MANILA - A new cause-oriented group calling on the government to be committed to human rights, peace, and the rule of law was launched on Monday.
Called "Tindig Pilipinas," the group is a union of coalitions and citizens who are alarmed and outraged by alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.
They are seeking solidarity and action against violence as well as contempt for law amid public apathy and indifference over the rising number of killings in the country.
The group also urged Duterte to refocus his government's efforts on the anti-narcotics drive and treat drugs as a health issue instead of criminal.
They also want the President to stop his objectification of women and his resort to the language of misogyny.
They also want him to to stop weakening, if not destroying, democratic institutions, and to instead observe institutional checks and balances.
Tindig Pilipinas is composed of representatives of the youth and women, activists, the Magdalo group, the Senate minority, and the House "independent minority."
Among those present at the launch at Club Filipino in San Juan were Liberal Party President Francis Pangilinan, Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Risa Hontiveros, and Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano.
Members of President Benigno Aquino III's Cabinet were also in attendance, including Edwin Lacierda, Teresita Deles, and Armin Luistro.
They were joined by groups such as the Ateneo University Loyola, CODE-NGO, De La Salle Brothers-Philippines, Alyansa ng mga Abogado para sa Bayan (ALAB), August Twenty One Movement (ATOM), Black and White Movement, Akbayan, Millennials Against Dictators (MAD), Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), The Silent Majority (TSM), US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), and many others.
The groups said they came together in an attempt to end the nightmare of a growing list of poor victims in the so called War on Drugs, which they said has made the public at home and abroad recoil in horror.
"We call upon this administration to refocus their efforts on the War on Drugs from extrajudicial killings to a healing approach where drug dependency is treated as a health issue and not a criminal one," said former Civil Service Commission chair Karina Constantino David of the Coordinating Group, adding that the PNP should also stop its "murderous" Oplan Double Barrel.
The administration has repeatedly dismissed the claim of human rights watchdogs that tens of thousands have died in the name of the drug war.
Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa told lawmakers the force has recorded 2,216 deaths of drug suspects in police operations and that those slain had resisted arrest.
The convenors said it was time for the country to stand together, stand up and overcome fear and apathy, and speak out in protest over the wrongdoings currently being committed.
They said that the nation is being led down a dark path filled with violence and where honest debate is not only shouted down but every attempt at sobriety in public discourse is dismissed with threats.
Under the Duterte administration, they said, free speech has been replaced by hate speech, and institutions such as the Supreme Court and the Commission on Human Rights were being weakened by the threat of impeachment and budget cuts.
They added, the nation's security and social stability have been eroded, where long-standing alliances with other countries have been disregarded and communities paralyzed in fear.
"We also recognize that he is not doing this alone, and that there are many others helping him along on this destructive path for whatever motives. But the end result is the same: national degradation," said former Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles, representing EveryWoman group.
"All these troubling developments are being done in the name of the Filipino people, the deaths and degradation serving as a smokescreen for the increasingly clear lack of accomplishments in solving our nation's problems," Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said.
"Alam natin lahat ng kumokontra sa Presidente tinatawag na dilawan, but that should not stop us from coming together. Importante dito hindi tayo matakot from coming together," he added.
NOT IN SUPPORT OF AQUINO
Although some of them were connected to the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, they maintained that their union was not to support or help the former chief executive face his indictment by the Ombudsman.
"Ginagawa ito hindi para kay PNoy. Kung si Pres. PNoy may kasalanan, dapat maimbestigahan, hindi ito ginagawa para sa Liberal," Alejano said.
The Liberal Party (LP) said their members who joined Tindig Pilipinas did so on a voluntary basis, and LP members who are part of the supermajority in the House of Representatives were not forced but encouraged to join.
"Ang suporta is on the level of personal, pero kasama sa istratehiya na makumbinsi ang ibang kasamahan sa House na suportahan ang inisyatibong ito," Pangilinan said.
The group said the public cannot in good conscience, as a country and as a people, continue to sit by idly. They believe the public must find the courage to come together to end apathy and indifference of the people on the violence that is happening in the country.
They will join the nation in commemorating a dark episode in the country's history, the declaration of Martial Law, on Thursday, September 21. - reports from Ron Gagalac, Agence France-Presse