of whether these foreign workers actually perform jobs that Filipinos aren’t able to do.

Senator Franklin Drilon raised the issue in a budget hearing by DOLE in September 2018. He charged that Filipinos are being robbed of employment opportunities that Chinese workers have already filled in the online gaming industry.

Similar patterns are apparent in China’s relationship with countries like Cambodia and Laos, as both ASEAN countries have allowed Chinese gambling into their major cities. Thirty Chinese casinos have been already built in Cambodia and an additional 70 are under construction. Upward pressure on the prices of accommodations and real estate properties due to higher demand from Chinese developers has also become common in Laos and Cambodia.

So far the emerging figures from the economic sphere following the Philippines’ rapprochement with China paints a mixed picture. Investments and trade are not dramatically higher — but people flows, in terms of tourists and workers, are up. From an economic perspective, Chinese tourist revenues are definitely a welcome boon to the Philippines’ tourism industry. But more Chinese workers is less appealing, given the country’s challenges to create enough jobs for the vast majority of its young workforce.

(Note that China on the other hand, has not been a traditional destination of overseas Filipino workers due to prior restrictions set by the Chinese government. Based on the records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, only about 13,000 overseas Filipinos were working in Mainland China as of 2017.)

The rising number of Chinese in the country has also raised concerns regarding the Philippines’ national security, particularly since China has continued its very aggressive moves to occupy large parts of the South China Sea. Given pertinent national security issues as regards the country’s relationship with China, these trends clearly need to be monitored using both an economic and national security lens at least.

*The piece has been updated to provide additional clarity on the equity inflows from China and Hong Kong.

Ronald U. Mendoza, PhD is Dean and Associate Professor at the Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He has worked with UNICEF, UNDP, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and several Manila-based non-governmental organizations.  He is also currently a Senior Fellow with the East West Institute in New York City.

Miann S. Banaag is a Statistician at the Ateneo Policy Centre, a public think tank housed in the Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Her current work includes application of empirical and analytical methods in policy research.

Philippines: Human Rights Lawyer Killed

November 7, 2018

A human rights lawyer in Negros Occidental was gunned down by unidentified men on Tuesday night.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that Benjamin Tarug Ramos, secretary general of the group’s Negros Occidental Chapter, was shot dead by men aboard a motorcycle in Kabankalan on the night of November 6.

The 56-year-old lawyer was just taking a break from working on documents for his pro bono clients when he was killed.

The NUPL noted that Ben Ramos “was for the longest time the ‘go-to’ pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros.”

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers/Facebook

“He sustained three gunshot wounds at the right back side and left upper chest of his body and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital,” said the NUPL.

Ramos’ work

Ramos is one of the founding fathers of the NUPL, a group of human rights lawyers that provides free legal assistance to the victims of human rights violations.

The NUPL noted that Ramos “was for the longest time the ‘go-to’ pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros.”

The slain lawyer recently provided free legal assistance to the family of the victims in the killing of nine sugarcane workers in Sagay, as part of the Quick Reaction Team.

He was also earlier tagged in a public poster as one of the “so-called personalities of the underground armed movement,” said NUPL.

“These beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on. Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding mission,” the NUPL said.

They also noted that their fellow NUPL lawyer Katherine Panguban was tagged by the police in the Sagay massacre. She is facing kidnapping and serious illegal detention complaints about her assistance to the survivor and witness in the massacre.

The NUPL slammed raps against Panguban as baseless and fabricated.

NUPL: ‘Who will defend the defenders?’

The NUPL lamented the loss of their fellow human rights defender that brought “distress” to them, but they vowed that they would continue their work.

“But who will defend the defenders? Our clients will. The people and their various organizations will,” the NUPL said.

“And we, the lawyers of the people will not be cowed, will not blink, will not retreat, we will not look the other way, and we will stand our ground. Yet we will close ranks,” they added.

They noted that Ramos is the 34th lawyer killed since the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. Prosecutors and judges were also not spared in the killings under the Duterte administration that vowed a ruthless end to the illegal drugs.

Last June, Camarines Sur Judge Ricky Begino was shot in front of his house on June 12.



Philippines Accuses Human Rights Watch of “Intruding” in the Country’s Internal Affairs

November 6, 2018

How many deaths will it take?

The Presidential palace at Malacañang on Tuesday slammed Human Rights Watch for “intruding” in the country’s affairs after it called on the Philippine government to create an independent commission to probe the alleged involvement of cops in killings under the administration’s war on drugs.

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The New York-based rights organization made the call after Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas, regional police director for Central Visayas, was quoted as saying in a Cebu Daily News report that hitmen hired to kill people allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade might be retired or active cops.

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Debold Sinas

HRW said the proposed commission should be independent from the Office of the President and the PNP and should include investigators from the Commission on Human Rights and representatives from non-governmental organizations.

‘Reckless proposal’

But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo dismissed the call of the human rights group.

“Its inference from an interview of a lone police official cannot be a valid ground for such reckless proposal. This is not new and is no different from those hurled by desperate [critics] of this administration since Day One of the president’s war against illegal drugs,” he said.

Panelo, moreover, accused HRW of resurrecting an old issue to undermine the integrity of the Philippine government.

Government data showed than 4,854 individuals have been killed in “legitimate anti-drug operations” since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected into power. But rights groups have higher estimates—more than 12,000 people dead.

The police force has been heavily criticized for being at the forefront of the deadly government campaign—from allegedly planting weapons and illegal drugs on suspects’ bodies and claiming that killed drug personalities resisted arrest.

‘Functioning’ mechanisms

Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel, assured HRW that the government has mechanisms to look into reports that some policemen are involved in the alleged killings of drug suspects.

He said the Internal Affairs Service of the PNP acts on cases of errant cops, while the Commission on Human Rights and the Congress conduct probes into reported abuses of authorities.

“These, among other governmental bodies engaged in counterbalancing measures, are functioning. We thus reiterate our position that we don’t need schooling from outsiders on how to run the country,” Panelo said.

This, despite the Duterte administration repeatedly denying claims of abuses in the drug war and attacking critics of the campaign.



 (Includes FT Op-Ed)


All this makes one wonder: does the Philippines know what it is doing with China? In the South China Sea?  Benham Rise? Is Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ICC, and is Agnes Callamard  (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the UN) correct in saying the Philippines is guilty of gross illegalities under international law? Is the Philippine government being run by people who don’t understand the law? Is the move for a “Federal form of Government” based upon any good thinking?


 (No man is above the law…)


The grandmother of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Violeta, cries beside his casket yesterday in Caloocan City. Relatives and concerned neighbors of the teenager slain by police are calling for justice. MICHAEL VARCAS
One of the fatalities, who has yet to be identified, was killed in an alleged shootout with police officers in Guiguinto, Bulacan on June 16. AP/Aaron Favila, file

Image result for Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte, photos

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines on Jan 29, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman in the Philippines, was abducted by police from his home in October. It took his wife, Choi Kyung-jin, three months to learn his fate. Video: Eva Tam; photo: Jes Aznar for The Wall Street Journal

According to the Philippine National Police, there have been 6,225 drug-related deaths between July 2016 and September 2017. Despite this, the authorities claim that there has only been one extrajudicial victim under the current administration. AFP/Noel Celis
Three of five Filipinos believe that only the poor are killed in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, the Social Weather Stations said in its latest survey. AFP/Noel Celis
Photos obtained by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism show the body of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. lying flat on his back with his eyes half-open, and both of his hands empty. He was killed while in police custody during a “jail house shoot out” with police. All the police involved were exonerated and returned to duty. Image obtained by PCIJ/Nancy Carvajal



 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)




Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kine also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

Image result for Boy Cruz, philippine policeman, photos

Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

 (December 23, 2016)


 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and beard

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo, Jean-Marc Ferré

Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)

 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa

Philippines: Inclusion in UN rights council no endorsement of Philippine policies

October 14, 2018

The Philippines’ election to the UN Human Rights Council is not an endorsement of the government’s campaign on illegal drugs or its human rights records, Karapatan said Sunday.

The human rights group pointed out in a statement Sunday that there were only 18 candidates for the 18 seats on the council, meaning the country’s re-election to the council “is due to the removal of any competition, instead of the Palace’s dramatized version of ‘acknowledgement by the international community’ of the Duterte government’s infamous campaigns.”

According to a UN explainer on the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly allows “extra blank slates” to enable a competitive voting process. “However, if – as was the case this year with 18 candidacies for 18 available seats – no extra countries apply, then no competition occurs, and whichever Member State applies, is likely to get elected.”

RELATED: International rights groups: ‘Philippines unfit for seat on UN Human Rights Council’

In this image obtained from the UN, conference officers collect ballots during the election of new members of the UN Human Rights Council on October 12, 2018 at the UN in New York. Bahrain, Cameroon and the Philippines were among a number of nations controversially elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, sparking sharp criticism from rights groups. “By putting forward serious rights violators and presenting only as many candidates as seats available, the regional groups risk undermining the council’s credibility and effectiveness,” said New York-based Human Rights Watch.


Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo claimed the re-election meant that “the community of nations has viewed the drug menace as a global problem requiring its utmost attention in forcefully dealing with it and forging a united front against the purveyors of its proliferation across the frontiers of the world.” He added the Philippines “is showing the way how to slay the dragon of destruction.”

“Our successful bid to keep our seat in the Council is proof that many in the international community remain convinced the Philippines respects and protects human rights and have seen through the efforts of some to politicize and weaponize the issue,” Alan Peter Cayetano, who is stepping down as Foreign Affairs secretary to run for congressman of Taguig, also said.

Karapatan: Gov’t spin does not erase thousands killed

But Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said Sunday that staying on the council “does not absolve the Duterte government of its rights violations against the Filipino people.”

“It does not erase the thousands killed in its murderous drug war or its spectrum of violations and scores of victims in indigenous and peasant communities,” Palabay, who participated in an “International People’s Tribunal” in Belgium in September, said. The IPT proceedings, although not legally binding, would be forwarded to the International Court, organizers said then.

“We thus call on the UNHRC to pursue its independent investigation to look into human rights violations in the Philippine, amid numerous reports and complaints that have been submitted to the said body,” she also said.

She said government spin on the re-election “reflects the Duterte administration’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge its accountability on the numerous killings as a result of its war on drugs and its attacks on human rights defenders and civilians as a consequence of counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan and martial law in Mindanao.”

The Philippine government has maintained that it upholds and protects human rights but has also claimed the the issue of human rights has been “weaponized” by members of the political opposition to discredit the government.

According to a government “RealNumbersPH” release in September, there have been 4,854 “drug personalities” killed in anti-drug operations since July 1, 2016. Critics and human rights groups have higher estimates.


Karapatan which translates as rights, is a human rights non-governmental organization in the Philippines. The full name of the group is KARAPATAN: Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

Philippines: Duterte Admin Helping To Import Crystal Meth from China?

October 3, 2018

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are looking into the recent alleged smuggling of P6.8 billion worth of “shabu” or crystal meth from China, and the picture that’s emerging so far is not a pretty one: The very agencies in the frontline of the Duterte administration’s centerpiece war on drugs seem to be the very ones undermining it.

The hearings so far have implicated not only personnel of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), for what appears to be a conspiracy with drug syndicates to spirit into the country almost a ton of shabu via four magnetic lifters that were later discovered empty in a warehouse in Cavite in August.

Philippine Inquirer

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Now, even officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police have come under suspicion, too.

PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino revealed during the hearing of the House committees on dangerous drugs and good government that his deputy for administration, Ismael Fajardo Jr., had been relieved of his post on Sept. 14, after it came out that he knew about the questionable shipment.

Four unidentified active police officers and dismissed PNP Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto also became the subject of an investigation, after former Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban said during the hearing that he had been coordinating with them on the magnetic lifters shipment in July.

Guban told the committees chaired by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers and Camiguin Rep. Xavier Romualdo that it was Acierto who had asked him to look for a “for-hire” consignee — in this case, SMYD Trading — to sign off on the shipment.

Acierto’s name should be familiar to observers of the drug war.

Formerly the deputy director for administration of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group, which was disbanded in January following the kidnapping and killing by cops of South Korean national Jee Ick-joo right inside Camp Crame, Acierto was dismissed from service in August in relation to an Ombudsman case on the PNP-Firearms and Explosives Office’s anomalous issuance of licenses for AK-47 rifles from 2011 to 2013.

Image result for Camp Crame, photos

Aquino’s testimony not only fingered such personalities, but also raised an alarming scenario — that earlier successful interceptions of smuggled shabu by law enforcers may just be part of a bigger modus operandi by drug syndicates.

Some shipments would be deliberately caught, so that even more shipments of illegal drugs would get away.

To recall, 500 kilograms of shabu worth an estimated P3.4 billion that were concealed inside a large magnetic lifter were intercepted on Aug. 7 at the Manila International Container Terminal by combined operatives of the PDEA, PNP and BOC.

After this interception, on Aug. 9, the PDEA discovered four more magnetic lifters suspected of containing as much as a ton of shabu in a warehouse at Barangay F. Reyes in Governor Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

Aquino noted at his press briefing that it was Guban, Acierto and Fajardo who had fielded “the raw information” of the “shabu” in the earlier shipment.

“They are the ones that investigated and conducted the investigation until the last… They were the ones who conducted the case buildup,” he said.

These damning revelations may end up giving Malacañang a headache. How to square them, after all, with the Congress testimony of BOC chief Isidro Lapeña on Aug. 14, in which Lapeña claimed that BOC’s own swab tests on the empty magnetic lifters found inside the Cavite warehouse “tested negative for illegal drugs”?

Thus, the pronouncement that drugs are flooding the local market “has no basis,” Lapeña added.

That assurance apparently won the ear of President Duterte, because the President subsequently waded into the issue by declaring in a speech before businessmen that the PDEA report of another massive shabu haul was “pure speculation,” in effect dismissing the investigation of the lead agency in his drug war.

But what’s emerging from the hearings is a contrary picture — that this incident isn’t a product of imagination or conjecture, that much remains to be uncovered about its true and full dimensions, and that a thorough and transparent investigation into it is warranted, at the very least.

As things stand, with the growing testimony about possible criminal collusion among official circles in facilitating the P6.8-billion shabu hoard, this explosive case is proving to be anything but mere speculation.

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