Dozens gathered at a demonstration against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Amid high security and huge barricades, about 50 protesters held banners and chanted slogans accusing the president, who is on a three-day visit to the city, of not respecting human rights or fulfilling his electoral promises, including creating jobs in their home country.
“From a populist president, he has become a mass murderer,” Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said, referring to the war on drugs launched by Duterte about two years ago.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 12,000 suspected drug users and dealers are thought to have died in the “drug war”, including an estimated 4,000 during operations led by the police and the remainder by “unidentified gunmen”.
“Most of those killed are poor. They are accused of selling drugs but there is no due process. People are killed, thrown and left in the streets,” he said.
As Villanueva was speaking, two protesters lay on the floor re-enacting a scene after an extrajudicial killing.
“This president has turned into a monster … some people might say that he is still popular. But his popularity cannot feed hungry people. His popularity cannot provide free education, health or housing,” he said.
Another migrant leader, Dolores Balladares, who has been a domestic worker for over 20 years, noted that Duterte has not fulfilled many of his electoral promises. “He promised that he would create jobs in our country and that we would not have to go abroad. But that did not happen,” she said.
Balladares also said she was not pleased with the news about the deployment of Filipino domestic workers and English teachers to mainland China.
“We do not like having people from the Philippines being exported to other countries, treated like commodities, and just waiting for our remittances to feed the country’s economy,” Balladares said. “We want jobs in the Philippines.”
She noted that the working conditions of domestic helpers abroad have not improved during Duterte’s administration.
“As migrant workers, we do not feel protected. [Employment] agencies are still collecting a lot of money from workers and they have not been prosecuted,” she said.
Some 203,600 domestic workers from the Philippines are employed in Hong Kong.
Balladares also said workers in Hong Kong were against the recall of the consulate’s labour attaché in Hong Kong, Jalilo Dela Torre, which was ordered by Duterte about two weeks ago.
“He is a good public servant who has helped the Filipino community in Hong Kong. We do not believe any of the allegations against him,” she said.
Manila opened an investigation into complaints filed against Dela Torre – known for being vocal against human traffickers and rough employment agencies – but its details remain unclear.
The protesters – who displayed photos of some of those killed in the Philippines and chanted “Stop extrajudicial killings” and “Respect human rights” – had only a limited space next to an MTR exit in Tsim Sha Tsui, from where they could hardly see the hotel where Duterte was staying.
The InterContinental, a five-minute walk from the protest site, was surrounded by huge plastic barricades filled with water to prevent vehicle attacks as well as by dozens of police officers and security guards.
To enter the hotel, guests had to go through metal detectors and cars were also checked.
Villanueva said they organised the protest to send a message to the president, not to create trouble. “We are not terrorists … They [the police] don’t need to hide us behind an MTR station.”
A protester from Hong Kong also said the security measures were disproportionate.
“We have to be stuck here surrounded by police,” Au Lap-hang, 29, said.
Au said he decided to join the protest to show solidarity with Filipinos. “I have been concerned about Southeast Asian issues for a long time, and since Duterte took power we know that many things have happened including targeting human rights activists … He has to stop the violence against his citizens,” Au said.
Another protester, Cion Gonzalez, 52, a domestic worker from the Philippines, also noted that Duterte had promised to oppose China and protect disputed territories in the South China Sea. “But at the end of the day that is not happening. He wants to be friends with China,” Gonzalez said.
This week, Manila announced that it was planning to seal a deal with China within a few months to jointly explore for oil and gas in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries.
The protest organisers attributed the low turnout to the fact that many domestic workers were not allowed time off from their jobs. Most of the domestic helpers get a day off on Sunday.
A police spokesman said that when foreign dignitaries visited Hong Kong, the force was “duty-bound to ensure their personal safety”, as well as the safe and orderly conduct of the events that the officials attended. The force also “respects the public’s freedom of expression, speech and assembly, and will facilitate all peaceful and orderly public order events”.
Duterte leaves Hong Kong tonight after meeting members of the Filipino community.