Friday, May 17, 2024

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Statement on the Militarist Approach of the Duterte Government to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines calls on the global community to provide the Filipino people with urgent health support as part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to press the Duterte government to end its repression of civil society to enable the Filipino people to maximise their capacity to deal with the crisis. 

The virus has now triggered a global recession and working people everywhere face loss of income. This economic impact will be even more destructive in the Philippines, which exports labour all over the world and relies heavily on remittances to keep afloat. Filipino migrant workers all around the world will be dislocated and require assistance from the governments of host countries as well as from Manila. 

While no nation was prepared, the Philippines was particularly poorly equipped, its health system greatly depleted, and its political leaders notoriously callous. While Filipinos have been calling for free mass testing, the already limited supply of COVID-19 test kits and the high cost of tests for individuals have been aggravated by acts of government officials, politicians, and VIPs demanding priority[1]. In contrast, front liners, persons-under-investigation (PUIs), persons-under-monitoring (PUMs), and all other vulnerable sectors are denied testing. Worse, people are dying without even being tested[2]

The police and military who have been deployed to enforce social distancing are not trained for this task, and the weaponry now deployed only adds to the alarm among the people about what could happen to them. Abuses of human rights perpetrated by authorities have been growing with cases such as illegally detaining homeless people[3], putting curfew violators in cages[4] and using torture methods to punish them, and finally arresting citizens over “provoking” posts in social media[5]

Alarmingly, President Rodrigo Duterte was able to obtain additional “emergency powers” to supposedly address the pandemic. Through a new law, the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, it is easier for Duterte to exercise absolute power despite his notoriety for disregard for human life and the rights of the poor. Now, he has appointed military men to lead and implement his National Action Plan to contain COVID-19[6]. These non-expert, non-doctors, non-scientists ex-generals have been systematically red-tagging and harassing citizens and ICHRP partner organisations who are advancing people’s rights.

The widespread use of surveillance, arrests on trumped-up charges, and extrajudicial execution by the government against leaders and members of people’s organisations must end. The international community has a vital role to play in pressing the Duterte government to end the attacks, end the killings and to respect basic rights to life and livelihood, and to democratic standards, if this COVID-19 pandemic is to be overcome. 

We reiterate that inside the country, community-based organisations and trade unions must be freed from repression to enable them to rapidly identify needs and to advocate to employers and government for emergency support. 


Amid the government’s militarist approach and criminal negligence, Filipinos have taken the situation into their own hands. Relief operations, information drives, and community efforts to produce personal protective equipment for front liners have been ongoing. They call it the Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID) and it is an initiative of various communities and sectors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on health and livelihoods. CURE COVID calls for basic social services for everyone, and nobody should be left unprotected from the disease and steps to arrest its spread. 

ICHRP commends these and similar initiatives of Filipinos and of mass organizations’ assertion of pro-people responses given that their health and lives are at stake


ICHRP recognises that this crisis will increasingly take a heavy toll on the Filipino people especially on the poor of the land. We support the efforts of empowered people’s movement in the Philippines’ to make the Duterte government accountable for:

  • every poor person’s life lost due to denial of health care services and protection from Covid-19;
  • every front-liner who died and are at risk due to the massive shortage of adequate facilities and equipment 
  • a militarist approach to the Covid-19 crisis that curtails the fundamental right of people to express criticism and dissent, the same approach that red-tags, arrests on trumped-up charges and thereby derails people from meaningfully contributing to the efforts to deal with the crisis. 

Again, we are calling for an end to the Philippine government’s repression of civil society to enable the Filipino people to maximise their capacity to deal with the crisis. 



Sectors in the Philippines who live below the poverty line or who are jobless, landless, homeless and who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 urgently need support. We appeal to all for donations. 

You may send them through ICHRP’s PayPal account managed by the ICHRP secretariat based in Manila, link to which is: 

In the immediate, your donations will be utilized to provide meals, relief packs and hygiene kits to Filipino beneficiaries. 

[1] Gov’t officials crowd out patients for COVID-19 testing

[2]PUI in Marawi dies while awaiting COVID-19 test result

[3]Cops arrest homeless Lola who shouted at tanods warning about curfew

Cops arrest homeless Lola who shouted at tanods warning about curfew 

[5]Teacher, son arrested without warrant in GenSan over Facebook post.  

 [6]Former military men to carry out action plan vs Covid-19

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