| Photo by Senate Media Services via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0
JERSEY CITY, NJ — The Jersey City Municipal Council unanimously passed on Dec. 15, Resolution 21-866, “Protecting Jersey City Human Rights Defenders of the Philippines and Endorsing the Philippine Human Rights Act.”
The resolution, introduced by Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, Jr., has Jersey City the first on the East Coast to have endorsed the Philippine Human Rights Act and the first in the nation to extend protection to Philippine human rights defenders in the city.
“The extraterritorial implications of the Anti Terror Law is real,” said Lavarro. “And as a country we should protect U.S. citizens whether here or travelling abroad and ensure that their rights protected and that they are not subject to human rights violations.”
The New Jersey Philippine Human Rights Act Coalition (NJ4PHRA), an alliance of organizations and individuals based in New Jersey, initiated the campaign for its passage. These include Anakbayan NJ, GABRIELA NJ, Malaya Movement NJ, ICHRP and Migrante NJ.
Before the city council voted on the resolution, community activists said they sent hundreds of letters to city council members and ran community awareness events about the Anti-Terrorism Law and its impact on residents. NJ4PHRA organized the International Human Rights Vigil supported by Build More Unity and Solidarity Jersey City. The Monira Foundation also sponsored Liwayway: Balik Tanaw, a cultural event collaborating with local organizations that highlighted human rights violations in the Philippines.
Jessamyn Bonafe of Anakbayan North Jersey, a grassroots Filipino youth organization, denounced the Philippines’ red-tagging or labeling of Anakbayan as a terrorist. “Organizations like Anakbayan have been integrated into this community for 10 years,” she said. “We have had various campaigns that served Jersey City. Even as COVID hit, we helped address the needs of the people through a food distribution program called Peace Land and Bread. Jersey City community members have also supported our cause and refuted [these] claims of us as terrorists.”
Kristianne (Kate) Molina, a local artist at Mana Contemporary, a member of GABRIELA NJ and NJ4PHRA, stressed that “the resolution is to de-escalate confrontations between opposing groups claiming activists as terrorists.” She said the community should work together “on making an equitable, healthy, and safe city while keeping our political liberties intact for critics of the Philippine War on Drugs and the government’s delay in COVID-19 aid”.
The resolution endorses H.R. 3884, the Philippine Human Rights Act, sponsored by Rep. Susan Wild. The bill calls for the “suspension of U.S. security assistance to the Philippines until human rights violations by Philippine security officials have ceased and responsible state forces are held accountable.” 28 U.S. representatives currently support the bill, none of whom are from New Jersey.
NJ4PHRA hopes that with the Jersey City resolution secured, it will help convince legislators from New Jersey, such as Albio Sires, Tom Malinowski, Andy Kim, and Chris Smith, to co-sponsor the bill.
Jersey City Ward E Councilman John Solomon expressed his support, “Thank you to all the activists who spoke so movingly and powerfully on the authoritarian regime targeting free expression and political actions.”
Likewise, Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh commended community members who took the initiative to consider the resolution. “There are a lot of community members we need to protect,” he said.