Rebel communist leader Sison exhorts Filipinos in Hong Kong to rally against Duterte

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Members of Filipino groups Gabriela, Pinatud a Saleng ti Umili, Migrante International, United Pangasinan in Hong Kong and Filipino Migrant Workers Union led by Bayan were in attendance on Sunday at the event co-hosted by the Centre for Criminology and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong

A version of this article appeared on the Asia Sentinel.

HONG KONG–The founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Jose Maria Sison, encouraged a gathering of Hong Kong based Filipino groups through a recorded message to “expand our ranks and broaden the widest resistance against the US-Duterte regime” in a week that saw the death of yet another teenager due to alleged drug related crime in the Philippines.

Under the leadership of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), a united front of organisations spanning religious, migrant worker and cultural domains condemned the administration of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte during their 2nd Chapter General Assembly held at the University of Hong Kong.

Criticising the president’s first year in office, Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr claimed the administration had failed the people on multiple accounts. In July, the government called off a fifth round of peace talks with the CPP following reports of attacks by the party’s militant wing in the countryside.

With the declaration of martial law in Mindanao earlier in May, the jailing of Senator Leila de Lima and the rejection by the Commission of Appointments of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, one of three nominees of the left in the Cabinet, Reyes stated Duterte was taking “steps towards dictatorship” in the archipelago.

“No peace talks will ever succeed with these terms of surrender,” Reyes said.

“Marawi [in Mindanao] looks like Syria and everyday there are bombings there. 403,000 people have been forced to evacuate.”

“There have been 13,000 people who have been killed due to the war on drugs.” According to the Human Rights Watch, the Philippines National Police confessed to a death toll of 7,028 earlier in January only to backtrack in the coming months.

As part of Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, police officials have been granted widespread powers to bring to account individuals suspected of involvement in the trade. Over the past month, the high-profile deaths of three teenagers, however, has brought into question the efficacy of the programme.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the latest victim was a 14-year-old. Reynaldo de Guzman, missing for 20 days, was found dead on September 6 with over 30 stab wounds.

Expressing support for the assembly meeting via a pre-recorded video message, Sison, currently in exile in the Netherlands, stated “we must not forget the wanton destruction of lives and property in Marawi City” and “the relentless mass murder of the thousands of the poor who are suspected of being drug users and pushers”.

Recalling a recent visit to the country, Reyes told the crowd of the harrowing experience of listening in to daily reports on the radio with the numbers increasing every day with no end in sight.

“I was on the way to the airport and you can see communities having wakes and funerals wherever you go,” recounted the Bayan leader.

Duterte has repeatedly expressed admiration for strongman Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the Philippines under martial law for nine years. The former Davao mayor recently declared September 11 as an official holiday in Ilocos Norte to mark the 100th birth anniversary of the former dictator.

Worried about the improved relationship with both China and the United States, Reyes also opined the country was becoming a pawn in a game between two superpowers.

“This is a government of rich people, the progressives in the cabinet are gone,” he said, hinting that the ouster of Mariano which followed the exit of former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo in August was part of a politically motivated conspiracy by the Duterte regime to consolidate power in the country.

Even as he conceded that the replacement of the overseas employment certificate (OEC) with an Overseas Foreign Worker ID has been one positive for Filipinos across the world, Reyes called on the 200-strong assemblage of mostly domestic workers to rally their compatriots to protest against the excesses of the Duterte regime on September 21.

The date marks the 45th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of martial law in the country.

“You must strengthen yourself for more intense struggle,” warned Sison.

Duterte remains a popular figure in the country but is facing increasing pressure both home and abroad to end a war that remains deeply controversial.