Montreal, News

McGill students commemorate human rights defenders in the Philippines

On Sept. 20, human rights activists and McGill students gathered at Parc Mackenzie-King to honour the victims and heroes who lived through military rule under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Organized by PINAY Quebec, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, the Center for Philippine Concerns, Malaya Canada, and Anakbayan Montreal, the event was a part of a broader global movement to remember and respond to human rights abuses in the Philippines over the past half-century. While practicing social distancing, the commemoration featured speakers, a visual art exhibit, and cultural performances.

Veronica Bertiz, education officer for Anakbayan Montreal, explained the significance of the gathering to The McGill Tribune.

 “Our goal was to remember the lives that perished during the Marcos era,” Bertiz said. “We owe it to them to understand the brutality of Martial Law and to try our best to prevent another one from happening.” 

Members of the Filipino-Canadian community delivered rousing speeches in solidarity with survivors and called for international support. Many speakers noted that human rights abuses experienced under Marcos are not just a relic of the past but persist in the present, citing parallels between Marcos and current President Rodrigo Duterte. 

“The current political climate in the Philippines resembles the 21-years rule of Marcos,” Bertiz said. “Every day, we hear awful news about the Philippines. Every day, someone is killed.” 

For Thelma Aliado, a Malaya Canada organizer, the resistance against the oppressive regimes of Marcos and Duterte requires both grassroots efforts and mobilization from Filipinos on a large scale.  

“The struggle is worse than before,” Aliado said. “Nothing has changed from that time to now. The forms of oppression and exploitation of people continue. But I’d like to remind you that despite everything, there was People Power.”

People Power was a nonviolent revolution in the Philippines that led to the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Aliado explained how this movement ultimately restored democracy and served as an important symbol of self-determination within the country.

 “It appears that almost every week and every day you see that people are […] struggling, and fighting, from farmers to workers, […] trying to say ‘stop the terror law’” Aliado said. “I am hopeful that People Power will happen again.”

Father Artemio Calaycay, a priest at Iglesia Filipina Independiente now living in Montreal, shared his personal account of living under Marcos’s rule.

“I personally experienced the dark side of the Marcos regime when we were arrested and put in jail in Iloilo City because of our critical stance against Marcos,” Calaycay said. “Our seminary was put under surveillance [and] they curtailed our freedom and movement even [after I] was ordained [.…] I thought that the Philippines had changed when the Martial Law regime of Marcos was over. Ironically, our condition has gotten worse.”

Martial Law—Marcos’s infamous 1972 proclamation that initiated a 14-year period of one-man military rule in the Philippines—is a polarizing topic amongst Filipinos, including for those who live overseas. In recent years, President Duterte has used the threat of Martial Law to threaten and intimidate political opponents. 

“We have a government that has a propensity for political oppression, violates human rights, and suppresses peoples’ dissent with impunity to keep the regime in power,” Calaycay said. “We live under a dangerous regime.”

Jackie Colting-Stol, a Ph.D student at the McGill School of Social Work and Secretary General of Anakbayan Montreal, encouraged students to take part in raising awareness on human rights issues. 

“Students have a critical role in understanding and contributing to the concrete conditions of people who face oppression, the ways to understand and highlight these conditions, and then how to mobilize with each other on- and off-campus to have an impact.” Colting-Stol wrote in an email to the Tribune. “[Students] can take internships with community groups and organizations, use research in collaboration with them, and bring these issues to light in academic settings.”

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