Where to, Philippines?


by Merci Llarinas-Angeles (Solidarity Correspondent, Peace Women Partners)

A thousand broken shoes and slippers laid on the pavement to the Batasang Pambansa Complex are a mute reminder of those who can no longer march, the broken promises of Duterte and a journey that now leads to a dangerous future for the Filipino people.

The March of Those Who Couldn’t March
Thousands of Filipinos marched to protest when President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation address at the Batasang Pambansa Complex, the home of the national legislature, on July 24. In order to remember those who could no longer march, the Block Marcos movement 1 created a protest art installation, laying out over a thousand slippers and shoes 2 on the road to the complex.

“The ‘March Of Those Who Couldn’t March’ symbolizes those who have been killed in Duterte’s war on drugs. These are the people who could no longer come even if they wanted to protest and to protect civil rights and liberties,” said Herbert Docena, one of the organizers of the Block Marcos movement. “But it was also a warning to all of us that more would be unable to march if martial law were declared and full blown dictatorship were imposed. The shoes and slippers installation was also a call to action for us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who couldn’t march. We wanted it to be empowering, it was not just about mourning, but also about mobilization 3.”

Docena was referring to those who have been killed in the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style “deaths under investigation,” the extrajudicial killings. The deaths now number between between 8,000 to 12,000, according to iDEFEND (In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement), a human rights group consisting of more than 70 organizations in the Philippines 4.

Despite the daily reports of serious human rights violations, Duterte has denied and downplayed the illegality of police actions and there have been no investigations of the alleged crimes 5. He repeatedly calls on the public and the police to kill drug addicts and pushers, which to him are “not human 6”.  

Still, Duterte and his war on drugs are reported to enjoy a high satisfaction rating from the Filipino public, according to the Filipino opinion researchers, Social Weather Station (SWS) and Pulse Asia. The SWS March 2017 survey said that 78 percent of respondents were satisfied with the war on drugs 7. Critics of the surveys point out, however, that SWS measures satisfaction, which is not the same as approval; Pulse Asia surveys measure public trust. The different measures used by SWS and Pulse Asia can confuse the public, just as pollsters may be used to manufacture public opinion, rather than report it 8. Whether or not these surveys truly reflect public opinion, there has been no widespread public outcry against the drug-related killings. This situation reflects the lack of awareness among the Filipino people that wanton human rights violations are wrong, according to the Commission on Human Rights’ chairperson Chito Gascon. Gascon said it is important for human rights advocates to create a sense of ownership of human rights among the Filipino people 9.

Did Block Marcos’ protest art installation contribute to creating public awareness about the extrajudicial killings and martial law? Docena considers the installation a success: “We had very close engagement with the community 10. Throughout the day there were hundreds of people who came. That gave us an opening to explain the issue of the war on drugs and martial law, to express the condemnation, the warning and the call to action.”

Docena said that they were able to reach out to their target audiences, poor urban communities who have been the main victims of the drug-related killings. He told the story of one woman whose relative had been killed in the war on drugs. The woman brought a pair of shoes and laid it beside the others.  “We managed to reach that woman, and I felt that at least for a day she felt less alone. She felt that there were people around her who understood and were standing behind her, and she felt empowered. She could have stayed silent, but by putting her shoes on the ground beside the other shoes, she expressed resistance.”

The protest art installation of more than a thousand shoes and slippers received ample media coverage and became a topic of conversation and debate among many activists. Some groups accused the installation of being a disruption to the protest marches. There were others who looked down on the art as an inferior way of building the movement. These critics dismissed the protest art installation as a photo op and gimmick, and contrasted it against what they consider higher forms of political action — marching, mobilizing and grassroots organizing.

Docena said they found no incompatibility between the art installation and marches. “Many of us in Block Marcos were part of the marches.”

Broken Slippers and Duterte’s Broken Promises
Art inspires imagination. It can speak to individual viewers in different ways and move them to diverse actions.

The broken shoes and slippers also reminded the viewers of the poverty and inequality that continues to grip the Filipino people despite Duterte’s election promises to end poverty. The war on drugs has become a war against the poor 11.

“Promise breaker” was how some protesters described Duterte during his State of the Nation speech. While he has promised to turn contract positions into regular jobs, Renate Reyes of Bayan Muna (Nation First) said,  “Under his administration, regularization has already happened — it is now regular to kill drug suspects, regular to sabotage peace talks, regular to militarize and regular to spread fake news and disinformation” 12.

During his election campaign, Duterte projected himself as a man close to the poor and promised to end poverty in the country. However, his technocrats, who have all worked in big business, have designed a 10-point economic agenda 13 that continues the neoliberal policies of previous administrations. Within a year of his term, Duterte has broken many of his promises to the Filipino people. His government’s directive to end contractualization is full of loopholes, according to labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (May One Movement) 14. Contractualization is the practice of employers hiring workers and dismissing them before they reach six months at work, therefore depriving them of the status of regular workers and the accompanying legal benefits. According to the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, the new order by the Department of Labor and Employment “still encourages short-term contracts and violates job security in the guise of legal contractualization 15”.

Duterte failed to provide more housing to the poor when the budget of the country’s shelter agencies was cut by half this year 16. Now, his “Comprehensive Tax Reform Package”, while touted to benefit the poor, will reduce taxes paid by wealthy families, foreign investors and domestic big business. The plan offsets the cuts with higher consumption taxes that will be paid by the majority of poor Filipinos 17.

Where to, Philippines?
A thousand broken shoes and slippers laid on the pavement to the Batasang Pambansa Complex are a mute reminder of those who can no longer march, the broken promises of Duterte and a journey that now leads to a dangerous future for the Filipino people.

“At this juncture of our history, we are in a very dangerous and alarming situation. Duterte has tasted martial law and he wants more. Duterte has polluted both houses of Congress and made them his rubber stamp. He controls and pampers the police as his killing force in his war on drugs against the poor. He made the army do his bidding in Mindanao but only in the sense that he puts them in command,” said Sonny Melencio 18, leader of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Unity of Filipino Workers) and a political detainee who was tortured under Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law regime.

As early as Aug. 2016, Duterte had threatened to declare “martial law” in the country if the judiciary gets in the way of his national war on illegal drugs 19. Then on May 23, 2017, Duterte made real his threats when he declared martial rule over the 27 provinces and 33 cities of Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. Duterte’s reason for declaring martial law was the attack in Marawi City of the Maute Group, an armed network of clans who were labeled as a terrorist group linked to ISIS. He called the Maute attack a “rebellion” and said that his declaration of martial law would “finish” all the problems in Mindanao 20.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines mandates that martial law, when declared, should only last for 60 days, unless the Philippine Congress extends it.  On July 22, the Congress granted Duterte’s request to extend martial rule in Mindanao, not only for 60 days, but until Dec. 31. Opposition lawmakers appealed to the Philippine Supreme Court against martial law extension, but the court, in a majority vote, affirmed Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the lone dissenting voice, said that the declaration of martial law ignored the historical and ideological contexts of the terrorist groups in Mindanao.  “There is no rebellion that justifies martial law. There is terrorism that requires more thoughtful action 21.”

To legal and political analysts, this decision showed the court’s capitulation to Duterte. “The Supreme Court was too deferential to President Rodrigo Duterte when it decided to uphold martial law in Mindanao,” stated Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution 22.

Albay District Representative Edcel Lagman, a petitioner against martial law, said the Supreme Court’s decision rendered the magistrates powerless in reviewing the president’s exercise of martial law, as required in the 1987 Constitution. Lagman fears that the Supreme Court decision, in ruling that martial law is up to the president’s discretion, could “embolden” Duterte to expand his martial law nationwide 23.

“We are really facing something very dangerous, very threatening, and we do not want to return to that dark age [of martial law] said Docena of Block Marcos. “We all know how popular [Duterte] is, especially among certain sectors of the population. So the only way by which we can possibly defeat this threat is by us coming together and working together. The road to change is wide enough for all of us together.”

On Aug. 16, policemen shot 17-year old Kian delos Santos on the head, while he was already kneeling on the ground and begging for mercy. This could just have been another statistic in the “war on drugs”, where the police would say the suspect fought back and they shot him in self-defense.  But the execution was caught on CCTV, and the local village officials bravely gave a copy of the footage to the family of Kian delos Santos.

There is now an outcry from many sectors in the Philippines which was expressed when thousands joined the the funeral march for Kian this Aug. 26. The marchers called not only for Justice for Kian delos Santos but for all the victims of Duterte’s drug war.  For the first time, Duterte, who obviously does not want to erode his support base, met with the parents of a victim of police killings, condemned the killing, and promised them that the perpetrators will be prosecuted.  While the fight for justice for the slain victims in the Philippine war on drugs will still be an uphill battle, the execution of a 17-year old boy has cracked the government’s wall of impunity.



  1. Block Marcos is a coalition of different activists, mainly students, young professionals, workers, human rights activists, labor organizers, women’s organizations and diverse individuals and organizations. Their basis of unity is opposition to dictatorship and opposition to elite democracy. 
  2. Block Marcos members collected the used shoes and slippers by asking donations from friends and the public. 
  3. From an interview by the author with Herbert Docena on July 31, 2017 in Quezon City, Philippines. 
  4. iDEFEND Statement to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing, U.S. Congress downloaded from: https://angmasa.com/issue-3/37-idefend-statement-to-the-tom-lantos-human-rights-commission-hearing 
  5. Human Rights Watch, License to Kill: Philippine Police Killings in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs”, p. 17. The Report can be downloaded at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/03/02/license-kill/philippine-police-killings-dutertes-war-drugs 
  6. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/810395/junkies-are-not-humans. See also: http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/148295-philippines-president-rodrigo-duterte-statements-shoot-to-kill-drug-war 
  7. http://www.rappler.com/nation/167269-sws-survey-war-on-drugs-march-2017 
  8. For an analysis of the Filipino opinion researchers, read Yen Makabenta, “Financial Times research: More insightful than SWS and Pulse Asia” at:http://www.manilatimes.net/financial-times-research-insightful-sws-pulse-asia/339814/and: Yen Makabenta, “SWS looks for satisfaction; the world asks about approval” at: http://www.manilatimes.net/sws-looks-satisfaction-world-asks-approval/338063/ 
  9. Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, Issues and Challenges to HR Under the Present Administration, presentation delivered at the 8th Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Summit, Midsayap, Northern Mindanao, December 15, 2016 
  10. Many of the communities around the Batasang Pambansa Complex are informal settlers. 
  11. See the Amnesty International Report “If You are Poor, You are Killed: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs”, that came out on Jan. 31, 2017. It can be downloaded at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa35/5517/2017/en/ 
  12. Philippines, SONA times: Protesters hit Duterte’s ‘wrong regularization’, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 25, 2017, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/917212/protesters-hit-dutertes-wrong-regularization#ixzz4nntkOVUR 
  13. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/money/economy/570703/duterte-s-economic-team-reveals-10-point-socioeconomic-agenda/story/ 
  14. http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/01/11/KMU-protest-against-DOLE-order.html 
  15. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/881728/labor-dole-order-wont-stop-endo#ixzz4qIb3tp58 
  16. http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/dbm-cuts-housing-budget-for-2017/ 
  17. http://ibon.org/2017/06/rehashed-neoliberal-policies-one-year-of-dutertenomics/ 
  18. Duterte’s Philippines: A dangerous situation, Talk delivered by Sonny Melencio at the opening session of the National Conference Against Dictatorship (NCAD), Benitez Hall, UP Diliman, July 20, 2017, downloaded from: https://angmasa.com/issue-3/35-a-dangerous-situation 
  19. http://time.com/4446169/duterte-philippines-martial-law-drugs/ 
  20. http://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2017/05/duterte-declares-martial-law-in-all-of-mindanaos-27-provinces-and-33-cities/ 
  21. http://www.rappler.com/nation/175123-leonen-dissenting-opinion-martial-law-narrative-culture-context-mindanao 
  22. http://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/07/07/17/sc-ruling-on-mindanao-martial-law-too-deferential-to-duterte-constitutionalist 
  23. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/911596/sc-ruling-could-embolden-duterte-to-declare-nationwide-martial-law#ixzz4pMbQzymD