Exiled Rebel Exhorts Filipinos to Rally Against President

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison encouraged a gathering of Hong Kong-based Filipino groups on September 10 to “expand our ranks and broaden the widest resistance" against the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. “You must strengthen yourself for more intense struggle,” he said via a video recording.

Under the leadership of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, or New Patrotic Front), a grouping of organizations spanning religious, migrant worker and cultural concerns, Sison, speaking from exile in the Netherlands, condemned the Duterte administration during an assembly held at the University of Hong Kong.

Criticizing the president’s first year in office, Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr. told the assembly that the administration had failed the people on multiple accounts. In July, the government called off a fifth round of peace talks with the CPP following reports of attacks by the party’s militant wing in the countryside.

“No peace talks will ever succeed with these terms of surrender,” Reyes said of the long-running conflict in the southern island of Mindanao. “Marawi [on Mindanao] looks like Syria and every day there are bombings there," he added, noting that 403,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

"We must not forget the wanton destruction of lives and property in Marawi City,” Sison said, referring to the ongoing conflict between rebels and security forces in Lanao del Sur province.

Sison also denounced “the relentless mass murder of the thousands of the poor who are suspected of being drug users and pushers." According to Human Rights Watch, Philippine National Police have conceded that at least 7,028 people have died in Duterte's war on drugs, although the agency has backtracked on that figure in recent months. “There have been 13,000 people... killed due to the war on drugs,” said Reyes.

Police officials have been granted widespread powers to bring to account individuals suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Over the past month, the high-profile deaths of three teenagers, however, has brought into question the efficacy of the program.

According to the Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, one of the latest victims was 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman, who was reported missing for 20 days, was found dead on September 6 with more than 30 stab wounds.

Recalling a recent visit to the country, Reyes told the crowd of the harrowing experience of listening to daily reports on the radio with the numbers increasing every day with no end in sight. “I was at the airport and you can see communities having wakes and funerals wherever you go,” he said.

Duterte has repeatedly expressed admiration for strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, including nine years (1972-1981) under martial law. The president declared September 11 as an official holiday in Marcos's native Ilocos Norte province to mark the 100th anniversary of the late dictator's birth.

With the declaration of martial law in Mindanao earlier in May, the jailing of Senator Leila de Lima and the rejection by the Commission of Appointments of Bayan's Rafael Mariano as agrarian reform secretary, one of three leftist cabinet nominees,, Reyes stated Duterte was taking “steps toward dictatorship” in the archipelago.

Worried about the improved relationship with both China and the United States, Reyes also suggested the country was becoming a pawn in a game between the two superpowers. “This is a government of rich people, the progressives in the cabinet are gone,” he said, hinting that Mariano's rejection, which followed the failed ratification of interim social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo in August, was part of a politically motivated conspiracy to consolidate power in the country.

Reyes called on the 200-strong Hong Kong audience of mostly domestic workers to rally their compatriots to protest the excesses of the Duterte regime on September 21, the 45th anniversary of Marcos's declaration of martial law. He acknowledged, however, that the replacement of the overseas employment certificate with a new Overseas Foreign Worker ID had been positive for the country's army of migrant workers.

Suhas Bhat is a master’s degree candidate at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.