In the wake of the "Bloody Sunday" killings of nine activists in the Philippines, advocates are demanding passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA) in the US Congress, which would suspend United States aid to the Manila government until the rights crisis in the archipelago nation is addressed. In a supposed operation against the New People's Army (NPA) guerillas on March 7, national police troops backed up by the army killed nine members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance, BAYAN) civil organization in the southern Calabarzon region of Luzon island. Among those killed was Emmanuel "Manny" Asuncion, secretary general of BAYAN in Cavite province, and an important mass organizer in Calabarzon region (also known as Southern Tagalog).
More than 270,000 people have been affected by heavy winds and torrential rain since Tropical Cyclone Eloise made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 23. Schools and health centers were flattened and more than 20,000 people were displaced in the region, which is still recovering from the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai almost two years ago. Despite considerable investments in reconstruction and disaster prevention since Idai—one of southern Africa's worst ever weather-related disasters—Mozambique remains among the world's most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. Addressing the aftermath of Eloise, the UN's resident coordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, told reporters: “This is really a very bad wake-up call of how much Mozambique is exposed to climate. This yearly rendezvous with the cyclonic season is just too frequent for recovery to progress.”
Some 150 are dead, with remote indigenous and campesino communities left stricken and without aid, a week after Hurricane Eta tore through Central America. Eta made landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as a Category 4 storm on Nov. 3. Two güiriseros, or artisanal gold-miners, were among the first killed, as a landslide inundated the mining camp of Tigre Norte in Bonanza municipality of Nicargua's North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Far worse was to follow in Guatemala, where officials have called off the search for dozens believed to have been buried when a mountainside collapsed, engulfing the hamlet of Queja. Ovidio Choc, mayor of San Cristobal Verapaz municipality, said the site of Queja will probably be declared a cemetery. Elsewhere in Guatemala's Maya Highlands, villagers have had to mobilize their own rescue and recovery efforts, effectively abandoned by the government.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Manila June 12 against "anti-terrorism" legislation that critics fear will give Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sweeping powers to crush dissent. This was the latest in a series of demonstrations held under the campaign #JunkTerrorBilllNow. The bill, already approved by Congress and expected to be signed by Duterte, would create a council of presidential appointees empowered to order warrantless arrests of those deemed to be "terrorists." It also allows for weeks of detention without charge. (AFP, Anadolu) The Philippine Department of Justice is to issue a formal review of the bill, and opponents are demanding that it recommend a veto. In a letter addressed to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, human rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that the Anti-Terrorism Bill "will inevitably and ultimately infringe on the people’s exercise of basic rights and fundamental freedoms." (Karapatan, Bulatlat)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)
Named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders, the Philippines has become an even deadlier place for activists in 2019, with 46 recorded deaths so far this year, according to the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a local NGO. The same organization recorded 28 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, tallied 30 such killings in the Philippines that year and designated the country the most dangerous in the world for defenders based on sheer number of deaths.
More than a decade after 58 people were killed in the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 on Dec. 19 found Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan guilty of overseeing the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre at Maguindanao. They were sentenced to reclusión perpetua (40 years without parole). The pair were convicted on 57 counts of murder in the attack on a convoy that included journalists covering an opposition figure running for the governorship of Maguindanao province. Police said 58 people were killed in the massacre, but the body of the 58th victim was never found. Their father, then-incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was arrested in connection with the case and died in prison while awaiting trial in 2015. The court sentenced a further 15 suspects, including several more Ampatuan family members and police officials, to between six and 10 years in prison as accessories to the crime.