Filipino group shines light on drug war ‘atrocities’ in homeland during U.S. tour

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“It’s terrorizing communities.”

Human rights violations and a catastrophic drug war in the Philippines are the focus of a group currently making rounds in New Jersey and New York to raise awareness of the plight of the island nation. 

The group, which includes both native-born members and Filipino-Americans, visited The Jersey Journal today as part of its “Stop the Killings” speaking tour aimed at rallying support from Americans whose tax dollars, they say, are helping fund President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war.

“It’s terrorizing communities. It’s traumatizing children, desensitizing the public with regard to police deployment in communities,” said Raymond “Mong” Palatino, who served two terms in the country’s Congress representing the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan party.

Duterte, who was elected in 2016, is responsible for the nation’s “worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s,” according to Human Rights Watch. The nonprofit organization says the drug war has claimed the lives of approximately 12,000 people, most of whom live in poor, urban settings, including children.

“These drastic, harsh tactics are meant to deter criticism, discourage people from resisting the Duterte government,” Palatino said. “I think it served its purpose. Duterte’s purpose is really to stifle dissent.”

Combined with Duterte’s wars on terrorism and against Communist rebels, Palatino said it is the poor and indigenous peoples who are suffering the most and least able to advocate for themselves.

Yves Nibungco, who immigrated to Jersey City in 2005 and now serves as coordinator of Malaya, a U.S. movement against killings and dictatorship in the Philippines, said he wants an increased spotlight placed on American foreign aid to his native country. The U.S. gave the Philippines nearly $180 million in 2017, including almost $6 million in funding for “peace and security,” U.S. foreign assistance data indicates. The U.S. has also provided weapons to the country’s military for years.

“We hope by doing this speaking tour to move the American public and convince our legislators to cut aid,” Nibungco said.

New Jersey has one of the largest Filipino populations in the U.S. The Garden State was home to 140,000 Filipinos in 2016, including nearly 17,000 living in Jersey City, according to Census data. 

The group, which includes Jersey City residents Bea Sabino and Laura Emily E. Austria, is sponsoring forums tonight at the Reformed Church of Highland Park and at San Damiano Hall in New York. Both events run from 6 to 9 p.m.

Absent today was Jerome Succor Aba, who was detained at the San Francisco airport for 28 hours earlier this month and then sent back to the Philippines, despite having a visa to enter the country, Palatino said.

“Jerome’s testimony would reveal the military atrocities committed by state agents … and the complicity of the U.S. government in terms of military aid,” Palatino said.

For more information on the events, visit Facebook.com/ICHRPNE