The Killing Fields of the Philippines: Opposing Duterte’s Tyranny from Portsmouth and the UK

In advance of his lecture at the University of Portsmouth’s Global Week on 19th March at 5pm at the Eldon Building, Filipino poet, journalist and activist Gene Alcantara discusses the unprecedented crisis engulfing his home country and what it means to Filipinos in Portsmouth, the UK and the rest of the world. 

As overseas Filipinos, we don’t really have much influence over the political life of our home country. Yes, we send financial and social remittances from the UK or Europe, and we spend holidays back there, but normally that’s where the link ends. For me personally, the gap is wider because I am now a dual British citizen, having lived in the UK since 1981. Nonetheless, I – and many other foreign-based Filipinos – still care deeply about our native land and want to play a role in making it better.

This is an urgent task now that we have President Rodrigo Roa Duterte ruling the Philippines. To date he is responsible for the extra-judicial slaughter of an estimated 2030,000 people – most of whom are from poor neighbourhoods – and he has consistently defended the policemen and hitmen who commit these atrocities. He favourably likened his deadly policies to Hitler’s massacre of the Jews, boasting he would not hesitate to kill 3 million.

Duterte is also a proven liar and a ‘fake news’ president, a lackey of Chinese power and friend and apologist of the Marcos dictatorship which plundered the country in the 1970s and 1980s.

These events since Duterte’s election in 2016 should alarm anyone who cares about the rise of oppressive, populist regimes. People often equate President Trump with Duterte, but the difference is that the latter is beating Philippine democracy, justice, human rights, the Roman Catholic Church, most of the media and the rule of law into submission through his murderous ‘war on drugs’ and effective use of fear. On the other hand, the American people, their opposition politicians and their media, are fighting back against the Trump catastrophe, somehow.

And we overseas Filipinos must fight too, for a return to democracy and the rule of law, for an end to the killings, so that the country can rise again.

In the run-up to the May 2016 election, Duterte used cunning social media stratagems presumably learnt from the likes of Cambridge Analytica and his Chinese benefactors, to manipulate and galvanise Filipinos around the world to campaign and vote for him. He pretended to be a poor man sleeping under a mosquito net and wearing cheap shoes. In fact, he had been making transactions worth over a billion pesos (over £14 million) throughout his time as Mayor of Davao, in the south of the Philippines. His children and grandchildren allegedly own expensive properties and lucrative businesses.

Duterte promised that his presidency would bring change. The change turned out to be the ‘selling’ of the country to China. Some 3 million Chinese entered the Philippines between 2016 and 2018, many of whom are employed in Duterte’s ‘build, build, build’ programme, while Filipinos continue to have to emigrate to find work. Duterte and his corrupt envoy to China, Ramon Tulfo, now insist that Filipinos are unskilled and lazy, a slap in the face of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) who voted for them in great numbers.

Duterte promised to look after ordinary Filipinos but certainly has not done so. In addition to the extra-judicial killings, he has had the city of Marawi torn to shreds in a terrible conflict with jihadists, and declared martial law in the southern region of Mindanao, causing much suffering.

He claimed he would drive a jet-ski to plant a Philippine flag on the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea. In fact, he has done nothing at all while China militarises the islands, in contravention of international law.

He mouths anti-corruption platitudes and yet he has given early releases to a number of high-profile politicians who were convicted of plunder. His senatorial slate included two senators who were jailed for stealing ‘pork barrel’ funds, and liars such as Imee Marcos (who lied about graduating from the University of the Philippines and Princeton University, USA).

Duterte is so vindictive that he jailed Senator Leila de Lima (she has been behind bars for 2 years now) for daring to investigate him when he was a mayor. Somehow, the dubious testimonies of drug dealers were enough to put her away. He has been trying unsuccessfully to incarcerate Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on charges of concocting false bank accounts in Singapore, which Trillanes has proved were false. Duterte even threatened to investigate Trillanes’ 84-year-old mother for outdated and groundless corruption allegations.

After reading the above litany of assaults on the Filipino people, I hope people understand why I want Duterte to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Alternatively, his resignation would at least spare more lives, although the risk with that is his daughter (and current Mayor of Davao), Sara Duterte. She shares his twisted values and is angling to become president in 3 years’ time.

There are suggestions that Duterte Sr may be seriously ill, but each time he disappears for some rumoured medical reason, he re-appears in public seemingly stronger than ever before, probably having been treated again by his friends in China. There is a glimmer of hope in the coming mid-term elections that the Otso Diretso (English: Straight Eight) alliance of senators will counter Duterte and stop the yes-men and -women in the upper chamber. This could be a way forward for the Filipino people. We must halt the chaos, or plunge down the ravine of no return.

Like many people who are now woke, I will do everything I can to inform the world about Duterte’s crimes and to expose all the bad things his coterie is doing. I have written petitions to and rallied at the ICC. I have published critical articles on my own blog. I am active in social media in calling out his every negative action and pronouncements. Now I coordinate Global Filipino Radio from London, a podcast livestreamed on Facebook which tells the truth about what is going on back home.

Duterte’s rise is not quite Brexit in its global impact and intensity, but the effects on the psyche of the Filipino will be felt for generations to come. It is therefore important for right-minded Filipinos to join the resistance, to join the fight for our country’s future.

I am an Overseas Filipino and I will do all that I can to restore pride, trust and confidence in Filipinos and the Philippines. It will be hard work, but it is my real chance to help in my country’s redemption. I know we will get there somehow, someday.

Gene’s lecture is at room 1.09 at the Eldon Building on Tuesday 19th March at 5.30pm. Admission is free but please register to attend here.

Photograph by Alexander Sebley.