Hundreds of Filipino activists and their supporters descended on Washington, D.C. on July 22 to demand that the United States end its support for the administration and military of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is waging three brutal wars against the peoples of the archipelago that have killed over 30,000 people.
The march was convened by Bayan USA and a coalition of 29 progressive Filipino organizations, representing students, scholars, women, workers, artists, and youth, and joined by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The protest, held the same day as Duterte’s State of the Nation address, was dubbed by the activists as the People’s State of the Nation, drawing attention to the gross human rights violations the Philippine government has committed with the backing of the United States, which provides the Philippine armed forces with $193 million every year, as Liberation News recently reported.
Nicole Cababa of Bayan USA, told the crowd in Lafayette Park that there were major people’s power protests in major cities across the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe, and across the Asia-Pacific region. “We are here with one message, which is to oust Duterte!”
“We are here as Bayan USA to say: US troops out of the Philippines, including all of the US-sponsored counterinsurgency programs. Because it is the US that trains the armed forces of the Philippines and the paramilitaries that are carrying out the gross human rights violations in the Philippines,” Cababa said.
“As of now, we know that the three wars of Duterte: the war on drugs is a war on the poor. We know that the war on the Moro people, which manifests as martial law in Mindanao – but not just in Mindanao, de facto martial law exists throughout the archipelago. Especially in Negros, where we see the massacre of farmers who are only trying to till the land to feed their families. So this is why it’s important for us to stand up against this rotten regime that is U.S.-backed, US-sponsored, with the hard-earned tax dollars of our people.”
“We have a long history of resistance! We ousted Marcos! We ousted Estrada! And we will oust Duterte!”
Adrian Bonaficio, national chairperson of Anakbayan USA, the National U.S. Chapter of Filipino Youth & Students for National Democracy in the Philippines and a member organization of Bayan USA, told Liberation News outside the White House:
“Our mission is strongly tied to why we’re here today, because we are here to protest the fascist Duterte regime, which is being backed by U.S. imperialism.
“And so, we are here to show the people’s strength, that even if we are thousands of miles away, we know that we are still affected and our families are still affected by the growing fascism in the Philippines. There have already been over 30,000 people killed during the Duterte regime, either through his merciless drug war, through his persecution of activists, environmental defenders, human rights defenders – no one is safe under Duterte.
“And so, that’s why we’re saying that enough is enough, we’re taking a stand: let’s revive the people’s power movements that have toppled dictatorships before in the past, and especially for the youth to take up the banner of militant struggle, so that we can also contribute to the building of a better future that’s free from this kind of fascism, free from all different forms of exploitation that are currently so widespread in the Philippines.”
“Our taxpayer dollars – hundreds of millions of dollars actually go to the Philippine military police, which are notorious for human rights violations. They occupy farming villages, they occupy indigenous schools, they harass teachers, they torture people, they rape women, they destroy crops – anything under the sky that they can do to terrorize the people, they’re the ones doing it. And it’s the military and the Philippine police that are being funded by our tax dollars, and so it’s really the US that plays such a huge role in supporting fascism in the Philippines.
“Even Trump called the Philippines ‘a piece of real estate,’ and that’s not just Trump, that’s been every president before that, since the Philippines was colonized by the US at the turn of the 20th century. It’s been a strategic geopolitical point for launching imperialist wars abroad, for securing trade routes in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, and now Trump is just furthering that, right? It was even under Obama, there was this whole ‘Pivot to Asia’ foreign policy strategy. So, Trump is increasing that.”
Liberation News asked Bonaficio about Washington and Manila seeking to renegotiate the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty: “There’s nothing mutual about it,” he said. “The Philippines doesn’t gain anything out of it, I mean the U.S. has been in the Philippines for how many decades, the Philippine military is still one of the most backwards, it still doesn’t have modern equipment, and they’re still so reliant on the U.S. military for things, even like intelligence, so it’s the Filipino people who are suffering because of it, because the U.S. is continuing to trample over Philippine sovereignty in the name of ‘defense’ and ‘democracy’ in the Philippine Sea, but we know that it’s just a ruse for securing their political interests there.”
After hearing a series of speeches outside the White House, protesters began their march to the Embassy of the Philippines, north of the White House on Scott Circle. Chants of “Tama Na, Sobra Na, People Power Now!” and “Who? We! When? Now! We’re gonna bring imperialism down!” rang through the DC streets. Dozens of colorful flags, representing Bayan member organizations like Anakbayan and Gabriela Women’s Party, and banners with solidarity slogans flew high.
The program continued at the Philippine embassy with solidarity speeches from organizations like The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and the IWW.
Liberation News spoke with Samantha Pineda, program director at CISPES, about the similarities of the struggle against U.S. imperialism taking place in El Salvador and the Philippines.
“The U.S. is trying to spread the War on Drugs into Central America and for us it’s really important for us to draw connections between what the US is doing in Central America with what’s happening in the Philippines,” Pineda told Liberation News. “In the Philippines, there’s this dictator that’s massacring campesinos and workers, so we want to be in solidarity with the people out here in the streets today and say that we understand that experience.”
Drug use has repeatedly served as a scapegoat for right-wing regimes included Duterte, Trump, and Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras, to crackdown on progressive movements and political enemies.
Pineda added that there is a geostrategic aspect to U.S. involvement in El Salvador and the Philippines as well noting, “Honduras has one of the biggest U.S. military bases in the region. I think the Drug War is a big excuse to bring in U.S. militarism and invest a lot of money in security in these regions. On the one hand, the U.S. is trying to militarize the country, on the other hand, it’s trying to push economic policies that privilege corporations and corporations that are trying to push extraction like mining and water privatization. We see the issue of the Drug War as an excuse that the U.S. is using to bring in security systems to oppress the social movements that are standing up to fight extractionism. And we see the same thing in the Philippines, they’re also fighting against mining in the Philippines.”
At the climax of the demonstration, march leaders called on the crowd to cross the street and make their demands heard by Philippine diplomats inside the compound. The U.S. Secret Service tried intimidating the march organizers, telling them they could not be on Philippine government property, but the protestors did not budge. Deafening chants of “Oust Duterte Now!” continued and a mere 15 minutes later, the consulate announced that they were closing their office for the rest of the day.
Rhonda Ramiro, Chair of Bayan USA, told Liberation News, “people across the Philippines are standing up and fighting for justice and change and we here in the US are echoing those calls. Filipinos in the US are also standing up to Duterte’s lies and his business as usual. We’re saying enough is enough and we’re echoing calls for him to be ousted.”