Are there human rights abuses in the Philippines? That’s like asking the question ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ Of course there are human rights abuses in the Philippines. They are not only perpetrated by members of the police or government forces; they are also perpetrated by regular Filipinos against their own compatriots. This is evident in the how farmers of Hacienda Luisita are treated. It has been documented in the past how they were treated appallingly by the landowners – the Aquino-Conjuangco clan in Tarlac. Throughout the country, there are also a lot of ordinary household owners who treat their household help like slaves – affording them few rights and meagre to no salaries. This modern-day slavery was even documented by the late Filipino-American journalist Alex Tizon in his controversial article “My Family’s Slave” published by The Atlantic.
Human rights abuses in the Philippines is like rice. It has become a staple. A lot of Filipinos don’t even realise they are abusive to their help or maids because shabby treatment of other people from the lower classes is acceptable in Philippine society. Unless the society becomes more egalitarian, things will not change. Being egalitarian means citizens are treated equally and are accorded with the same benefits and opportunities. How does a society become egalitarian? One way is through economic development. When a lot more people have jobs, they will have access to better education, health and other things only those in the middle and upper class can afford at present. They will also find their voices and participate more in nation building, which includes speaking out against human rights abuses.
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This brings me to the recently-concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. People from the Opposition including Western critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte were disappointed that other heads of state — with the exception of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who attended the summit did not call out Duterte on alleged human rights abuse by government forces in the war on drugs. Some were equally disappointed that alleged injustices in other countries like Myanmar particularly against Rohingyans were not brought up. Like I said previously, it’s baffling why some people expected other leaders would raise issues of alleged human rights abuse against the Duterte government when these are not even the agenda for the summit. It’s not like other countries like the US don’t have their own human rights issues to answer for. There are a lot of cases of police brutality against African-Americans in the US that needs to be addressed. They also have gun violence that seems to keep getting worse. And let’s not forget the atrocities committed by the West in the past against indigenous communities. Native Americans, anyone?
There are a lot of points to be made here. One, each country has its own “issues” to deal with. No leader can judge another on his or her chosen policy in dealing with internal problems facing their nation. No problem is exactly the same. Different cultures mean different sets of standards.
Another point is, it took hundreds of years for First World countries to set their standards high. If we use the current standards against them now in reviewing their actions in the past, they will fail big time. The Philippines being a Third World country still has a lot to learn. There are still people who allow themselves to be used because they don’t know any better and because they have very little to no other option but to accept the treatment they get from their masters. Until majority of Filipinos have other options other than to work like a slave, they will not be able to speak out against mistreatment and injustice.
Now Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau earned kudos for bringing up human rights issues with Duterte. How can anyone take him seriously after his series of goofy photo-ops? He thinks all Filipinos are star-struck ignoramuses who will be taken by his looks. He just came across as someone who had to oblige his liberal followers by mentioning so-called “human rights” abuse before leaving for Canada to avoid getting criticised when he got back home. It’s obvious because he couldn’t talk about it with conviction while Duterte was around. Duterte was correct in saying it was an insult. Evidently there are Canadians who think very lowly of Filipinos. Why else would they send a container load of toxic waste to the Philippines in 2013? Trudeau’s photo-ops did not work towards making Filipinos forget that. He couldn’t even solve that problem so who is he to judge Filipinos on how to handle their country’s illegal drug problem?Those who think I and many others are averse to the idea of mentioning human rights abuses are wrong. I personally have been highlighting human rights abuses for years especially during BS Aquino’s term. The problem with some people is they pretend human rights abuse is a new phenomenon in the Philippines or it only happened during former President Ferdinand Marcos’s term and then was jump-started by Duterte. Human rights abuse is nothing new in the Philippines. Having rogue cops and abusive members of the military are not characteristics unique to Filipinos. Duterte’s foul-mouth didn’t encourage them. That kind of behaviour has been there for decades and the same kind of sociopathic behaviour also thrives in other places in the world.
Hollywood celebrities who chime in and make fun of Duterte end up making a fool of themselves after Duterte succeeded in his role as ASEAN Chairman. It would do them good to focus on addressing the culture of sexual harassment perpetuated by the silence from some of the same celebrities who criticise Duterte. They can’t claim to know more about what is going on in the Philippines if they are clueless or turn a blind eye to what is going on in their own industry.
It is quite ironic that despite the label “murderous dictator” given to him by his local and Western critics, Duterte managed to hold a successful summit. Most of the participants were also amiable and congratulatory. I don’t think a “murderous dictator” can set that kind of tone. It’s no surprise most of the leaders did not even think of mentioning the alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines.
In life, things are not always what they seem.