A top government spokesperson today office today laced into U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for speaking out against the Duterte administration’s labor and human rights record, accusing him of being ignorant and “meddling” in the Philippines’ affairs.
Sanders, a staunch labor rights advocate who has pledged to double U.S. union membership in his first term if elected, condemned the repression of Filipino union leaders in a tweet on Friday.
“In recent years, we have seen abhorrent human rights abuses by the Philippine government,” he said. “This repression of trade unionists is a shameful attempt to silence people’s rights and freedoms. More than ever, we must stand on the side of global human rights.”
In recent years, we have seen abhorrent human rights abuses by the Philippine government. This repression of trade unionists is a shameful attempt to silence people’s rights and freedoms. More than ever, we must stand on the side of global human rights. https://t.co/hJDrDJBX2y
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 15, 2019
Sanders also shared a recent report from the workers’ rights group International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which detailed how the Philippine police and military have raided the offices and arrested the members of various human rights and trade union organizations.
This includes the case of 21 transportation workers, allegedly illegally terminated by Ceres Liner in Bacolod City, who were arrested almost two weeks ago after they sought help at the office of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (“May One Movement”). The workers now face criminal charges after being accused of being members of the rebel group New People’s Army, Manila Bulletin reported.
The ITUC report also mentioned the Duterte government’s bloody war on drugs, which has left thousands of suspects dead. The police often say that these suspects were killed because they allegedly fought back, an excuse that many Filipinos are skeptical of. ITUC quoted the Commission on Human Rights’ estimate that at least 27,000 have been killed in the Philippines’ anti-drug campaign.
Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said in a statement today that Sanders’ comments about the Philippines were “abhorrent.” He also accused ITUC of refusing to closely investigate what’s going on in the country, and choosing instead “to make blanket statements that the Philippine government supposedly violates human rights.”
“Senator Sanders is grandstanding on an issue he obviously does not know the details of, not to mention meddling in our national affairs, which he has no business over,” Andanar said.
Andanar also said that the Bacolod City raid that netted the transportation workers was conducted peacefully.
“[N]o individuals were hurt. Authorities did not act rashly in any way and actually gathered actionable intel before conducting the raids in the offices of the organizations,” he said.
“While there were several civilians captured, they were immediately released days after the operations. Hence, the supposed ‘government abuse’ that Sanders and ITUC claim is already false.”
Charges relating to raids, which hit several labor rights organizations simultaneously, are still hanging over the workers’ heads, however, and the army has said they have no intention of dropping them.
Andanar also echoed the Philippine police’s official line regarding the deaths of thousands of drug suspects.
“The reality is that suspected drug abusers refuse to subject themselves to the police and resort to violence — resulting to unfortunate deaths on both sides. There are instances where evidence shows that vigilantes and rival drug cartels were behind the killings. We also continue to dispel the 27,000 deaths that’s been floating around by human rights organizations,” Andanar said.
“It has already been studied that the 27,000 figure involves deaths not related to the drug war. The official figure is around 5,000.”
Andanar’s figure, however, contradicts even the latest data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) itself, which shows that 6,600 suspects have been killed from July 2016 to May 2019.
Vice President and new drug czar Leni Robredo has called for the cessation of the anti-drug police operation known as Oplan Tokhang “because of the many senseless killings” committed under it.
“The Philippine government respects and is all for global human rights. It’s just that there are false narratives spread by those who want to bring the government down,” Andanar said.
So, do you think Sanders intends “to bring down” the Philippine government? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or tweeting to @CoconutsManila.