The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) highlights that election campaigns in the Philippines are historically marked by violence. They involve “inter-elite rivalry, warlordism, assassination, vote-buying corruption, intimidation and other forms of violence (Guns, Goons and Gold).” At least 33 people were killed in the 2019 midterms – though the 2009 Maguindanao massacre remains the most brutal example. In collaboration with the Philippine election watchdog Kontra Daya, the ICHRP has now initiated the International Observation Mission (IOM) – right in time for the official start of the election campaign on February 8, 2022. This is particularly important given the human rights abuses under the current Duterte administration. IOM representative Michael Yoshii explains, “state policies including the Anti-Terrorism Act have emboldened the police and military to attack activists, peasant leaders, and Indigenous Peoples. This suggests that those charged with protecting the polls are potential perpetrators of election violence.”
During the turn of the year, there were multiple cases of extralegal killings allegedly related to elections. Already on December 16, 2021, three village officials were shot dead in Calbayog City, Samar. This was followed by an attack on Gerald Casaljay and Brandel Yrigon in the early morning of February 8 while on their way home, also in Calbayong City. Yrigon survived. Casaljay, a member of the local LGBTQ+ community and youth council Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), died. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, congressman in Samar, calls on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) to strengthen checkpoints in the area. On January 1, 2022, Aldrin Cerdan, former mayor of Anda town in Pangasinan, was shot dead. A special task force (SITG) was formed, and his former bodyguard was arrested as a suspect. In the south, in Tacurong City, two unknown gunmen killed Jaynard Angeles on January 12. The former radio broadcaster was running for councilor in Lambayong. “He was a hard-hitting radio commentator, and his criticisms did not spare politicians,” said a Tacurong City spokesman. Also, four unidentified motorcyclists gunned down the couple Rosemarie Galias and Silvestre Fortades Jr. in Barcelona, Sorsogon on Jan. 15, 2022. They were members of the Anakpawis party list, which advocates for peasants and workers while part of the opposition.
This year also began with the case of the 66th lawyer to be murdered during Duterte’s presidency. On the morning of December 31, 2021, Edilberto Mendoza, a deputy prosecutor, was shot dead outside his home in Cavite. On January 7, 2022, Philippine police arrested a suspect. The Rappler article “A bloody trail: People we lost under Duterte” summarizes the horrifying scale of extralegal killings under the current administration – not including all those mentioned above. In addition to victims of the so-called war on drugs, human rights defenders, activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians have been murdered.
Photo © Raffy Lerma