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From Maria Ressa ’86 to Imee Marcos, Princeton University has been making headlines lately in the Philippines. The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board last week expressed their solidarity with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa after her arrest, and a few days later, the paper’s News section clarified that provincial governor Imee Marcos (the daughter of Ferdinand Marcos, a former dictatorial president of the Philippines) did not graduate from the University. These two cases are not isolated events, but in fact are tightly linked and reflective of the worsening political climate under the controversial regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Named a Time magazine Person of the Year in December 2018, Maria Ressa co-founded the news outlet Rappler in 2012 and is a highly decorated journalist in the Philippines.

Ressa was arrested on Feb. 14, 2019, on charges of cyber libel against Rappler. Her arrest not only sparked a flurry of news coverage, from CNN to The Guardian to Time Magazine itself, but also mobilized massive community and grassroots support in and outside of the Philippines. Ressa was released the following day but was made to post bail multiple times.

On the other hand, Imee Marcos has been falsely reporting that she graduated from the University as well as the University of the Philippines College of Law. Neither are true. Her credentials have been interrogated by the media, especially since she announced running for the Senate in the May 13, 2019, elections.

Imee Marcos has repeatedly defended her father and dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s legacy of human rights and a national debt that, to this day, multiple generations of Filipinos are paying off.

She has berated critics of her family’s political dynasty, telling Filipinos to “move on” from the lasting traumas of martial law from 1972 to 1981 under Ferdinand Marcos. Over 70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed under martial law, according to Amnesty International.

Freedom of the press was also a victim of Marcos’s martial law. After declaring martial law, Marcos signed the Letter of Instruction No. 1 “taking over and control[ling] ... all newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications.”

Marcos was ousted in 1986 after 20 years in power through the EDSA People Power movement.

Today President Duterte is determined to follow in his hero’s footsteps to trample on basic rights of the Filipino people: from the nearly two years and counting of martial law in the Mindanao region to the nationwide drug war. The war on drugs (read: war on the poor) has left a bloody trail of up to 27,000 dead — mostly impoverished and innocent — Filipinos since Duterte took office in 2016. Rappler has closely followed the human rights violations under both wars.

Ressa was interviewed by NPR shortly after her release and, when asked if her detention has effects on human rights advocates and free press, she responded, “Absolutely. I don’t think I was the target alone of this action — right? … [T]hat is the message that the government sent loud and clear — be quiet, toe the line or you’re next.”

Just like Marcos before him, Philippine news outlets like Bulatlat and Altermidya have faced Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks on their websites. Even the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the human rights organization KARAPATAN have been cyber-attacked. According to Quorum, a Sweden-based non-profit secure hosting provider, the signature of these attacks were all identical across the different targets.

Back in the United States, Filipinos and allies alike have spoken out through the Malaya Movement and the U.S. chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP US). These alliances call on the United States government to cut aid going to the Philippine police and military, the direct perpetrators of Duterte’s drug war and martial law.

The U.S. government has provided $184.5 million in military aid to the Philippines in 2018 and is promising at least $108 million for 2019 so far. Despite the internationally recognized crimes of Duterte and his state forces, the U.S. has not veered in its financial and tactical support of the regime.

The New Jersey chapter of the ICHRP commended and echoed The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board and the broader Princeton journalism community when they stated that they “stand in proud solidarity” with Ressa. 

In true solidarity with the Filipino people, ICHRP in the U.S. is ramping up efforts as well. We invite Filipinos and our allies to sign onto our campaign to demand a Senate hearing on human rights violations by the Philippine military and police. New Jersey in particular plays a key role as senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez both sit on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Turn your words of support into action by mobilizing with us for the Ecumenical Advocacy Conference in Apr. 5–7 and Congressional Advocacy Days on Apr. 8–9, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

We amplify the calls of the Filipino people when we assert: Defend press freedom! Demand an end to U.S. support of the Duterte regime! Stop the killings! Cut aid to the Philippine military and police! Say no to martial law!

Cero Parel (pronouns: they/them) is a first-year doctoral student at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. They write as a representative of the New Jersey chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP NJ).

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