Duterte’s
KILL THEM ALL
politics

A diagnosis on the state
of Human Rights in the Philippines

Duterte’s
KILL THEM ALL
politics

A diagnosis on the state
of Human Rights in the Philippines

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I. Introduction

Genesis of this project, why a diagnosis on Human Right Defenders in the Philippines?

The Republic of the Philippines is a largely unknown country, due to its remoteness, both geographically, historically and politically. It is not very present in the media, where it generally appears only to report the tragic consequences of a typhoon, or to evoke the dream beaches and other tourist opportunities. Thus, it is logically not, or hardly, on the radar of institutions and non-governmental organizations or entities of international policy and cooperation. And it is hardly ever associated with persecution and massive human rights violations. Yet, it is currently one of the harshest countries in terms of repression of all discordant voices, where persecution is the most severe and abuses against defenders are massive.

According to data collected by the NGO GlobalWitness, the Philippines is the second country in the world with the highest number of persecuted environmental defenders: at least 43 of them were murdered in 2019; in 2020, more than the half of the defenders killed in the country were opponents of dam construction projects, deforestation and mining industries; and since Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016, 166 environmental defenders have been assassinated in the Philippines. Similarly, several organizations and international Human Rights institutions, highlight the alarming figures, in sharp increase, of attacks against lawyers in recent years, with at least 61 victims of extrajudicial executions between 2016 and 2021, more than half of all those murdered in the exercise of their profession in the country since 1977.

The complex situation that prevails in this country is the result of a combination of several factors. A historical factor: from being a former Spanish colony for more than 500 years, the Philippines gained its independence in 1898, but immediately fell under the yoke of the United States, which has since exercised a domination in political, economic, military, linguistic and cultural terms, the economic, social and cultural consequences of which are still very visible today. Moreover, a geopolitical factor is also directly related to this: currently, the Philippines is caught between the United States and China, which are both engaged in a territorial dispute and a regional political, cultural and commercial struggle for influence.

Geographically, the insular topography of the country, which has more than 7,000 islands in total, does not facilitate communications and travel and public management of the territory is strongly affected. In addition, there is a climatic factor, as the country, being an island in tropical latitudes, is very exposed to the dramatic consequences of climate change. Finally, on the political and social levels, the legacy of colonial and post/neo colonial power structures are generally conducive to authoritarian and corrupt regimes, which produce social inequalities and endemic poverty, with their own set of consequences, such as, in this particular case, drug trafficking and consumption and long-lasting internal armed conflicts.

The infamous regime of Commander Marcos (1972-1986), which imposed martial law throughout the country, is the most emblematic historical expression of this. The aftermath of the decades of dictatorship can be seen in all of the profound dysfunctions of the current government.

Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office, which ended last May, has left the country bereft. The “war on drugs”, in reality a general and systematic persecution of urban poor, rural poor and most vulnerable fringes of the population, has officially (according to the Government of the Philippines) claimed 8663 lives, but most human rights entities and organizations calculate at least three times that number (figures presented in the UN Human Rights Council report published by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in June 2020).

The gravity of the situation led the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms. Fatou Bensouda, to carry out a preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines as of February 8th, 2018. Her conclusions, presented on April 12th, 2021, establish that there are “reasonable basis” to consider that crimes against humanity were committed in the framework of the War on Drugs between July 1st, 2016 and March 16th, 2019. As of May 24th, 2021, the Prosecutor proceeded, pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statutes, to present a petition to the ICC for an investigation to be opened.

Despite the fact that the Philippines withdrew from the ICC in March 2018, it remains competent given that the events occurred prior to the country’s exit from the International Judicial System. Nevertheless, Rodrigo Duterte obtained a temporary suspension of the investigation, claiming that the domestic judicial system is conducting its own investigations (currently only 52 cases are being partially investigated by domestic judicial authorities).

Furthermore, the systematic persecution of human rights defenders and, beyond that, of any expression contradictory to the positions of the Duterte government, is being conducted through the phenomenon of the « red-tagging », which consists, on the part of the armed forces, paramilitary units and police forces, in the stigmatization and systematic public labeling, as “terrorists”, of people who express criticism or disagree of current policies, thus laying the groundwork for more serious attacks are committed against them: from surveillance, threats, harassment, to judicial pressures, to arbitrary detentions, torture and even extrajudicial executions. This adds to an ultra-authoritarian climate, and testifies to a system in which impunity reigns, with little possibility of accountability.

In addition, after the elections of May 9th, 2022, which saw the victory of the Marcos/Duterte tandem (Bongbong Junior, the son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing president as vice-president), after an election that was widely discredited because of numerous irregularities, the continuity between the two regimes is established. The combination of the two regimes leaves no doubt that the situation with respect to freedoms, human rights and the rule of law will further deteriorate in the future.

This is the observation that our entities, Associació Catalana per la Pau and International Action for Peace, draw from three years of work on the Philippines, with our partners of Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights (Karapatan) in the field, during which we have focused in particular on the situation of Human Rights defenders, always establishing a direct link with the political and social context. This observation is coupled with another: a significant lack of knowledge on the part of our institutional and associative interlocutors, in Europe, Spain and Catalonia in particular, where we are based, of the serious human rights situation in the Philippines. Therefore, we have decided to gather our – still meager – knowledge and analysis, and to propose our collective contribution through this report, in order to provide context and analysis to our partners. We hope to encourage concerned entities to join forces and solidarity efforts, and to create a strong and effective network of cooperation and development education work on the Philippines.

Methodology

Our goal is to put the Philippines on the map! On the geographical and political map, and in particular through the prism of human rights and the very problematic situation of defenders. Beyond individual life experiences and traumas, this report aims to transcend the case by case and to show the systemic nature of the problematic of defenders.

Firstly, their collective dimension (they are not isolated individual, but parts of groups of people targeted for various reasons, ethnic, political, religious, because of their geographical position in coveted areas, etc.). Secondly, their common characteristics in spite of disparate backgrounds and contexts: the defenders are united both in their objectives and modes of struggle, and in the risks, violence and persecution to which they are subjected. Without constituting a homogeneous group, human rights defenders form a coherent whole that should be understood as such and analyzed in this sense. The situation in the Philippines is emblematic of what it means to be a human rights defender on a global scale and, above all, of what the right to defend all rights, for all people, everywhere on the planet, entails.

Initially conceived as a joint the Associació Catalana per la Pau, International Action for Peace and Karapatan partners field mission diagnostic, the pandemic and the inability to travel and visit the field led us to revise the objectives, methodology, and format.

We opted to work with several voices: those of our Karapatan partners, and in particular its member organizations National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), as well as field defenders, and the Associació Catalana per la Pau and International Action for Peace teams, with the contribution of our partners from Viva Salud, in Belgium, themselves long-time partners of Karapatan. We were also able to gather testimonies from members of two delegations of Filipino defenders in exile in Europe (Spain, Belgium, Germany, Holland) that we received in Barcelona in February and May 2022, representing different human rights organizations in the Philippines and in Europe.

With a human rights approach, this project then seeks to provide a bird’s eye view of the situation of the Philippines, of human rights, and especially the human rights defenders, during the six-year period under the hand of Rodrigo Duterte. And, to provide some perspectives on the sequence that is opening, under the mandate of Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.

More than a report, this project aims to be a source of information both from the field and from international institutions such as the European Parliament or the UN Human Rights Council, and to become a reference on the Philippines for our interlocutors. In the form of a micro website, it includes numerous sources, links and documents related to the situation of human rights in general, and of defenders in particular. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we hope to provide information relevant to a better understanding of this country, its history, its geography, its political and social actors. This project is naturally destined to be regularly updated and completed. We hope it will be useful.

Acknowledgements

We, the Associació Catalana per la Pau and International Action for Peace, warmly thank our partners from Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights (Karapatan), National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and all the human rights defenders, both in the Philippines and in exile due to persecution, who collaborated and gave their time and energy to visit and talk to us, to share their experiences.

We are very grateful to our partners at Viva Salud for their contribution.

This project has been supported by the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation, within the framework of the Program ‘We promote the SDG, we defend the defenders’.

II. Brief history and political review

Marcos’ dictatorship and military law

The Marcos dictatorship (1965-1986) lasted 21 years, 14 years of which were under martial law. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. became president for two terms, first in 1965, then in 1969. Under the old 1935 Philippine Constitution, a president’s term lasts for four years, and may be elected for two consecutive terms.

Instead of relinquishing his term in 1973, Marcos Sr. did everything to stay in power. He pushed for constitutional change and later on, declared martial law on September 21, 1972. The Marcos dictatorship was only ousted from power by popular uprising in 1986, now known as the EDSA People Power (EDSA stands for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, the main thoroughfare across Metro Manila).

After being kicked out of Malacanang, the Marcoses fled to Hawaii. Three years later, in 1989, Marcos Sr. died. Shortly after that, the Marcos family returned to the Philippines in 1991, and there began their creeping back to power, especially that most of their ill-gotten wealth remains in the hands of his wife Imelda, and their children, including presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who indeed won the election on May 9th, 2022.

Marcos, Jr.’s bid for the presidency is a move for political rehabilitation, an absolution from their crimes against the Filipino people. Their return to power completes the whole ploy of historical revisionism, portraying the Marcoses as heroes, not criminals.

Marcos Sr. imposed martial law on September 21, 1972. All government orders came from the President, as the Congress, Senate, and courts as well as the Supreme Court were abolished. The military was all too powerful, following orders from Marcos Sr., civil liberties were gagged, and whoever criticized and opposed martial law experienced harassment and repression. The people were silenced.

More than 100,000 Filipinos are reported to have been victims of martial law – killed, abducted, tortured and imprisoned. These heinous crimes were not reported at the time because the dictatorship controlled the media. Nearly 500 media stations across the country were shut down. Ordinary people – youth, workers, farmers, fishermen, the urban poor, women, indigenous people, Moros – were victims of repression and violence. Activists and other critics of the regime are the main targets. No one was punished or held accountable for violations of human rights at the time of martial law.

The Philippine economy collapsed further under the US-Marcos regime. In the early years of the regime, they bragged about the growth of industry and agriculture. Eventually, the Philippines sank into debt, as the livelihood of the Filipinos slipped further.

The Marcos regime built buildings and infrastructure, funded by $ 50 million in foreign debt. Marcos Sr. also spent a lot in the 1969 election to win for a second term. The Marcos family and their cronies also squandered a large portion of the foreign debt on their luxuries. The Marcos regime tied the Philippines to unequal agreements with the International Monetary Fund (a foreign institution) such as low tariffs (taxes on imported products), and exports at cheap rates.

The Philippine economy slumped. There was shortage of rice and agricultural products. Commodity prices rose while the peso slipped against the dollar. More and more people left the country to work (then called OCWs or overseas contract workers, now OFWs). Since 1965, some 18 million Filipinos lived below the poverty line. It had reached to 35 million by February 1986. Land grabbing of the farmers’ and ancestral lands of indigenous peoples to make way for projects were widely implemented by foreign corporations and Marcos’ cronies.

To date, Filipinos continue to pay off a huge debt that reached 27 billion dollars in 1986. An estimated PhP 5-10 billion of this went into the Marcoses’ own pockets.

The Marcoses amassed wealth while sitting in Malacanang. They used their power to steal and embezzle funds from the public coffers.

Since 1986, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has recovered up to P174 billion in stolen wealth from the Marcoses. The recovered funds have been allocated to various government programs from the ousting of the Marcoses to the present. However, there is still PhP 125 billion that remaines to be recovered.

The Marcoses also deposited $683 million in their Swiss accounts. These are accounts named after five Marcos foundations, where the beneficiaries are siblings Bongbong, Imee and Irene.

According to the Sandiganbayan that convicted Imelda Marcos guilty of seven counts of graft (or theft of government funds for self -interest) in 2018, the beneficiaries of the Swiss accounts are Marcos Jr. and Imee. The Supreme Court had earlier declared the Swiss accounts as stolen wealth since 2003, and ordered it to be returned to the Philippine government as public funds.

The Marcos family lived a luxurious and pompous life while in Malacanang. Aside from the money and funds held by them and their cronies or henchmen, the Marcoses also amassed thousands of paintings, and Imelda, thousands of clothes, shoes, bags and more. The party in Malacanang and the Marcoses’ display of luxury were in full swing.

PhP 125 billion that remaines to be recovered

III. Political Landscape

The Philippines is a representative and democratic republic that is led by a president who sits as both head of State and head of government. The powers of the governments are equally distributed into three co-equal, sovereign yet interdependent branches: the Legislative Branch (the law-making body), the Executive Branch (the law-enforcing body) and the Judiciary (the law-interpreting body). Legislative power is shared between two chambers: the Senate (the upper chamber) and the House of Representatives (the lower chamber). Executive power is enjoyed by the President while Judicial power is vested in the courts of law, with the Supreme Court as the highest judicial body.

The Philippine government abides by the 1987 Constitution that was ratified and promulgated in February 1987 after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was overthrown by the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986. The present Constitution is a reminder that at all times, sovereignty resides in the people from whom all government authority emanates1. It declares that the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people2 and to guarantee their rights and the dignity of every citizen3.

The 1987 Constitution also expresses in no uncertain terms that the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law the land and adheres to the solidarity with and cooperation among other nation-states.4 Presently, the Philippines is a signatory to a number of international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including its Second Optional Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), the Convention on the Elimination on of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As a signatory to the international human rights treaties, the Philippine government undertakes the obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of its people as enshrined in these treaties. The question as to the quality of the performance of these obligations is largely dependent on the kind of leadership that currently holds power.

On June 30, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was sworn into office as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines. He is to sit in office for six years, or until June 30, 2022. With this campaign to bring about change in the Philippines, the Filipinos welcomed his Presidency with high hopes for the better. Six years after, the Filipino people realized they were only taken in for a ride.

1. Section 1, Article II, 1987 Philippine Constitution: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them”.
2. Section 4, Ibid.: “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people. The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal military or civil service”.
3. Section 11,Ibid.: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.
4. Section 2, Ibid.: “The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations”.

Rodrigo Duterte: the Wild Card

Born on March 28, 1945 in Maasin City, Southern Leyte to parents, Vicente Duterte and Soledad Roa, Rodrigo Duterte grew up in a political environment.

Rodrigo Duterte is the son of Vicente Duterte and Soledad Roa. Vicente Duterte entered into Davao politics and eventually became a Cabinet member in the Marcos government. Interestingly, Soledad Roa was a one of the leaders of the Yellow Friday Movement that eventually led to the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled down the Marcos Dictatorship. History would show how entrenched the Duteret family is in “typical run-of-the-mill turncoat politics.”

He presented himself like any ordinary citizen, with his khakis and untucked checkered polo, and using colloquial language

Rodrigo Duterte went to study in the Lyceum of the Philippines University in Manila where he earned his Degree in Political Science in 1968. He proceeded to take up law in San Beda College where he earned his law degree in 1972. The young Duterte would later go back to his hometown in Davao and joined the Prosecutors’ Office until he became vice mayor of Davao City in 1986.

Since then, Duterte would cement his place in Davao politics. He served mayor for two consecutive terms and thereafter, ran and was elected as a Representative in Congress for the Davao Region in 1998 until 2001. Upon completion of his term as Congressman, Duterte went back to Davao and again served as the town’s mayor, vice-mayor and again mayor for consecutive terms. His children, Paulo, Sara and Sebastian, would later walk in his footsteps as politicians in Davao City. The Duterte’s have been embedded in the city’s politics so much that Davao would later earn the moniker “The Land of the Dutertes.”

Davao prides itself to be one of the safest cities in the Philippines thanks to Rodrigo Duterte’s legacy of ruthlessness when it comes to drugs and criminality. For this, he gained the nickname “The Punisher”, and even “Duterte Harry”, from the iconic Dirty Harry character that was played by Clint Eastwood on screen, arising from the reports of summary executions that were allegedly committed by the Duterte Death Squad (DDS). On the other hand, Davao was also listed as one of the cities with the highest crime rates, precisely because of the Duterte’s drug war.

Duterte never denied these allegations; on the contrary, he embraced them. In fact, this strategy of exterminating drugs by hook or by crook was one of the leading forces that catapulted him into the Presidency.

“Change is Coming”

During his Presidential campaign in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte promised the Filipino people that with him, “change is coming”. He vowed to rid of the illegal drugs trade within 3-6 months, even if he had to kill the drug peddlers himself. He swore to pursue an independent foreign policy and to defend the national sovereignty especially over the West Philippine Sea against China’s claims – even if he had to jet-ski his way to the farthest point of the waters where he would hoist the Philippine Flag. He talked of rewriting the Philippine Constitution to change the centralized form of government to a federal one to address the widening polarization between the local governments in the countryside and the “Imperial Manila”.

Duterte’s campaign talked of social justice and ending the widespread poverty in the country; it speaks of giving change a chance. And because he presented himself like any ordinary citizen, with his khakis and untucked checkered polo, and using colloquial language, Duterte later found himself in the Malacañang Palace as the President of the Philippines.

The marking of the first 100 days into a new administration is a long-held tradition in Philippine politics, taking its roots from the American system. It is a period when the President “traditionally enjoys a honeymoon of sorts with his traditional critics –the media, the political opposition and, in the Philippine case, a vigilant Church leadership,” noted the late writer Adrian Cristobal in his book “The Millennium President”. More like a “look-see’ period for the media, a ‘let’s-give-him-a-try’ of the opposition”.

In the Philippines, this practice was seen to have begun during the revolutionary government of Corazon Aquino5, where she addressed the nation on the 100th day of her Presidency to evaluate her government’s agenda. Since then, the succeeding heads of the Philippine Government celebrated its 100th day of office by addressing the public to provide an assessment of its trail so far and a trajectory of the current administration’s platforms.

President Duterte, however, broke tradition and celebrated his first 50 days instead. Apparently, this was among his many firsts as the First Mindanao-an President of the Philippines.

5. Although sources would suggest that this practice was already in place pre-Martial Law days and was only revived after the ouster of the late Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.;

Rodrigo Duterte: The “Socialist” and “Leftist” President

In the Philippines, to publicly declare that one is a “socialist” or a “leftist” is to tread on dangerous grounds, given the strong anti-communist propaganda in the country. But Rodirgo Duterte was not afraid of anyone, or of anything. During his campaign, Duterte openly declared himself as such, but categorically denied being a communist. He took pride as one of the students of Professor Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), in his university days.

When he was a Mayor in Davao City, Duterte maintained good diplomatic relations with the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the CPP, so that in several instances, the rebels would release their Prisoners of War to him. It came unexpected then that one of his platforms was to resume the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and find a solution to the 50 years and running armed conflict.

One of President Duterte’s prominent first was to give flesh to his word to resume the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and with it, the promise to release at least 19 political prisoners. After years of impasse brought about the previous administrations’ deadly counter-insurgency campaigns, the Government and the Communists – through the National Democratic Front of the Philippines – met once again at the negotiating table. The agenda would be to address the root causes of conflict, starting with the free distribution of lands to the landless.

Cynthia Deduro, representative of Dagsaw Panay Guimaras Indigenous People’s Network

As a gesture of goodwill, President Duterte offered three (3) of his Cabinet positions in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD), and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to progressive and nationalist leaders of the peoples’ movement who were nominated by the National Democratic Front, or who were known to be staunch human rights defenders.

Another of President Duterte’s popular policy was the assertion of an independent foreign policy with the intention to veer away from decades of American influence while forging allies in other equally powerful countries such as Russia and China. He assured to end US dependence on military aid and development, and sought to cut all unequal relations with the US while opening new relations with other countries.

With his commitment to achieve Social Justice, President Duterte had in line programs for ending contractualization of workers, providing homes for urban poor settlers and putting a stop to graft and corruption once and for all. With these platforms, coupled with the people’s hunger for change, President Duterte was seen to be the man who would usher the end of the systemic problems of the country and bring about a just and lasting peace in the land.

Rodrigo Duterte: The Punisher

But what seemed to be a genuine leader of the masses turned out to be one of the most ruthless presidents to ever land on the pages of Philippine history. Shortly after a year into office, President Duterte began to show his true colors.

But in actual operation, the campaign was not just knocking on people’s doors and pleading; it would later kill thousands of alleged drug users and drug peddlers

Under the Philippine Constitution, the death penalty shall not be imposed, except for heinous crimes6. International law, particularly the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, requires the signatories thereto – like the Philippines – to abolish the death penalty and provides that the reinstatement of the capital punishment will have sanctions under international human rights law. But President Duterte was vocal in his support for the reimposition of the Death Penalty as a deterrent to drug use and drug peddling.

Months into his presidency, President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs was garnering speed under the command of Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, the long-time aid and ally of President Duterte from Davao City. As the newly appointed Chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Director General Bato had earlier issued Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 launching the government’s illegal drugs campaign known as the Oplan Double Barrel which implements the Oplan Tokhang (a portmanteau from the Visayan Cebuano “toktok” and “hangyo” — “Knock-and-plead”) that was designed to eradicate illegal drugs in the smallest local government units – the barangays – through the conduct of house-to-house visitations “to persuade suspected illegal drug personalities to stop their illegal drug activities”. But in actual operation, the campaign was not just knocking on people’s doors and pleading; it would later kill thousands of alleged drug users and drug peddlers for which reason it is now referred to as Duterte’s Bloody War on Drugs.

6. Art. Ill, Section 19 of the Philippine Constitution: “Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress herefrom provides for it. Any death penalty already Imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua.”
FERDINAND MARCOS 1965 – 1986 RODRIGO DUTERTE 2016 – 2022
Dictatorship Democratic Republic
100.000 victims of murder, forced disappearances, torture, imprisonment. 20.000 victims of murder, forced disappearances, torture, imprisonment.
More than 5.000 victims of unlawful arrests and detentions Around 4.000 victims of unlawful arrests
Imprisonment of opposition leaders Imprisonment of opposition leaders
Dissolution of Congress to implement of an authoritarian rule Absolute majority in the House of Representatives
Martial Law 1972 -1981 Martial Law in Mindanao 2017 – 2019 (Proclamation nº 216)
Persecution of members of the press and shutdown of media outlets. Persecution of both members of the press and media outlets.
International treaties signed International treaties: Withdrawal from the Rome Statute
International debt: foreign debt increased fifty-fold from US$599 million in 1965 to US$28.3 billion in 1986 International debt: the country’s external debt has been steadily rising from $73.1 billion in 2017 to $106.4 billion in 2022

War on Drugs: The Numbers Game

President Duterte’s commitment to end the illegal drug trade in the country may be commendable, but his means to do so far outweigh the ends that he wishes to achieve.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported in 2015 that methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu (90%) tops the list of most abused illegal drugs, followed by marijuana and costly party drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. Accordingly, this data indicates the worsening drug problem in the country that has plagued mostly the impoverished sectors of the society because of its accessibility and its effects of temporary escape from the hardships in everyday life.

Just two months into the implementation of Oplan Tokhang, PNP Director General Bato admitted that as of September 2016, there were already over 1,100 people were killed in official police operations against illegal drugs at least 2,000 other cases of murder carried out by vigilante groups that are under investigation.

As of the end of 2017, the Office of the President reported that in a joint data collected by the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Bureau of Customs (BOC), a total of 1,308, 078 drug addicts have surrendered to the government, 118, 287 individuals were arrested and at least 3,967 drug personalities have died while 16,355 homicide cases are under investigation7.

7. The Duterte Administration Year End Report 2017 Key Accomplishments, attached as annex;

By June 2018, the death toll arising from the illegal drugs campaign has reached an alarming figure of 4,540. These persons were alleged to have fought back (“nanlaban”) the police operatives, hence, their “neutralization”. There were also recorded at least 149, 265 people who were arrested and 1,274,148 others who surrendered.

By this time, the government agencies handling the illegal drugs campaign – mainly the PNP and the PDEA – have been issuing inconsistent data, so that the Philippine Government launched the #RealNumbersPH platform which would – or at least attempt to – show the exact number of cases accomplished under the war on drugs, – cases of killings, arrested and surrendered.

In a statistic that was published in 2019, #RealNumbersPH tallied 5,526 deaths of “drug personalities”. However, civil society organizations assert that this number does not include those killings perpetrated by unidentified assailants, but who were nonetheless believed to be linked to the police drug operatives.

And yet, President Duterte seemed unalarmed about the alarming rate of deaths; on the contrary, he even applauded the work of the PNP saying that the victims were “criminals”, thereby justifying their killing.

By October 2020, the death toll from the country’s anti-drug operations has reached 7,987 as a result of a total of 234,036 official police operations that were conducted since July 2016.

By this time, the government is still issuing inconsistent data, with new categories of deaths being introduced at every turn, i.e.: deaths under investigation (DUI), homicide outside police operations – those killings by vigilantes but are nonetheless drug-related – thus making data collection and reporting confusing.

This prompted civil society organizations and news outlets to create their own database obtained from official data, news reports and local sources. Such is ACLED or The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which is a disaggregated data collection, analysis, and crisis mapping project that collects the dates, actors, locations, fatalities, and types of all reported political violence and protest events across Africa, the Middle East, Latin America & the Caribbean, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia & the Caucasus, Europe, and the United States of America. The ACLED team conducts analysis to describe, explore, and test conflict scenarios, and makes both data and analysis open for free use by the public.

According to the data gathered by ACLED, there are at least 7,742 civilians who have been killed in anti-drug operations as of November 2021. This number includes drug suspects who were killed by (1) government forces, such as the police or military; (2) anti-drug vigilantes, assumed to have ties to the state or (3) anonymous or unidentified armed groups, often assumed to be supporters of the government, tacit supporters of the government’s drug policy, or even police themselves as part of “secret death squads”.

But regardless of the numerical inconsistencies, the fact remains that under Duterte’s War on Drugs, thousands have been killed during official police operations and thousands more were killed by unidentified assailants which cases have remained uninvestigated, and thousands more who were arbitrarily arrested and detained. But despite these “accomplishment reports” of the PNP and the PDEA, and amidst the pools of blood on the streets, there is still no end in sight for the illegal drugs trade in the country.

The Shoot-to-Kill Order and the Nanlaban Narrative

Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars — or below the ground, if they so wish” (President Duterte, State of the Nation Address, July 25, 2016)

President Duterte did not attempt to mince his words in expressing his goals to end the illegal drug trade and use in the country with violence. He openly encouraged the security forces, and even the public in general, especially those who have guns “to shoot and kill drug dealers who resist arrest and fight back in their neighborhoods”, assuring them of his support and back-up, to the extent of promising them a medal of honor.

And so, the killing spree began

In all the official PNP papers, one thing is starkingly similar to all recorded deaths of supposed drug personalities: all of them resisted arrest – “nanlaban” – so that they had to be killed or “neutralized”. This narrative immediately became the template for police authorities conducting drug operations that result to death.

But then came the case of Kian Delos Santos. On August 17, 2017, in Caloocan City, in conducting drug operations, police operatives shot and killed Kian Delos Santos, then 17 years old. The police alleged that Kian fought back forcing them to fire back. They alleged to have recovered from Kian a .45 caliber gun and two (2) packets of substance suspected to be methamphetamine.

However, security cameras in the neighborhood showed a different story. Kian was seen being dragged out away by the police operatives, thus belying the claim that Kian resisted arrest. A witness surfaced and testified that Kian even pleaded for his life before he was ruthlessly shot. After autopsy, Kian tested negative for gunpowder nitrates.

Kian’s case sent a public uproar that questioned the integrity of the police and the logic behind this Oplan Tokhang. Kian was later buried and the police officers involved in the operations that resulted to his death were prosecuted and convicted for murder. Justice for Kian may have been attained – they were the first police officers sentenced for their actions under the illegal drugs campaign – but many other police officers involved in the killings still roam free. Still, Kian’s life could never be recovered, as with the thousand others who suffered the same fate.

Combatting Terrorism and Counter- Insurgency Campaigns

From the time of the Marcos dictatorship to all administrations post-People Power uprising, national internal security plans (NISP) were implemented as counter-insurgency programs. Almost all oplans (operation plans) were named with familiar virtues or values in Filipino, like Oplan Makabayan (Patriotic), Bantay Laya (Defend Freedom), and Kapayapaan (Peace). The counter-insurgency programs were presented and phrased well to supposedly focus on “addressing the root causes of poverty”, despite being military campaign strategies involving heavy military and combat operations carried out by the state’s armed forces.

A closer look will reveal how the NISPs, despite the positive names and titles, are outright policies of repression that lash out at the people’s basic freedoms, rights and civil liberties. These counter-insurgency programs in the Philippines are directly patterned after the United States counter-insurgency programs. This was firmly established under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government’s (2001-2009) Oplan Bantay Laya, which carried out the narrative of the US “war on terror”. The oplan made no distinction between those who participate in the armed resistance and activists in the legal democratic movement, thereby justifying attacks against leaders and members of people’s organizations, progressive party-list groups, and vocal critics of the government.

The oplans also include a number of so-called community and social programs, which essentially covered up for the covert military operations in areas named as targets and “hotbeds of insurgency.” These operations included community services, relief and introduction of infrastructure, many of which were funded by the USAID.

The civil-military component are then heavily integrated in the NISPs, and has continued to this day its piece-meal dole-outs and one-time assistance, while psywar ops and extensive red-tagging and vilification of individuals and groups are implemented. Across oplans, this has resulted to a record of grave violations to human rights. Violations continued, victims multiplied, and the state of unrest persisted in communities. More were killed, arrested and detained.

Upon assuming power, Duterte extended the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan of his predecessor, the late Benigno S. Aquino III. Later, the Duterte administration implemented its own counter-insurgency campaign, Oplan Kapanatagan.

On May 23, 2017, while in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao on account of the rebellion that was launched by the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaff Group. Both groups were later declared by the Philippine government as terrorist organizations. While the conflict was confined in Marawi City, the Department of National Defense alleged the persistence of rebellion across the island thus justifying the imposition of the military rule all over Mindanao for public safety. Everything from control of movement to searches and arrests and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus were to be implemented.

The Duterte regime implemented a grand militarist and fascist plan of state-sponsored terrorism targetted at the Filipino people. Activist or no activist, armed or unarmed, all these policies and operations aimed at sowing terror among the people in the most brutal and deceptive manner.

This military rule lasted for two and a half years; but its effects and impacts thereof still lingers on.

Oplan Kapayapaan/Kapanatagan

The Duterte regime’s counter-insurgency plan, Oplan Kapayapaan/Kapanatagan carried a whole-of-nation approach adopted from the United State Counter-insurgency Guide of 2009. It sought to “win the peace” through a combination of primarily military combat operations, intelligence and use of civilian agencies and entities for its military objective in the guise of “peace and development programs”.

In the guise of ‘peace and development programs’ or civil military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, counter-insurgency plans legitimize military occupation of communities. Peace talks or no peace talks, human rights violations by the military and police continued in suspected areas of the New People’s Army, and wherever there is growing discontent and protest.

Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA)

The Duterte regime formed the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) in October 2017, a government body jointly convened and operated by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The agency is the scion of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) which was formed under then-President Gloria Arroyo. The IALAG was abolished in 2009, following findings that it is behind the political persecution of defenders and critics.

There was an alarming increase in the number of activists and government critics charged with trumped-up cases and subjected to illegal arrests. IACLA is in the business of planting evidence and producing false witnesses, tag-teaming with prosecutors and courts for the release of defective warrants, and the over-all concoction of baseless and ridiculous stories to justify illegal arrests.

One of the glaring examples of these fabricated and preposterous charges was the use of warrants from courts in the Caraga region in Mindanao to invent cases against, and cause the arrest of activists in Metro Manila, despite the dire lack of evidence and logic presented by soldiers and cops. They have laboratories for testing how far they can go in weaponizing the law and subverting legal processes. Such cases remain active today, and have resulted to the arrest of a number of political prisoners.

A systematic maneuver meant to silence those voicing out legitimate issues and the poor’s interests, IACLA has contributed to the increase of political prisoners, threats and judicial harassment against activists, progressive members of sectoral and people’s organizations.

Memorandum Order No. 32

On November 22, 2018, Duterte issued Memorandum Order 32, which directed the deployment of more soldiers and police elements to Negros Occidental and Oriental, Eastern Visayas and Bicol, to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror.” It also authorized intensified intelligence operations and investigation and prosecution of persons or groups involved in “acts of lawless violence.”

A few months before the issuance of MO 32, Duterte declared a deadline to ‘crush’ rebel movements, the memorandum providing a blanket justification to suppress initiatives of people’s organizations against social injustices. Among the many violations under MO 32 were the Negros raids on October 31, 2019 , where the offices of Bayan, Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan, Gabriela, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Negros Island Health Integrated Program were simultaneously raided, along with the residence of local leaders in Bacolod City and Manila. At least 56 individuals were arbitrarily arrested.

Interestingly, the raids were executed on the basis of search warrants issued from the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89, signed by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert. The same judge was reported to be in a meeting with Brig. Gen Debold Sinas, Philippine National Police NCRPO acting regional director, prior to the raids.

The Negros raids showed how the law and legal process have been weaponized against those who remain critical, done in cahoots with judges who use their positions to foment injustice. These organizations have been incessantly red-tagged, and that these raids are an immediate repercussion of such malicious campaigns. With the issuance of search warrants, which were found to be a product of copy and paste that target critics and dissenters of the Duterte administration, these operations mask themselves as “legal” or “justified”. However, these are indicative of a justice system that is corrupt, prone to the influences of militarists, and instrumental in perpetrating injustice.

Executive Order No. 70 and the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)

On December 4, 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 70 entitled “Institutionalizing the Whole-Of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating A National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework”. This was in response to the need “to reframe and refocus the government policy of achieving inclusive and sustainable peace by recognizing that insurgencies, internal disturbances and tensions and other armed conflicts and threats are not only military and security concerns, but are symptomatic of broader social, economic and historical problems such as poverty, historical injustice, social inequality and lack of inclusivity, among others”. And so, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was thereby created to ensure the implementation the Whole-of-Nation Approach as an institutionalized government policy that would prioritize and harmonize the delivery of basic services and social development packages in conflict-affected areas and vulnerable communities in pursuit of the country’s peace agenda.

Far from being able to address the roots of armed conflict, the NTF-ELCAC has only brazenly militarized a civilian bureaucracy and instituted a virtual military junta whose approach to the communist insurgency is state repression, violence, and terrorism rather than actually addressing and resolving the root causes of rebellion and armed conflict in the country. The NTF-ELCAC goes after civilians and legal organizations, and has been the main machinery in dangerous red-tagging, vilification and harassment.

Anti-Terrorism Act

In the eyes of the Duterte regime, absolutely anyone may be a terrorist. Thus, the signing into law of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on July 3, 2020 as Republic Act no. 11479 completed the Duterte regime’s state-sponsored terror.

Possible violations on the rights to freedom of expression, to association and to uphold and defend people’s rights loom, especially in the context of the Duterte regime’s contempt for, persecution and terror-tagging of its critics. Provisions regarding warrantless arrests and detention without warrant remain violative of due process rights and provide an environment for torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. These provisions not only compromise the basic human rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and international human rights instruments, but also undermine judicial independence, separation of powers and check and balance.

Moreover, the immense powers given to the Anti-Terrorism Council, composed of military officials and militarist members of the Cabinet remain a grave concern, especially with alleged human rights violators at the helm. The authority, as provided under the law, to the release to public a list of individuals and groups it “designates” as terrorists before giving them the chance to clear their names is a dangerous power.

Antonio Ablon, bishop of the Philippine Independent Church and head of the Philippine clergy in Europe

The Anti-Terrorism Act legalizes the long-running terror-tagging rhetoric that have used to publicly vilify, harass, and incite State violence against human rights defender and its critics. Such terror-tagging has already claimed the lives of peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randall Echanis as well as human rights worker Zara Alvarez — all of whom were included in the Department of Justice’s list of at least 600 names it sought to declare as terrorists under the old Human Security Act of 2007 back in 2018.

Maria Sol Taule, lawyer and member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers

While combatting terrorism is a paramount duty of a State, the Philippine Government attempts to do so with utter disrespect of domestic and international human rights standards. But despite 37 Petitions calling for its nullity, the Supreme Court ruled that, save for a few provisions, the Anti- Terror Law is constitutional. Human Rights groups, peoples’ organizations, law associations have moved for reconsideration of this decision, arguing on the main that to favor the legality of the said law would send a chilling effect on the peoples’ exercise of their fundamental freedoms, silence dissent and ultimately cost the lives and liberty of the people.

The Duterte regime also claims that only those who are guilty of terrorist acts are afraid of the Anti-Terrorism Act, but take the case of two Aetas, a group of indigenous people, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, in the province of Zambales north of Metro Manila. They were the first two victims slapped of violations to the Anti-Terrorism Act for allegedly shooting soldiers in an alleged encounter with the NPA on August 31, 2020.

The authority, as provided under the law, to the release to public a list of individuals and groups it “designates” as terrorists before giving them the chance to clear their names is a dangerous power

Soldiers red-tagged, tortured, filed falsified charges, and detained Gurung and Ramos. After many months in detention, in an order dated July 15, Presiding Judge Melani Fay Tadili of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 97 dismissed the charges against Gurung and Ramos under Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and ordered their immediate release for insufficiency of evidence.

The court noted “material inconsistencies” in the witness testimonies of two soldiers who filed the charges against Gurung and Ramos and found that the “accused were not proven to be the perpetrators of the act of terrorism” and that, therefore, “their warrantless arrest was unlawful.” The order also rendered the warrantless search against them invalid and the firearms and explosives supposedly seized from them inadmissible. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Imagine the onslaught of trumped-up charges that the Duterte regime, and the succeeding administrations, can they use to attack us, rights defenders all.

Covid-19 Pandemic Response

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought the entire world into what can only be described as a global crisis. Governments across continents have scrambled to implement various draconian measures from travel bans, curfews, to lockdowns in order to contain its spread, and these measures have taken a huge toll on economies, as well as, on the protection of basic rights and civil liberties.

Far from being a “great equalizer” that many claimed it was, the infectious and deadly virus was, in fact, an amplifier of inequality as laid bare by the face of systemic violations of people’s economic, social, and cultural rights across the world – from worsening poverty, eroded public health systems, the widespread lack of food security and mass hunger, rampant homelessness, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, inequality in the distribution of vaccines across nations, and a looming socioeconomic recession that had triggered massive global job losses.

In 2020, millions of Filipinos suffered the disastrous effects of the crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic had only exacerbated — and it would worsen more, as the year unravelled the Duterte government’s outright abandonment of people’s welfare, its dependence on militarist policies and approaches to the medical crisis, and its barefaced exploitation of the pandemic to further its own fascist ends.

Criminal negligence and abandonment of people’s health and welfare

Decades of neoliberal policies such as the privatization of public utilities as well as austerity measures and budget cuts on social services had jeopardized people’s rights to health, housing, water and sanitation — rendering the Philippines’ public health system and economy utterly unprepared for the pandemic. In the 2020 budget for public health services alone, there had been an overall reduction of 10 billion pesos, including budget cuts by as much as 147.5 million pesos for disease surveillance, according to the Coalition for People’s Right to Health.

It was clear from day one that combatting the pandemic and the crisis it exacerbated meant the need for States to implement timely rights-based approaches by asserting people’s rights and welfare and putting them in the front and center of pandemic response. Despite this glaring systemic incapacity of the Philippines’ public health system, the Duterte administration dismissed and downplayed — even mocked — the threat of the pandemic for months, even after his own government detected the first COVID-19 case in the Philippines on January 30th, and the response that ensued made no efforts to uphold and assert people’s rights and welfare.

None other than Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III displayed this arrogance late January in rebutting public fears and calls for travel bans in the name of supposedly upholding diplomatic relations with China — all until the confirmation of cases of local transmission made the threat too impossible to ignore. By the time Duterte announced in March that he was placing the entirety of Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine”, it was clear that it was already far too late.

The government wasted time, and it was a clear indication of worse things to come.

The Duterte administration’s failure to act decisively was undeniable and had proven to be catastrophic no matter how they deluded themselves in the circus of Duterte’s late night addresses and press conferences of their so-called successes hinged on outright lies. On April 9, Duque had falsely claimed that the Philippines had a relatively “low” number of COVID-19 cases and he would continue with his lies; he claimed in July that the country had already “flattened the curve” since April. The country had lagged other countries in testing — yet nearly a year into one of the world’s longest and harshest lockdowns, the Duterte administration had clearly failed in curbing the spread of the pandemic: the Philippines recorded the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

Duque’s glaring lies were met with widespread calls for his resignation — and his negligence as DOH secretary was so glaring and undeniable that even administration allies in the Congress urged him to step down, with the Senate adopting a resolution on April 16 calling for Duque’s resignation due to his “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, inefficiency in the performance of his mandate resulting in poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided policies in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic” which put the lives of frontline healthcare workers at grave risk. Senators would reassert their call for Duque’s resignation following the exposé of yet another corruption scandal in the state insurer PhilHealth, and revelations that Duque “dropped the ball” on a supposed deal to secure COVID-19 vaccines from American pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer. The hashtag #DuqueResign repeatedly topped Twitter’s trending list in the Philippines as netizens echoed calls for Duque to step down.

Despite the widespread and strong clamor for Duque’s resignation, Duterte repeatedly refused to kick Duque out of his post, insisting that he trusted Duque. Duterte’s unflinching trust on flagrantly incompetent stooges proved to be deadly – it was the public that suffered from the Duque-Duterte tandem of lies and brazen abandonment of people’s welfare.

Duterte used the pandemic to suppress the people, exacerbate corruption to amass wealth, and escape responsibility

The people’s right to health is paramount in a pandemic: people have the right to get tested, to receive treatment, and receive aid from the government, but instead of heeding calls to uphold people’s right to health, the government’s response unraveled the deadly consequences of the State’s criminal negligence, of its refusal to listen to science, its shameless corruption amid a crisis, and the utter disregard of people’s welfare.

Health care workers were forced to put their lives on the line and many of them died in the line of duty with low and delayed hazard pay, inhumane treatment and discrimination, along with the lack of proper protective equipment. Frontliners had also pleaded for the recalibration of the government’s failed pandemic response, as well as, the scrapping of the government’s militarist and punitive measures implemented in the name of combatting the pandemic in favor of a comprehensive, medical, and demilitarized response that upheld the people’s right to health along with their civil and political rights. Meanwhile, State funding for public hospitals, health centers, and private medical facilities all over the country became overwhelmed with patients.

Frontliners’ calls, however, fell on deaf ears or were only met with empty platitudes, if not mockery and even outright hostility from Duterte himself, who taunted medical groups for instigating a “revolution.” Duterte’s approach to the pandemic was not really about combatting the disease – it was an opportune time for him to assert his embattled and waning legitimacy amid a crisis that had exposed his incapacity to lead in view of the incompetence and corruption happening right under his nose.

Aside from passing the blame on to the people for the spread of the virus, controlling the population became the priority, thus arresting violators of quarantine and curfew. Those who do not want to be vaccinated are threatened with arrests or are not allowed to work. Punishment is the solution rather than patient explanation, help and protection. The very task force which handled the pandemic response are mostly generals, not doctors and health specialists.

Like other autocratic governments in other parts of the world, Duterte used the pandemic to suppress the people, exacerbate corruption to amass wealth, and escape responsibility. The Duterte government’s last priority is to serve the people, especially the sick and frontliners fighting the pandemic.

President Duterte openly and unflinchingly defended his own men from allegations of fraud and corruption scandals that hounded them. He barred his Cabinet from attending the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearings on the government’s anomalous transactions with pharmaceutical company Pharmally, which was closely associated with Michael Yang, President Duterte’s former economic adviser. Pharmally executives are wanted fugitives in Taiwan for criminal activities.

Investigations revealed that at least PhP 8.7 billion of the Department of Health’s (DOH) fund transfers to the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) procurement service were allocated for contracts with Pharmally, which sold overpriced defective and substandard medical supplies to the government. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s draft report stated that President Duterte must be held accountable for betrayal of public trust in what their report described as “one of the biggest plunders of the Philippines’ coffers in recent history.” The Senate report recommended the filing of criminal charges such as graft and plunder against several individuals, including Yang, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, former DBM Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, and several Pharmally executives.

Surge after surge of new COVID-19 cases and variants has repeatedly overwhelmed the capacity of the country’s severely eroded public healthcare system and brought it to the brink of total collapse. Thousands of Filipinos suffered and died from COVID-19 without even reaching a hospital bed — yet the Duterte administration continued to be merciless as it tolerated barefaced corruption, profiteering of medical supplies, and the criminal mismanagement of public funds that put people’s health and welfare in peril.

No less is this indictment clear than in the findings of Commission on Audit (COA) as it flagged the DOH for “various deficiencies” in its management of funds amounting to PhP 67.3 billion to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which the COA said “contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities” in the government’s pandemic response. The COA’s findings reignited widespread calls for the resignation of Secretary Duque; President Duterte, however, stood by him, saying: “Wala ka namang ginawang masama” (You did nothing wrong).

Related to this incompetence that led to criminal neglect amid the anomalies surrounding the mismanagement of public funds in the government’s pandemic response, were the findings of Transparency International that tagged the Philippines as a “significant decliner” in its 2021 Corruption Perception Index. The Philippines ranked 117 out of 180 countries and territories in the index — dropping two places from its rank in 2020. The report particularly noted that, since the election of President Duterte, the Philippines had “seen a sharp decline in freedom of association and freedom of expression, making it harder to speak up about corruption” particularly with the murders of human rights defenders in the country.

By the end of 2021, the Duterte administration’s borrowing spree left the country buried in a total of PhP 11.73 trillion in debt, according to the Bureau of Treasury. Yet for the past two years, the Duterte administration repeated the mantra that the government did not have enough funds and resources for public health measures for free mass testing, contact tracing, as well as aid and subsidy for workers and affected households — which begged the question: where did the money go?

IV. Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and the Shrinking of Democratic Space

The Philippines’ commitment for the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights, and its declaration to promote social justice are laid down in no less than in the 1987 Philippine Constitution itself. The Philippines is also a signatory to several international instruments upholding human rights such as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant for Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICSECR). While the Philippines has etched its commitment to the defense and promotion of human rights on paper, the challenge lies in transforming these principles into action.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the State that is the duty bearer: it has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the basic human rights and freedoms of every person – the rights holder – whether he or she is its citizen or not.

However, under Duterte administration, the Philippine government fails or refuses to perform its tasks as duty-bearer so that there is a rapid decline of respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of the Filipino people, and it worsens every day in light of the anti-people policies and counter insurgency campaigns that are implemented.

Clarisa Ramos, coordinator of the Europe chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)

NTF-ELCAC and the Dangers of Red-tagging

Instead of advocating for peace, the NTF-ELCAC only sowed terror and engendered fear among the people. Capitalizing on the practice of red-tagging, the NTF-ELCAC rabidly and publicly labelled as “enemies of the state”, as “terrorists” those individuals and organizations that support local communities, promote human rights, justice and peace without an iota of proof, and elevated their message to the public to not associate with such individuals or organizations as they are “salot sa lipunan” or a burden to society.

Based on the workings of the NTF-ELCAC, the practice of red-tagging is made a major component of the government’s counter-insurgency program that is widely and consistently used to smear, discredit, and incite violence and hate against critics and members of the opposition, particularly from the ranks of activists, progressive groups, and critics of oppressive and anti-people state policies. Atty. Anthony Karlo Guillen of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, elaborated on this, to wit:

Among the pillars of the NTF-ELCAC’s counter-insurgency framework – in addition to increased defense spending, heightened military presence in civilian communities, and the harassment and intimidation of non- combatants through its various civil-military operations and “surrenderee” programs – is a relentless campaign of public vilification and disinformation against individuals alleged to be members, supporters, or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, and the groups purported to be the “legal fronts” of the underground movement.

Red-tagging is the product of this vilification and disinformation campaign. It portrays the subject as a “terrorist” or an “enemy of the state”. The apparent objectives are four-fold:

    • To present the public with a narrative that portrays the victim as an acceptable target of attack, whether it be by uniformed state forces, vigilante groups, or unidentified assailants;
    • To dispense with the need for a thorough investigation into the human rights violations committed;
    • To shield the perpetrators from accountability; and
    • To discourage public support or participation in the organizations subjected to red-tagging.

Red-tagging lays down the foundation for further and actual attacks against the person red-tagged. From increased surveillance, to criminal prosecution of false and fabricated crimes, to arbitrary confiscation of properties and worse, to enforced disappearances and to cold-blooded murder, human rights defenders in the Philippines have seen these all as the fruits of a poisonous tree that is red-tagging. This sends out a chilling effect to the public to silence and distance themselves from the discourse on human rights, justice and peace in exchange for dear life.

It remains an irony how the Duterte government created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to achieve inclusive and sustainable peace in areas affected by armed conflict and yet unilaterally terminated the then on-going peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines through the National Democratic Front, especially when the talks have reached a fifth round aimed to negotiate and agree on socio-economic reforms.

Elnora Held, human rights defender in the Philippines and coordinator of the organisation Gabriela Europe. Read the interview.

Red Tagging and the Communist Party of the Philippines

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen had the occasion to elaborate on the concept of red- baiting – or red-tagging as is popularly known today – in the one of the cases decided the by the High Court. Citing the report of then Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial or Summary and Arbitrary Execution Philip Alston, Justice Leonen defined Red-baiting or red-tagging as the “’vilification, ‘labelling’ and ‘guilt by association’ of various democratic groups” who are “stereotyped or caricatured by the military as communist groups, making them easy targets of government military or paramilitary units.”

In his visit to the Philippines on 12-21 February 2007, Alston had already observed that red-tagging was already an existing strategy of the military against the Communist Party of the Philippines – New Peoples’ Army – National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) that aims at dismantling civil society organizations which are purported as “fronts” of the CPP. In his mission report, Alston stated:

“13. Senior Government officials in and out of the military believe that many civil society organizations are fronts for the CPP and that the CPP controls these groups to instrumentalize popular grievances in the service of revolutionary struggle, forge anti-Government alliances, and recruit new party members. While greatly overstated, these views are not entirely baseless. It is the self-professed policy of the CPP to engage in united front politics for the purpose of promoting its views among those who are dissatisfied with the status quo but would be disinclined to join the CPP. Such organizing and mobilization are subject to the principle of democratic centralism and, thus, ultimately to the direction of the Central Committee of the CPP. There is no reason to doubt that the CPP expects those of its members who occupy leadership positions within civil society organizations to promote its strategic priorities. This does not, however, warrant the approach of many officials who characterized alleged front groups as if they were simply branches of the CPP. More objective interlocutors recognized that the term “front” encompasses many gradations of control, some very tenuous, and that in virtually any front organization most members will not belong to the CPP and will likely be unaware of the organization’s relationship to the CPP. Relatively little is known about the extent of the CPP’s influence within civil society organizations, and it would be naïve to assume that the CPP is as powerful as it would like to present itself as being.

14. The rhetoric of many officials moves too quickly from the premise that there are some front organizations to the assertion, usually unsubstantiated, that particular organizations are indeed fronts. During the martial law period, the CPP developed a network of underground civil society groups, which were united under the umbrella of the NDF. These groups remain covert, but their names are a matter of public record. It is not, for example, controversial that the NDF includes, among other groups, the Christians for National Liberation (CNL) and the Revolutionary Council of Trade Unions (RCTU). What is controversial is the thesis of many officials that the organizations associated with Bayan are overt counterparts to covert NDF organizations. When officials claim that “Christians for National Liberation (CNL) . . . controls the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), whose members man the KARAPATAN Human Rights Alliance” or that “[t]he RCTU controls the leadership of the aboveground militant labor center, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), through a core group composed of party members,” little if any evidence is given. Assertions that the CPP “fielded” such party-list groups as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, and Gabriela are similarly vague and speculative. These assertions are based on circumstantial evidence — the personal histories of some leaders, apparent sympathies manifested during the CPP’s split in the early 1990s, the perceived political function of a group’s positions, etc. — read in light of the CPP’s avowed organizational techniques.

15. Membership in the CPP is legal, and has been since 1992 when Congress repealed the Anti-Subversion Act. And nearly all my interlocutors acknowledged the principle that citizens should be permitted to support communist and national democratic ideas. Similarly, the party list system — whereby some members of the House of Representatives are elected nationwide rather than from a particular district — was established by Congress in 1995 for the purpose of encouraging leftist groups to enter the democratic political system.
Congressional representatives and much of civil society as “enemies” is thus completely inappropriate. Unsurprisingly, it has encouraged abuses.

16. Newspapers routinely carry reports of senior military officials urging that alleged CPP front groups and parties be neutralized. Often, prominent political parties and established civil society groups are named specifically. The public is told that supporting their work or candidates is tantamount to supporting “the enemy”. This practice was openly and adamantly defended by nearly every member of the military with whom I spoke. When I suggested to senior military officials that denunciation of civil society groups should only be done according to law and by the Government, the response was that civilian authorities are in no position to make such statements because they might be assassinated as a result. On another occasion, I asked a senior civilian official whether the Government might issue a directive prohibiting such statements by military officers. He expressed vague sympathy for the idea, but his subordinate — a retired military commander — promptly interjected that such a directive would be “impossible” because “this is a political war”. When political “warfare” is conducted by soldiers rather than civilians, democracy has been superseded by the military.

17. The public vilification of “enemies” is accompanied by operational measures. The most dramatic illustration is the “order of battle” approach adopted systematically by the AFP and, in practice, often by the PNP. In military terms an order of battle is an organizational tool used by military intelligence to list and analyze enemy military units. The AFP adopts an order of battle in relation to the various regions and sub-regions in which it operates. A copy of a leaked document of this type, from 2006, was provided to me, and I am aware of no reason to doubt its authenticity. The document, co-signed by senior military and police officials, calls upon “all members of the intelligence community in the [relevant] region … to adopt and be guided by this update to enhance a more comprehensive and concerted effort against the CPP/NPA/NDF”. Some 110 pages in length, the document lists hundreds of prominent civil society groups and individuals who have been classified, on the basis of intelligence, as members of organizations which the military deems “illegitimate”. While some officials formalistically deny that being on the order of battle constitutes being classified as an enemy of the state, the widespread understanding even among the political elite is that it constitutes precisely that.” (citations omitted, emphasis ours).

On December 9, 2020, the Anti-Terror Council, in a resolution, designated the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorist organizations.” Later, on June 23, 2021, the Council designated as well the political arm of the CPP – the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)- as a “terrorist organization”. Meanwhile, the warmongers and notorious red-taggers of the Duterte regime, especially those in the NTF ELCAC broadcast in public that progressive people organizations and party list groups are all “fronts” of the NDFP.

Clarisa Ramos, coordinator of the Europe chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)

That membership of the Communist Party of the Philippines is no longer a crime under Republic Act No. 7636 which repealed the Anti-Subversion Law in 1992 cannot be further emphasized. But the Philippine government insists on labeling anyone who speaks against its anti-people policies as a “communist” as if he or she is an enemy of the State, as if it was a crime to speak up, as if he or she is a terrorist. In effect, this red-tagging blurs the line between an armed combatant and ordinary civilians – activists, critics and dissenters – and makes the latter as targets of armed violence, in stark violation of the international humanitarian law and the rules of war.

But while this absurd practice of red-tagging may have already been in the ropes in administrations past, it has never been as intensified, as rabid, and as deadly as under the Duterte administration.

All these strategies of red-tagging and sowing terror have not eradicated the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army, nor have these addressed the root causes of the armed conflict or solved the socio-economic crisis that plague the country.

Attacks against the People

Public Vilification

In public interviews, in streamers hung around strategic locations in the towns, in pamphlets distributed around the cities, even in Senate hearings, civilians – human rights defenders, priests, teachers, lawyers, journalists, government employees, critics or any dissenter to the Duterte Adminstration, even duly elected representatives of the Philippine Congress – would find his or her name and/or photo being featured as a “high ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines” or a “commander of a battalion of the New Peoples’ Army”.

The NTF ELCAC has become the state’s rumor-mongering machine and fairytale factory, and went on redtagging activists, progressive party-list representatives, community organizers, community pantries, academic institutions, churches, actresses, film directors, legislators, K-Pop fans, and practically everybody. Disinformation campaigns through weaponized social media platforms are a daily fare.

Seigfred Dedumo, activist, exiled and former representative of the BayanMuna party in the Philippine Congress.

Trumped Up Charges

The Philippine Government has also weaponized the law by “using, circumventing, reinterpreting, or reinventing the law to justify or legitimize State action or repression8”. The epitome of this phenomenon is the filing of trumped up or false charges by members of the state security forces and auxiliary groups against human rights defenders, political opposition, critics and dissenters, with a blatant disregard of the basic principles of substantive due process and the deliberate circumvention of the standard rules of procedure.

Thus, it has become common to hear that a rights advocate from the North of the Philippines was arrested on the basis of a warrant that was issued by a court from the South of the country; or that residences of trade unionists were simultaneously raided in the wee hours of the morning on the strength of a shotgun search warrant; or that known leaders and members of peoples’ organizations were apprehended for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives found inside their homes. What appears to be a legal operation is belied by the non-observance of due process, the use of perjurious witnesses and the deployment of the full machinery of the state security forces, targeting specifically those who are critical of the State’s policies and actions.

With Oplan Kapanatagan and NTF-ELCAC in place, mobilizing government resources and machineries in its so-called “whole-of-nation” approach to insurgency, state forces likewise use the “nanlaban” (fought back) narrative in tokhang-style operations against activists, rights advocates and community organizers. Search warrants and planted evidence have been used to justify killing and arbitrarily arresting people.

8. Edre U. Olalia, Weaponization of the law and ineffective domestic remedies: riding in tandem to shoot down dissent, May 25, 2021

Political Prisoners

When Duterte came to power in 2016, the release of political prisoners seemed within reach. This was anchored on the resumption of formal peace talks under Duterte. The release of political prisoners, however, was not, and is never a precondition. It is a commitment that should be fulfilled, part of what was agreed upon by the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The campaign to free all political prisoners aims at releasing those who have been unjustly detained by reason of their political beliefs, and charged of trumped up cases. By demanding for their freedom is an assertion that activism, dissent and the defense of human rights are basic and necessary in Philippine society.

Political prisoners were released in the first years of the Duterte regime, a product of the long years of campaigning and demanding to free all political prisoners. But the fascist and militarist character of the state represented by Duterte was quickly unmasked in no time.

The state continued with the implementation of its counter-insurgency programs targetting communities, individuals and groups that have been targets of political repression, militarization, and all sorts of attacks in the rural and urban areas.

There are 713 political prisoners currently detained in prisons and detention centers nationwide. 487 of them were arrested under Duterte, and languish in overburdened and COVID-vulnerable prisons.

A number of fellow human rights defenders in Karapatan face trumped up charges, like the attempted murder cases filed against Karapatan chairperson Elisa “Tita” Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Jayvee Apiag.

A number of Karapatan human rights workers are also in jail, the most recent arrest was that of Karapatan – Caraga paralegal Renalyn Tejero. Many human rights workers have either been killed, behind bars, or are now facing these utterly absurd charges which are clearly meant to discredit and silence them from doing their work.

Duterte’s public pronouncements, at the same time, that openly incite violence, the weaponization of the law and the courts, and outright demonization of groups such as Karapatan, in particular, have made these groups targets of such attacks.

Summary Executions

From July 2016 until December 2021, Karapatan Human Rights Alliance has documented at least 427 cases of extralegal killings, 215 of whom were human rights defenders and 63 were women, with 332 victims coming from the peasant sector.

Zara Alvarez, health and human rights activist, murdered in august 2020

Quite unexpected is the similarity of circumstances that transpired before, during and after the killings: the victim was red-tagged before being executed, and the perpetrators hid under full faced helmets and were aboard a motorcycle without license plates.

The “nanlaban” narrative of the War on Drugs was also peddled in the case of killings of human rights defenders. But for always, eye witness accounts would reveal otherwise, thus showing a cold blood murder in the hands of police operatives.

And in all these, the culture of impunity pervades. Not one of the killings of human rights activists had been brought to genuine investigation and prosecution.

All these persecutions and basic human rights violations concern all sectors of the Filipino population. Everyone can be red-tagged at some point. In the rural areas, farmers, peasants, fishermen, but also Indigenous Peoples, mainly the Lumad, are the main targets. Their leaders are being arrested, their communities are being militarized, both with the aim of land control and land grabbing, and with the false purpose to fight against the guerrilla movements. Institutions such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, who work to defend the rural areas and specially the Indigenous Peoples’ lands, together with churches like the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, are being severely persecuted, red-tagged and charged for terrorism under the new Law. All in all, all organized sectors of the country are being targeted: trade unions, human rights organizations, the Youth, women groups like Gabriela, as well as LGBTQ organizations and individuals and any citizen whose voice or actions can represent a threat to the government.

Attacks against the Press and the Freedom of Expression

The Philippines as a state recognizes the vital role of communication and information in nation-building.9 To this end, the 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances”.10

Such guarantees have institutionalized the Philippine Press as a watchdog of the of the people that acts as a fact-checker to ensure not only truth in journalism and accountability in politics. Media in the Philippines has also been considered as a ‘fourth estate’ because of its “explicit capacity for advocacy and implicit capacity to frame political issues”. With this background, one would expect how free and independent Media in the Philippine is.

But under the Duterte Administration, a free and independent media remains to be an illusion, with the Philippines being notorious as one of the most dangerous of countries for journalists in the world.

Reporters without Borders, an international non-government organization that defends Freedom of Information of all peoples around the world, has ranked the Philippines in the 138th place in its World Press Freedom Index in 2021. Such ranking comes amidst the incessant persecution of both members of the press and media outlets especially those who are critical of the Duterte administration.

From June 2016 to April 2021, at least 223 attacks against journalists were recorded by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, majority of which were linked directly to state forces, i.e. police and military, and both the local and national government. Media practitioners, in the performance of their work, are not exempted from the State’s practice of red-tagging. Journalists were and continue to face harassments in the form of libel suits and other false and fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and worse, summary executions.

9. 1987 Philippine Constitution, Section 24, Article II;
10. Ibid., Section 4, Article III

ABS-CBN Shutdown

One of the biggest blows to press freedom in the Philippines came when on May 4, 2020, Philippine Congress denied an application for a legislative franchise to one of the longest running media outlet in the Philippines – ABS-CBN.

Prior to this historic vote against press freedom, President Duterte has expressly vocalized his antagonism against the ABS-CBN, for allegedly failing to air his political advertisements in the run up for the 2016 Presidential elections and instead allowed those ‘black propaganda’ against him that were particularly paid for by his political nemesis, then Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. What followed was a public trial whereby no less than the Senate of the Philippine was probing into the track record of the media giant’s compliance with the laws on ownership, taxes and labor among others. On top of this, ABS-CBN was hurdling a case of Quo Warranto before the Supreme Court that sought to take away its franchise via court order, and which was filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, Atty Jose Calida.

But, despite the Senate resolution finding ABS-CBN compliant with all its obligations to the government and to its staff, and notwithstanding the decision of the Supreme Court on the mootness of the Qou Warranto case, Congress still voted to deny the network’s application of a 25-year franchise, or any extension thereof.

V. The People United will Never be Defeated

A. Domestic Measures

The Duterte regime’s outright disregard and contempt for basic rights and freedoms in the past five years, its moves to guarantee impunity, and its continuing bloody programs already tell us otherwise: that it is set to evade accountability at all costs.

Justice before domestic mechanisms have remained elusive for all victims of human rights violations. However, inside and outside of the country, victims, their families and rights defenders stand to pursue justice and accountability.

A concrete example is the adoption of the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council of the “Dumanun Makitungtong” strategy on August 23, 2021 which was the subject of a resolution issued by the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee in the Cordillera Administrative Region (RLECC-CAR) in July, merely replacing the name of “tokhang-style” operations against activists, government critics and other persons wrongly tagged as “communist front organizations” in the region.

These resolutions clearly institutionalize red-tagging and political vilification meant to sow division among the people, to justify human rights violations and political persecution, and to destroy the remaining spaces for legitimate dissent, when dissent itself is the people’s utmost obligation against tyranny.”

RLECC-CAR’s Resolution No. 6, called “A Resolution Enjoining the Members of Law Enforcement Agencies Together with the Representatives of LGUs, Religious Sector, and NGOs to Conduct ‘Dumanun Makitungtong’ Strategy to Known Members of Communist Front Organizations (CFOs),” replaces the previous Resolution No. 4, which was discarded after wide opposition and criticism.

However, dropping the word “tokhang” will not lessen the threats against persons who will be the subject of operations of state forces in the Cordillera, when the nature and character of the operations bear the tokhang imprints. This resolution actually poses greater danger, as it spelled out going to homes of ‘suspected supporters of communist front organizations,’ which can mean almost anybody can be tagged and listed arbitrarily and without due process.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, Karapatan’s chapter in the region, said in a statement, “These resolutions clearly institutionalize red-tagging and political vilification meant to sow division among the people, to justify human rights violations and political persecution, and to destroy the remaining spaces for legitimate dissent, when dissent itself is the people’s utmost obligation against tyranny.

In turn, the Commission on Human Rights Regional Office in the Cordillera region issued a resolution reaffirming basic rights of individuals and groups against red-tagging and other forms of violations.

In the Philippine Congress, a law which recognizes the recognition and protection of human rights defenders in the country has passed into third reading.

B. International Avenues

War on Drugs: a War against the Poor

Even just within months into the ‘War on Drugs’ campaign, domestic and international human rights organizations have raised concern on the rising number of deaths of suspected drug personalities. These groups call out the Duterte government to reassess the means by which it implements its War on Drugs, as surely there are far more effective mechanisms to address the issue of illegal drugs other than “neutralizing” the users and peddlers. More so that the data indicates that the victims of these killings come from the poorest of the Philippine society who have no or limited access to State social services.

While commending the government’s commitment against illegal drugs, BayanMuna Partylist Representative Karlos Zarate condemned the summary killings of drug suspects both by state forces and vigilante groups, and the silence of the State on the numbers that are growing by the day.

Karapatan Alliance for Human Rights has said that Duterte’s War on Drugsushered in the criminalization of poverty and worsening culture of impunity among police forces’, adding that the killings target only the poor not only in urban cities, but also in rural communities across the nation. In the end, the war on drugs has developed into a “policy devoid of respect for human dignity” and has “insiduously spiraled into a war against the poor with the adminstration’s drive to eradicate criminality seemingly tantamount to eradicating the poor.”

Ibon International and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) have observed that these killings are a result of “the government’s misconstrued and unfounded assumption that drugs and criminality are the causes, rather than manifestations, of widespread poverty.” While the objectives of the War on Drugs may be praiseworthy, killing the small time drug peddlers without understanding why they peddle drugs in the first place does not solve the problem. The end could never justify the means.

Even international organizations have taken heed on these mounting calls to stop the bloodshed. Human Rights Organization Amnesty International in 2019 states that after three years into President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, “‘war on drugs’ continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price” and joins calls for the international community to urgently launch an investigation on these killings before the nation drowns in blood.

The Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court

Amidst the praises for Duterte’s War on Drugs, a few sensible citizens have realized that this carnage has got to end.

On April 2017, Lawyer Jude Sabio and his clients had had enough of the killings and the State’s incapacity and unwillingness to stop the bloody campaign against war on drugs and went straight to the international community for refuge.

The Rome Statute in international law created the International Criminal Court to have jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. The creation of this independent and permanent court that is linked with the United Nations is both a recognition of the fact that millions of people have been victims of atrocious crimes that are beyond the conscience of humanity and an affirmation that such crimes shall not go unpunished and shall be prevented at all costs by putting an end to the culture of impunity.

With high hopes for prosecution and accountability, Lawyer Jude Sabio sued President Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials before the International Criminal Court for mass murder amounting to crimes against humanity for the thousands of killings under the State’s anti-illegal drugs campaign . The complaint banks on President Duterte’s directives to the police to shoot-and-kill drug suspects, his admissions of committing extra-judicial killings, as well as statements from witnesses who were previously part of Duterte’s Death Squad (DDS) in Davao City that acted on then Mayor Duterte’s orders to liquidate drug suspects in town.

The Philippines’ response to the complaint was nothing short of unexpected: Withdrawal from the Rome Statute. On March 15, 2018, the Philippine government officially jumped out from the Rome Statute by serving a note verbale to the United Nations, saying that such decision is “a principled stand” against those who “seek to undermine [the Philippine] government and who have successfully infiltrated the human rights community and weaponized human rights protection mechanisms to advance their goal of overthrowing our democratically installed government”. It remained confident though that “there is no crime or liability to speak of in the first place since [the government’s] campaign against methamphetamines and other narcotics is a legitimate law enforcement operation designed to protect all Filipinos and uphold the rule of law.”

But the Philippines’ move to escape accountability by withdrawing the Rome Statue was not quite thought of, as the Court expressed that notwithstanding the withdrawal, the Court retains jurisdiction over the Philippines for crimes against humanity that may have been committed in the territory while it was still a party to the Statute. In an official statement in response to the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Statute, “withdrawing from the Rome Statute is a sovereign decision, which is subject to the provisions of article 127 of that Statute. A withdrawal becomes effective one year after the deposit of notice of withdrawal to the United Nations Secretary-General. A withdrawal has no impact on on-going proceedings or any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective; nor on the status of any judge already serving at the Court11.

11. “ICC Statement on The Philippines’ notice of withdrawal: State participation in Rome Statute system essential to international rule of law”, March 20, 2018, accessible at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=pr1371#:~:text=Withdrawing%20from%20the%20Rome%20Statute,the%20United%20Nations%20Secretary%2DGeneral.

The Philippines’ response to the complaint was nothing short of unexpected: Withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

Ripples of actions resulted from this statement from the Court: it enraged the Philippine government, so much that President Duterte even threatened to arrest then Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda or any officer from the Court upon entry in the Philippine for purposes of investigation. On the other hand, many believe that an investigation by the ICC is an urgent and significant step to prosecute Duterte for his crimes against humanity, as the same narratives to justify the killings and violence in the drug war are now used in the murders of activists and human rights defenders in police and military counterinsurgency operations.

With the request of former International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation into crimes against humanity in the drug war, families of drug war victims led by Rise Up for Life and for Rights together with their legal counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, submitted in August 2018 their representations as part of the ICC’s victim representation process, together with submissions on views of victims and kin, ahead of a decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether or not the court will approve the Office of the Prosecutor’s request to investigate the killings and other human rights violations in the drug war.

On September 15, 2021, the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) of the ICC granted the request for investigation in the Philippines citing reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity of murder were committted in the territory of the Philippines in 2016-2019 in the context of the killings under the anti-illegal drugs campaign . Morevoer, the PTC noticed that these circumstances follow the same pattern as in the killings that were reported in Davao City during the years 2011 to 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte was the town’s mayor; so that, these incidents too are included in the investigation.

This was a welcomed development for the families of the slain victims of President Duterte’s War on Drugs as this might just be the only way that they can attain justice for the brutal killing of their kin. The human rights organizations in the country and in the international arena likewise commended the ICC for such a resolution as not only will this put to the test the role and the objectives of the Court, but this also creates a precedent that no matter how invincible one may think he or she is, sooner or later, the long arm of the law will get to him or her, and justice will prevail.

Since then, the Office of the President has been insisting that the Court has no power to investigate the Philippines on the issue of the War on Drugs, as the country’s judicial system is allegedly in place and to continue with the investigation would be contrary to the principle of complementarity under international law.

Never in Duterte’s declarations that he showed a bit of remorse for the thousands of killings. In his last SONA in July 2021, he even taunted the International Criminal Court and reiterated his State policy of mass murder in his sham war on drugs and his counter-insurgency campaign.

But because the grounds for investigation are glaring, and the calls for prosecution mounting, the Philippine government felt pressured, perhaps even threatened. So much so that it filed with the Court a request to defer its investigation as allegedly, the Philippine Justice System is at work and the the Department of Justice is on its heels to investigate those police officers who were involved in the killings.

In a letter dated November 10, 2021, Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr. Eduardo Malaya, informed the Court that the Philippines is investigating or has investigated 52 cases of drug raids that were conducted by the PNP and/or PDEA between 2016 to 2021 that resulted in deaths. These investigations allegedly show that the Philippines is ‘committed to the rule of law” and that it has “the highest regard for due process” in ensuring the successful prosecution against erring police officers. So that in this premise, the government argued, the investigation in the ICC should be deferred.

In its response, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan temporarily suspended his investigation on the Philippines pursuant to the rules of procedure of the Court, but clarified that he will request additional information from the Philippine government in order to assess the scope and effect of the deferral request, and to determine whether to continue with the Court’s investigation. Such information, he added, “must consist of tangible evidence, of probative value and a significant degree of specificity” that would demonstrate the concrete, progressive and genuine steps taken by the Philippine government to ascertain the liability of persons who fall within the scope of the Court’s investigation. In the meantime, his office will continue to analyze the information that is already in its possession as well as to continue to receive new information from third parties and preserve the evidence on hand.

This train of events sent differing points of view, especially from those who push for the investigation. Some say that the deferral takes away that faint glimmer of hope that the investigation has given to the victims of the War on Drugs and their families. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) decried this request for deferral of the Philippine Government stating that “this belated action on the part of the Philippine government is nothing but an attempt at white-washing its blood-soaked flagship program”, noting the inordinate delay of conducting the investigations after 5 years of ruthless killings.

CenterLaw also observed that the sheer number of cases being investigated is “farther from the truth” when taken in light of the thousands of deaths committed by police authorities. On the other hand, former Senator Antonio Trillanes III was not dismayed by the decision of the Office of the Prosecutor to defer the investigation, saying that it is part of the process. To a point, he hinted that such deferral will lead to the Court’s realization that the so-called investigation that is allegedly being undertaken by the Philippine government is “just part of the cover up of President Duterte” to evade accountability, and hence, continue its mandate insofar as the Philippines is concerned.

United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution A/44/22

Highly concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly on the War on Drugs, Iceland tabled a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for an investigation on the Philippines. On the occasion of the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held last 15 June–3 July 2020, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet submitted her report on the situation of the human rights in the Philippines assessing a multitude of overarching human rights issues involved in the campaign against illegal drugs, to wit: Due Process of Law insofar as house to house visitations by police authorities and the latter’s threats of prosecution if not allowed access to abode and the Right against self-incrimination leading to arrests:

16. House visitations raise important due process concerns, as the procedure did not require search or arrest warrants and could be conducted solely on the basis of a person’s inclusion on a “drug watch list”. Barangay officials compiled lists of suspected “drug personalities” and passed them to the police.12 Individuals had no legal recourse to challenge their inclusion in the list.13 Police data reveal that out of 42,286 police anti-illegal drugs operations conducted in the period between 1 July 2016 and 30 November 2017, only 507 – 1.2 per cent – were based on an arrest warrant.14 In addition to the barangay lists, the President published “narcolists” of government officials allegedly involved in the drugs trade.15

17. House visitations systematically forced suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk facing lethal force. Circular No. 16-2016 encouraged “voluntary surrender”, but only mentioned access to counsel in cases where the person had agreed to incriminate himself or herself, leaving individuals vulnerable to pressure and intimidation. Refusal of house visitation – even without a search or arrest warrant – was to result in the immediate building up of a case against the person concerned and “negation”.

19. The Government denies that there is a policy to kill people who use drugs and states that all deaths occur during legitimate police operations.16 According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, between 1 July 2016 and 31 January 2020 the police killed 5,601 people.17 OHCHR could not independently verify this number. Various government agencies have put out conflicting figures18 and have proved reluctant to disclose documents relating to the killings to the Supreme Court and the Commission on Human Rights.19

20. There are also reports of widespread drug-related killings perpetrated by unidentified “vigilantes”. The Administration’s 2017 year-end report mentions 16,355 “homicide cases under investigation” as accomplishments in the fight against illegal drugs.20 This prompted the Supreme Court to raise the possibility that the killings were State-sponsored.21 Noting that drugs operations by the police and homicides perpetrated by unidentified persons resulted in 20,322 deaths from 1 July 2016 to 27 November 2017, the Supreme Court demanded an explanation for the staggering average of nearly 40 deaths per day.22 In March 2019, the police claimed that although 29,000 deaths were labelled as “deaths under inquiry” between 1 July 2016 and 4 February 2019, only 3,062 (9.47 per cent) were drug-related.23 A previous study, however, had found that the police severely underreported the percentage of drug-related killings among homicides.24

21. Between 1 June 2016 and 21 April 2020, the country’s Commission on Human Rights documented the killing of 73 children in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs – 62 male and 11 female25 – although these figures are not exhaustive. The youngest victim was 5 months old.

22. OHCHR ultimately cannot verify the number of extrajudicial killings without further investigation. On the basis of information reviewed, the killings related to the anti-illegal drugs campaign appear to have a widespread and systematic character. The most conservative figure, based on government data, suggests that since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed – with other estimates of up to triple that number. This clearly illustrates the need for a transparent and comprehensive reporting system for data on killings by State and non-State actors.

Moreover, the High Commissioner elaborated on the arbitrary deprivation of life by state actors through the “nanlaban” narrative in consonance with the basic principles of use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, to wit:

18. The terms “negation” and “neutralization” of “drug personalities” appear throughout Circular No. 16-2016. Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by highest-level State officials to use lethal force,26 may have emboldened the police to treat the circular as permission to kill. International human rights law prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life.27 When conducting law enforcement operations and using force, State officials must abide by key principles, which include exercising restraint, using proportionate force strictly where necessary, and only deploying lethal force as a last resort in extreme cases.28

23. Police reports disclosed before the Supreme Court offer insight into the conduct of 22 anti-drug operations in which 29 persons were killed – all in their homes.29 Except for one case, the police conducted the operations without warrants. Pre-operational plans drawn up by police called for “immediate apprehension” and “neutralization” of targeted persons. In post-operational spot reports, it was claimed that targets had been killed after resisting. The spot reports, however, contained strikingly similar language to describe each victim’s alleged utterance (“putang ina mo pulis ka pala” – which roughly translates as “so you’re a police (officer), son-of-a-bitch”) and actions (“suspect drew his weapon, fired at the lawmen but missed”), raising doubts about whether the reports were only filed pro forma. The reports explicitly referred to the killing of five individuals as “neutralization”. Of the 29 persons killed, 23 were on the drug watch list.

24. OHCHR examined police reports on another 25 operations in which 45 people had been killed in Metro Manila between August 2016 and June 2017. The police had referred to 34 of these killings as “neutralization”. At all the crime scenes, the police claimed to have recovered satchels of methamphetamine and guns allegedly used by the victims to resist police officers. On the basis of these reports, OHCHR found that the police had repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations. OHCHR identified seven handguns with unique serial numbers. Each handgun appeared in at least two separate crime scenes, while two reappeared in five different crime scenes. The pattern suggests planting of evidence by police officers and casts doubt on the self-defence narrative, implying that the victims were likely unarmed when killed.

27. The police have invoked a “presumption of regularity” of operational conduct to justify the lack of prosecutions.30 The Supreme Court, however, has observed that the police cannot claim a presumption of regularity in official functions because deaths are not supposed to occur during any police operations.31

Karapatan stressed that several UN independent experts have since repeatedly voiced out concerns on numerous attacks against Filipino human rights defenders, the latest of which are expressed by independent experts including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights.

UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor stated in her March 2021 report that smears including red-tagging is a context-specific death threat in the Philippines and has thus recommended that legislations protecting defenders against these acts be enacted.

12. Dangerous Drugs Board, Board Regulation No. 2 (2007), sect. 1 (a). In 2008, the Special Rapporteur recommended that this function be abolished. See A/HRC/8/3/Add.2, para. 68 (b).
13. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., notice of resolution, Supreme Court, 3 April 2018, pp. 32–33.
14. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., supplemental memorandum by the petitioners, Supreme Court, 21 October 2019, pp. 26–27.
15. See https://pcoo.gov.ph/news_releases/president-duterte-bares-names-of-narco-politicians/.
16. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., notice of resolution, pp. 6 and 9.
17. Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, #RealNumbersPH, 31 January 2020.
18. See https://dahas.upd.edu.ph/database/.
19. See www.rappler.com/nation/181519-duterte-order-pnp-chr-refuse-share-case-folders and http://bbc.com/news/world-asia-49203752. See also Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., notice of resolution, p. 45.
20. Duterte Administration year-end report: 2017, p. 22.
21. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., notice of resolution, p. 48.
22. Ibid.
23. See www.philstar.com/nation/2019/03/06/1898959/29000-deaths-probed-drug-war-launched.
24. See https://data.world/stabile-center/ph-drug-war.
25. Submission of the Commission on Human Rights, 5 May 2020.
26. See https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/07/02/1598740/duterte-pnp-kill-1000-ill-protect-you.
27. See Human Rights Committee, general comment No. 36 (2018) on the right to life, paras. 4 and 11.
28. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, art. 2 (a) and (b).
29. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., supplemental memorandum, p. 3.
30. Meeting with government representatives, 13–14 February 2020.
31. Petitioners v. Dela Rosa et al., notice of resolution, p. 47.

Red-tagging is a context-specific death threat

In October 2022, the Philippines is scheduled for the Universal Periodic Review wherein it shall be seen how far the country has improved, if at all, in the respect and promotion of human rights of its citizens taken in light of the recommendations from other member states in the previous UPR sessions and of the reports from civil society organizations on the ground.

The European Union

Since 2016, the European Parliament has issued four (4) resolutions on the Philippines highlighting the human rights violations in the War on Drugs as well as in counter-insurgency and counter- terrorism campaigns. The Parliament expresses its strongest concerns on the thousands of killings committed under the Duterte’s War on Drugs and calls for an immediate and independent investigation thereon. While it understands the need to address the issues of drug dependency in the Philippines, the Parliament urges the Government of the Philippines to respect the basic human rights of the Filipino people in so doing and to put an end to the current wave of extrajudicial executions. It continues to support the International Criminal Court in the conduct of investigation on this matter, and calls on the Philippine Government to cooperate with the Court and reconsider its previous decision withdrawing from the Rome Statue.

In its recent resolution, the Parliament takes heed of the practice of “red-tagging” which continues to result in killings, threats, warrantless arrests and harassment against human rights defenders, environmental defenders, trade unionists and journalists who seek to expose the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Government, and calls for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which carries out this deadly practice.

Moreover, the Parliament acknowledges that the enactment of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 has institutionalized ‘Red-tagging’ and thus calls for the reconsideration of the said law in order to bring it in line with international standards on countering terrorism, with a reminder that the exercise of civil and political rights is never an act of terrorism.

The Parliament even went as far as to state that the Philippines may be temporarily withdrawn from its Generalized Scheme of Preferences+ (GSP+) should it fail or refuses to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and treaties as compliance thereto is a pre-requisite to a State’s inclusion in the said scheme.

In light of the May 2022 National Elections, the European Parliament also warns of increasing instances of smear, hate and disinformation campaigns and the rise of ‘troll armies’ in Philippine cyberspace; so that it calls for the Philippine Government to “step up their efforts to ensure fair and free elections and a non-toxic environment for on- and offline campaigning”, as it “regrets that the Philippine Government ahs not invited the EU to conduct and independent observation mission” on the upcoming elections.

It further calls on its member states and its representatives in the Philippines to continue to “prioritise support to civil society and to use all available instruments to increase their support for human rights and environmental defenders’ work”.

USA

At the same time that the Duterte regime faces investigation by the ICC, a bill called the Philippine Human Rights Act has been reintroduced in the United States Congress. On June 14, Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District Representative Susan Wild reintroduced House Resolution 3884, or “An Act to suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes”. The bill is initially co-sponsored by 11 members of the U.S. Congress. The earlier House Resolution, HR 3884 which was filed last year, cited data from Karapatan which stated that, “As of April 2020, the Alliance for Advancement of People’s Rights (“Karapatan”) has documented 308 extrajudicial political killings, 439 victims of attempted politically motivated killings, 214 victims of torture, around 2,500 victims of illegal arrests, over 100,000 victims of threats and harassments, and nearly half a million internal refugees under the Duterte administration”.

The US government’s military and police aid to the Philippines for the past five years have been used to beef up funds to weaponize the country’s state forces to implement its counter-insurgency campaign and the war against drugs. The International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines said that since 2016, the U.S. has provided $550 million dollars in military aid to Duterte and implemented paltry human rights restrictions and oversight.

The law, if passed, shall be in effect beyond Duterte’s term and may be utilized to look into the Philippine government’s adherence to its human rights obligations. The decrease or eventual loss of military and police aid from the US is a strong message of the American people that they will not tolerate the use of their taxes to perpetuate rights violations in the Philippines.

VI. Combatting the Culture of Impunity

The incentives and special protection that President Duterte affords to police officers, the ineffective remedies for accountability and the collusion of state forces and institutions to repress dissent and criticism shape the culture of impunity, and thus makes Justice in the Philippines even more elusive.

Even the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet includes her analysis on this Culture of Impunity in her report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, thus:

28. The Government also asserts that law enforcement agencies are unable to investigate killings in the absence of private complaints.32 Under international human rights law, the Philippines is obliged to establish rules and procedures for mandatory reporting, review, and investigation of lethal and other life-threatening incidents by law enforcement personnel. Where there are allegations that it knows or should have known of potentially unlawful deprivations of life, it has the duty to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute perpetrators.33

29. Relatives – mostly female – of victims, as well as lawyers and journalists interviewed by OHCHR, cited numerous obstacles in documenting cases and pursuing justice. These included surveillance, harassment, threats, intimidation, lack of education, lack of protection of witnesses and victims, a feeling of powerlessness in the face of official statements encouraging killings, unwillingness by law enforcement agencies to investigate, and reluctance by judges to critically examine drug-related cases.34 Families interviewed by the country’s Commission on Human Rights also expressed fears over the safety of relatives, stigma, limited financial resources, and pressing basic needs of household members – especially children – as reasons not to pursue legal action.35 Public assurances by the President to protect police officers even if they killed 1,000 people while on duty36 have deterred victims from pursuing justice, and law enforcement agencies from investigating killings.

30. Submissions received by OHCHR also suggest widespread impunity for drug-related killings committed by unidentified persons and describe the disturbing familiarity of masked perpetrators with locations and victims, suggesting their possible collusion with police and local government officials in some cases.37

It is this culture of impunity that has been cultivated by the Duterte Administration is what needs to be immediately dismantled especially in light of the results of the May 9, 2022, National Election, if indeed Justice and Peace are to be achieved in the Philippines. For the top positions of President and Vice-President, the Filipino people faced with two strong contending tandems: the Robredo-Pangilinan, and the Marcos-Duterte.

Former Vice President Leonor “Leni” Robredo lead the pink campaign against the red camp of

Ferdinand “Bong-bong” Marcos, Jr. This is not the first time that these two fought for the same position: in the 2016 elections, both Robredo and Marcos, Jr. vied for the Vice Presidency. Even after Robredo was hailed the winner, Marcos Jr. never ceased to question his defeat until very recently when the Supreme Court ruled on Robredo’s victory with finality. This year, Robredo again faced against with Marcos Jr, but this time for the Presidency. During the campaigns, the tension between the two camps increased as the election day come close.

For the position of Vice President, former Senator Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan ran beside Robredo, while former Mayor of Davao City, and the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte-Carpio backed up Marcos. It was no surprise then that Duterte-Carpio led the race and won.

While other candidates eyed on the presidency and vice-presidency, it became clearer by the day that the fight for these two top positions was between the Leni-Kiko tandem on one hand, and the Marcos-Duterte on the other.

There was however a call to boycott the Marcos-Duterte tandem as their victory would further cement the culture of impunity for the two families and their cronies. With the convictions of the Marcoses for graft and corruption, for non-payment of taxes and for the atrocities during the Martial Law era of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the win of the younger Marcos will blur, if not eradicate, these taints to their name. On the other hand, the investigation of President Rodrigo Duterte at the International Criminal Court may be brushed under the rug now that Sara Duterte-Carpio has been elected as Vice-President.

The return of the Marcoses and the continuance of the Dutertes in top level politics will also mean the continuance of the anti-people policies, and the bloody war on drugs, and the draconian counter-insurgency campaigns, which thus presents a dark future for the resumption of the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Taking into account the high level of fraud and violence in the election, campaigns for international and local observatory missions were launched to try to ensure the conduct of fair and peaceful elections. Groups such as the International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines and the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections and many others were on the move to closely monitor the election processes on May 9, 2022 and its aftermaths.

32. Meeting with government representatives, 13–14 February 2020.
33. See Human Rights Committee, general comment No. 36 (2018), paras. 13 and 27–29. See also the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.
34. OHCHR interviews, 24 and 26–27 February and 4 March 2020.
35. Panaghoy, p. 39.
36. See www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/07/02/1598740/duterte-pnp-kill-1000-ill-protect-you.
37. United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution A/44/22 accessible at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3879531?ln=en

VII. Conclusion and Recommendations

After Duterte’s bloody six-year-mandate, the Philippines have opened a new chapter with the election, last May 9th, of the Marcos/Duterte tandem as President and Vice president, respectively. Unfortunately, the looming era appears nothing new for what Human Rights are concerned. We know state terrorism is defined by state policies and state policies are influenced by power, greed and selfish interests. The two families holding the power for the next six years, will certainly not give up their privileges and corrupted practices, while running the country. We expect them to push it further and strengthen the strong system built by Marcos’ father, deepened by Rodrigo Duterte, functioning for the benefit of the few and against the people’s basic freedoms and human rights.

Nonetheless, the new Filipino Government should be given the benefit of the doubt to:

  • release all political prisoners,
  • investigate all crimes and violations committed over the past six years, in order for the perpetrators of the exactions to be held accountable,
  • cooperate with the ICC’s investigation,
  • abide by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution and participate in the upcoming Universal Periodical Review next October 2022 in Geneva
  • stop the “red tagging”,
  • return to the negotiations table with the CPP-NPA/NDF for a peaceful process and solution to the ongoing conflict

To the Catalan Government and the Spanish Government, we would like to recommend to:

  • Urge the government of the Philippines to put an end to the human rights violations committed in the framework of the so-called “war on drugs”, and the systematic persecutions against human rights defenders who are victims of the “red-tagging” that the Philippine government is carrying out.
  • Support the conclusions of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights adopted at the 44th session in June 2020; work together with the states that voted in favor of the Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on July 19, 2019, to strengthen the said “technical cooperation” Resolution in order to give it a more demanding content regarding the Human Rights obligations incumbent on the Philippine state.
  • Urge the Philippine government to admit a mission in the field, coordinated by the UN, as repeatedly requested by the member countries of the Human Rights Council, which to date have been denied entry to Philippine territory.
  • Urge the Philippines to participate in the Universal Periodical Review in Geneva next October 2022.
  • Call on the government of the Philippines to reverse its decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute, to cooperate fully with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in its investigation of the situation in the country, and to urgently improve the national instruments guaranteeing the security of witnesses and mediators, and their funding.
  • Promote, in their bilateral relations with the government of the Philippines, the construction of peace in the Philippine state.

To the European Union:

  • We call the EU institutions to stand by on the EU’s core values of respect for human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, and denounce the massive human rights violations committed in the Philippines and to support mechanisms for accountability for the perpetrators of these violations and for reparation of damages for the victims.
  • We urge them to support the ICC for an effective conduct of its investigation on the Philippines, and to assist in any way the victims of the War on Drugs and their legal representatives that they may be able to participate fully and without fear in the investigation.
  • We urge the Commission to set clear, public, time-bound benchmarks for the Philippines to comply with its human rights obligations under the GSP+ scheme and strongly reiterates its call on the Commission to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences if there is no substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities;
  • We urge the Commission to activate the mechanisms created under the European Union Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EU GHRSR) or “European Magnitsky Act”, which allow to “freeze assets and impose travel bans on individuals involved in serious human rights abuses”, against the members of the Philippine Government.

To our partners in Human Rights defense and promotion, in cooperation and development work:

Make noise about the Philippines! Act in solidarity with human rights Defenders and progressive social and political forces on the ground. Spread their messages, being their speakers at international level. Engage in international cooperation and advocacy work to raise awareness on the situation of the human rights violations and persecutions against the Defenders in the Philippines.

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VIII. Annexes

1. United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution A/44/22 accessible at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3879531?ln=en

2. “Situation in the Philippines: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I authorises the opening of an investigation”, September 15, 2021, accessible at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/situation-philippines-icc-pre-trial-chamber-i-authorises-opening-investigation

3. European Parliament resolution on the recent human rights developments in the Philippines
(2022/2540(RSP)), accessible at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-9-2022-0097_EN.html

Further Readings:

Philippines: “If you are poor, you are killed”: Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs”, Amnesty International, January 31, 2017, accessible at:https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa35/5517/2017/en/

“ License to Kill ” Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s “Waron Drugs”, Human Rights Watch, March 2017, accessible at: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/philippines0317_insert.pdf

Duterte Killings Continue: State Terror & Human Rights in the Philippines
© International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and IBON International 2018, accessible at: https://iboninternational.org/download/duterte-killings-continue-state-terror-and-human-rights-in-the-philippines/