Contributed by Joe Montero
Members of the Filipino and Australian communities gathered in Melbourne’s west on sunday 9 December, to observe Human Rights Day and celebrate the heroic grassroots efforts of many, to turn around the ongoing attacks by government, mining companies and other corporations, which are making life more difficult and sometimes.
The event was held at the Seddon Scout Hall in Footscray.
Guest speaker, former member of parliament for Northcote and First Nations leader, Lydia Thorpe, spoke about the worsening position of her people in Australia, under ever more reactionary government and the failure to progress on a proper reconciliation of past wrongs through a negotiated. Although some progress has been made in Victoria, there is still a battle to ensure that all First Nations are involved and the final result matches their aspirations.
Lydia also stressed the importance of all Australians being in involved, and all parts of Australian society having their concerns addressed in the treaty process and its outcome.
One thing was made clear, the First Nations of this country have not been defeated. They have survived, are here today and will keep on fighting until their rights has been won and future secured.
The Second gust speaker, Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian missionary, who has been in the Philippines for 27 years and has recently been expelled, under orders of President Duterte, for her human rights work.
She has been involved in advocating for the poor and is an elected member of the National Council of Kataparan (an alliance of human rights organisations)
Earlier this year, Sister Pat had taken part in a fact-finding mission to Mindanao, where many cases of serious human rights violations were witnessed. She spoke of the plight of farmers losing their land to mining companies and plantation owners, and the taking away of their right to grow food where they had always done so, about the increasing use of military action, incarceration and murder as means of imposing the political will of the Duterte administration. There is an increasing use of trumped up charges to convict and jail individuals seen as political opponents of serious charges, like attempted murder, kidnapping and terrorism. The Philippines is heading towards a new period of martial law.
Weeks before her detention, she had given public support for for striking Coca Cola workers fighting terrible wages and conditions.
Although the situations are very different in each country, there are nevertheless some worrying similarities. In both, the political elite has moved in the direction of degrading human rights, linked to policies designed to enrich the richest few at the top. In both, government resorts to scapegoating of sections of the population.
This means that it is important to support each other. We have a common cause. Australians must know more about what is happening in the Philippines and campaign to put a stop to Australia’s military involvement in the suppression of the Filipino people.
As Australians, we must fight our own battles at home, and there are many arenas, where restrictions on our rights must be fought and a better future won.
A very important component of this is to support the First Nations in achieving their rights as equals in Australia, and the capacity to determine their future.