"We hope the right candidate wins so we can begin to restore faith in our institutions and focus on improving the lives of the poor in genuine partnership with a government whose heart is in service."
This week marked a momentous exercise of democracy in the Philippines. More than 65 million Filipinos cast their votes for the presidential election on Monday, as they decided the future of the Southeast Asian country.
The end results have yet to be announced, but the current vote counting from Rappler shows that Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is slated to win the presidency. The nearest rival is Leni Robredo, the outgoing Vice President, and the only female candidate in the race.
ILC members in the Philippines are closely watching the election results. A few members of the National Land Coalition (NLC) Philippines, an ILC-supported multi-stakeholder platform that pursues people-centred land governance in the country, have been actively mobilising actions in the run-up to the election.
More than 150 farmer organisations and food advocacy groups have jointly convened as “Farmers for Leni” and endorsed the candidacy of Leni Robredo. In late April, Farmers for Leni, which the NLC supports, participated in the momentous rally where 412,000 supporters joined. Farmers for Leni also supported ILC Asia member PAKISAMA in the March of the Sumilao farmers, from Bukidnon to Metro Manila. Other farmers' and civil society organisations also joined the march from across the nation.
NLC members also participated in supporting the ticket of Teddy Baguilat, an Indigenous Person senatorial candidate, who is also the president of the ICCA Consortium. The election was not just for the presidential positions, but also for senators, the lower house and local officials across the entire country.
Defending the defenders
“As a facilitator, I have grown weary of having to create programs for emergency response for killings and criminalisation [of land rights defenders], and to have to fight for a seat at the table of important policy decisions. We hope the right candidate wins so we can begin to restore faith in our institutions and focus on improving the lives of the poor in genuine partnership with a government whose heart is in service,” said Timothy Salomon, facilitator of the National Land Coalition in the Philippines.
Under the administration of the incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, Global Witness reported that from his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed. Duterte’s violent war on drugs has also taken a huge death toll on thousands of civilians, mostly the urban poor.
According to Global Witness, President Duterte has prioritised mining for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – allowing the industry to operate throughout 2020, as well as recently reversing a ban on open-pit mining. The administration has also embarked on a massive infrastructure development programme, "Build, Build, Build", which has been met with strong opposition. This has exacerbated land grabbing cases and illegal land concessions that affected the livelihoods of local communities and indigenous peoples in the country.
To help reverse the injustices, ILC members convened in the NLC Philippines are working to apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP-BHR). ILC Asia member ANGOC has conducted numerous studies on the impact of land investments on human rights, which have been used as an advocacy tool to raise awareness of such an issue, especially among businesses and corporations.
In a learning series “Understanding Business and Human Rights", co-organised by ANGOC and the Philippine Business for Social Progress held in April, representatives of businesses from various sectors like agriculture, energy, manufacturing, real estate, and telecommunications, among others, were receptive to the session.
Participants also recommended that further capacity building for businesses be conducted to help them delve deeper into practical tools and good practices on adopting BHR in their policies and practices. They also recommended exploring with government bodies how to incorporate BHR in regulatory policies. Another workshop is set to be conducted in June 2022 to focus on good practices of incorporating BHR policies and land investments.
Looking ahead, Timothy wishes that no matter who wins the presidency, justice will come to light for those fighting for their rights.
“The alternative outcome would have us defend human rights and democracy yet again. It destroys the name of the Philippines as a nation that was the pioneer of People Power, of non-violent democratic transitions, but elected the son of the dictator it once overthrew. It is such a shame that the resources stolen from our people and land were the resources used to rewrite history and alter our memory as a nation,” said Timothy.