US-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines Targets Indigenous Land Defenders

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Beginning in 2001 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, soldiers in the Philippines have undertaken an extended counterinsurgency campaign that one human rights organization has called “by far the bloodiest and most brutal” campaign unleashed on the Filipino people. According to Nick Alexandrov’s report for CounterPunch,  officially the campaign aims “to reduce the capabilities of internal armed threats,” such as the Communist New People’s Army, and to clear NPA-held land of fighters. But, in reality, “Philippine soldiers stormed indigenous and peasant communities, killing whoever they wanted—a legacy current President Rodrigo Duterte carries forward.”

A series of reports by Karapatan on the human rights situation the Philippines confirm that Philippine counterinsurgency campaign targets civilians—including especially land defenders and indigenous activists—rather than communist insurgents. According to a July 2019 report by Global Witness, thirty of the 164 land and environmental defenders reported killed in 2018 were from the Philippines, making it the deadliest country in the world for people protecting their land or the environment.

While Global Witness charged the Philippine military, “working in collusion with powerful private interests,” for these deaths, Alexandrov wrote, “You can charge the U.S. government as well.” Noting that the Philippines receives more security aid from the US than any other Southeast Asian nation, he described how the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program has provided nearly $650 million to the Philippines since 2000. FMF grants allow US allies to purchase defense equipment made in the United States, benefiting the domestic defense industry. US security aid to the Philippines has also included $218 million for training and arming Philippine troops.

Past US officials have made statements regarding the Philippines’ indigenous people that could be interpreted as validating the nation’s counterinsurgency campaign. As Alexandrov reported, in 2008, the US ambassador to the Philippines, Kristie Kenney, complained that mining on one of the nation’s islands, Mindanao, had yet to meet its potential. “One of the most significant challenges facing large-scale mining operations is dealing with the current residents of the lands to which they have obtained mineral rights,” Kenney elaborated. She singled out “indigenous people with ancestral, albeit unrecognized by the legal system, claims to the mineral-rich areas” as especially problematic.

Source: Nick Alexandrov, “Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines,” CounterPunch, November 13, 2019,

Student Researcher: Sergio Perez (Sonoma State University)
Community Evaluator: Ramiro Zarate (Up Valley Medical FNP at Clinic OLE)