June 30 marks Year 1 of the regime under Philippine president Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., son of previously deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
The Philippines is both a globally critical hotspot of biodiversity and natural resources and a historic beacon of democratic people power in the Asian region. But both the environmental and human rights situation have deteriorated over the past decades, especially under the Duterte regime.
Having allied itself with the Dutertes and other dynastic elites to win the 2022 presidential race, how has the second coming of the Marcos dynasty fared as the continuity regime of Duterte economics and militarism?
On the economy
The Marcos Jr. presidency commenced with a 6.1% inflation rate in June 2022, a reality which Marcos denied back then until it spiked to 8% by November due to soaring food prices and forced him to recognize that it is “out of control.” This historic high was last seen in 2008 during the global financial crisis.
While it has lowered down to 6.6% by April 2023, it remains far above the government’s target of 4%. Food prices remain grossly high, to which the administration has responded with mass importations of onion, sugar, and other agricultural products instead of increasing wages and subsidies for citizens, escalating food insecurity in the country especially for the poor. This undermines the livelihoods of the country’s almost 12 million farmers and agricultural workers representing more than half of the Philippines’ population.
Further towards this direction, the regime ratified this February the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, one of the biggest free trade agreements that will enable massive importation of agricultural and other products to the detriment of the local economy.
Meanwhile, Marcos Jr.’s economic legislative priority, the Maharlika Investment Fund, is a complete miss on the soaring inflation rates and prices. Maharlika is a proposed sovereign wealth fund that will pool public funds from the national budget and State banks for investment. But heavily indebted and with budget deficits, the country has no surplus finance, and high-risk capitalisation from public funds and revenue streams such as mining are in the pipeline.
Datu Dande Dinyan, Taboli-Manobo chieftain, and leader of the TAMASCO Indigenous people’s organisation in South Cotabato province had this to say:
“Almost every community in our domain cannot afford their basic needs. While we were not able to have a formal education, we still realised that there are no policies that provide especially for us farmers. We’re discouraged by the soaring prices of basic needs, but the buying price for our crops such as corn and vegetables are so low.”
Datu Mario Kadingilan, a chieftain of the Dulangan-Manobo tribe in Maguindanao province, shared the same sentiments.
“Since the president took his seat of power, there has been no improvement in our plight. First off, we saw how the price-padding by middlemen has worsened the prices. In our communities, the cheapest rice can be bought at 29 pesos per kilo, but middlemen pad it to 33 pesos at the market. Especially for our upland communities, the produce we ship to the lowlands are bought cheap but the basic needs we need to buy are so expensive. Before, we can eat twice a day from marketing our produce. Now we’re down to a single meal.”
On the environment
Marcos Jr. has put a premium on climate and sustainability rhetoric for much of his first year but has embedded dangerous false solutions such as nuclear energy and the myth of responsible mining in the details.
His recent meeting with US President Joe Biden, which speaks of clean energy transition and environmental protection, is instructive. In concrete terms, this is translated into a $5-million investment in mining for critical minerals such as nickel and copper. It is expected to further fuel land and environment conflicts prevalent in mine sites such as in Palawan, Romblon, South Cotabato, and Nueva Vizcaya provinces.
An energy auctions program is promoting waste-to-energy, a misnomer for hazardous incinerator technology, and modular nuclear power, which still does not have a fail-safe means of storing radioactive nuclear waste.
A $100-million pledge for water infrastructure under the umbrella of China’s Belt Road Initiative can potentially feed into mega-dam projects that have continuously posed threats of displacement, flooding, and other negative impacts, especially to indigenous peoples, as in the case of the Kaliwa Dam project.
Similarly, Marcos Jr.’s earlier state visit to China generated $22 billion worth of investment pledges which bundled renewable energy and mineral processing.
Datu Mario says the pressure is on for Indigenous communities:
“Indigenous communities are affected because of the government’s different programs that are in conflict with our Indigenous practices. We know that when the government uses technologies such as pesticides and herbicides, these affect our customary custodianship of our natural resources. Our ancestors did not have any history of floods or typhoons affecting the lands where we peacefully subsisted. In recent decades, we are now experiencing landslides and floods because of the development with which we cannot cope with.”
Multiple destructive projects that have encroached into Datu Dande’s ancestral domains, such as the 29,000-hectare Integrated Forest Management Agreement or IFMA of the M&S company, have remained untouched over the past year:
“We face projects like the IFMA, which is a double entry into our territory with a coal mining contract. This is what the government prioritises even if they operated illegally without our consent. If these projects are what the government will be leveraging for generating revenue, we Indigenous peoples will be put further in harm’s way. Even if we develop our ancestral domains, the government doesn’t see any benefit because they get minimal tax from our territories. Of course, they prefer mining and plantations over our lands because they get to collect taxes and commissions. Truth be told, this seems to be the endless struggle our communities face.”
On human rights
Repressive policies and programs from the Duterte era have continued under the Marcos Jr. presidency. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, or NTF-ELCAC, continued to red-tag and harass human rights defenders, including indigenous peoples.
Human rights groups have raised the alarm over a spike of enforced disappearances or desaparecidos, at least four of which are indigenous community organisers and advocates. This follows the recent pattern of military operations against communist rebels, indicating that civilian activists are likely not being differentiated.
The wholesale violation of indigenous rights, underscored in our 2022 State of Indigenous Peoples Address Report as a prevalent context going into the Marcos presidency, has not met significant solutions. Almost half of Indigenous territories continue to face unresolved land and environment conflicts, of which 79% have experienced militarization.
Datu Dande recalls the historic injustices they have experienced, still unaddressed to date.
“When the M&S first entered our lands in the 90s, first with their logging operations, my father, Datu Victor, before he was murdered, was forced to evacuate from our lands. I myself recall being forced to evacuate twice since my childhood. Because we fight to defend our ancestral domains, it’s not only me who got red-tagged, it’s not only Datu Victor who they planned to kill but the entire TAMASCO organisation. Even the TAMASCO name has likewise been red-tagged.”
Datu Mario emphasised that these rights abuses intend to discourage indigenous people from asserting their rights.
“We know that red-tagging has become prevalent among Indigenous peoples, to discourage genuine leaders who are doing right by our peoples and to instead put people who will facilitate compliance. We know that the government neutralises the leaders who resist, which is why there are many Indigenous leaders who are killed for standing up for their tribe’s rights. They want to silence those who voice their demands before government agencies.”
As Marcos Jr.’s second State of the Nation Address approaches at the end of July, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center/ Friends of the Earth Philippines and its partner Indigenous communities are gearing up for the 2023 State of Indigenous Peoples Address, as a counterpoint to what Marcos Jr. will be reporting to the Filipino public. Stay tuned for more details.