Australia must stop supporting state terror in the Philippines

May 17, 2021
Sydney protest. Photo: Patricia Arcilla

Filipino-Australian community groups BAYAN Australia, Migrante Australia, and the Sydney and Melbourne chapters of Anakbayan have launched a petition to demand the Australian government stop military aid to the Philippines.

When Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as Philippine President in July 2016, he wasted no time laying his agenda on the table. Minutes after taking the Presidential oath, speaking directly to the drug traffickers allegedly swarming the country, he put it bluntly: “I will really kill you”.

And kill them he has. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency admits to killing 5,810 Filipinos in “anti-drug operations” since 2016. Human Rights Watch estimates that the figure is closer to 27,000, factoring in extra-judicial killings by vigilantes. Among the dead are 122 children, many of whom the SOS Torture Network report states were killed “as proxies when the real targets could not be found”.

Yet the “war against drugs” has also provided cover for another, more insidious point on Duterte’s bloody agenda: the eradication of civil society.

As international human rights groups and global media intensify their focus on extrajudicial killings, relatively little attention is being paid to the Duterte administration’s systemic, relentless razing of activists and left-wing organisations.

Streaks of rebellion and revolution have always run wide in the Philippines, which is home to the world’s longest-running communist rebellion. From overthrowing Spanish colonisers to the ongoing struggle against US imperialism and the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the red thread of resistance binds together all chapters of Filipino history. It is this very thread that Duterte is now attempting to cut.

Since the start of his presidency, an estimated 318 human rights workers and activists have been slaughtered. Killings intensified in the past year, with the Philippine National Police emboldened by the passage of the controversial Anti-Terror Act. Under the act, suspects can be arrested and detained without a warrant for 14 days, and the definition of “terrorist” is broadened to the point of effectively including most forms of activism. Suspected “terrorists” are “red-tagged” and placed on a government watch list, and in turn exposed to heightened police harassment, intimidation, and murder.

In February, The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Australian security agencies provided “technical assistance” to the Duterte administration over 3 years to draft the law, which experts have deemed a “human rights disaster”. This, coupled with the Australian Government’s provision of military aid to the Philippines, is unconscionable.

Each year, the Australian Defence Force trains personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard and Department of National Defence. The Australian government has also trained more than 10,000 Filipino army and marine personnel in “urban combat” and “air strikes in an urban environment”, in addition to providing equipment and personnel. It has spent an estimated $52.6 million since 2017 on the highly secretive Operation Augury military excursion in the Philippines as part of Australia’s apparent “war on terror” — 2021 Budget papers indicate the operation is ongoing, though its exact monetary value is not disclosed.

Misusing millions of dollars in public funds to support terror overseas is disgraceful, particularly as thousands in Australia struggle on punitive income support rates and languish on waiting lists for woefully underfunded public housing. Yet it is unsurprising. It is undoubtedly in the Australian government’s interests to support the Duterte administration’s suppression of activism in all its forms.

A country that massacres Indigenous land rights activists and is the deadliest in the world for environmental defenders is one that is pliant to Australian mining interests and moves to secure strategic real estate abutting the highly contested South China Sea; it is a country where opposition to imperialist incursions by countries like Australia is weakened.

In solidarity with activists in the Philippines, the Filipino community here is calling on the Australian government to immediately cease all military aid to the Philippines and condemn the Duterte administration in the strongest possible terms.

[Sign the petition and join us at the solidarity event on May 22 in Sydney.]

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