The Human Rights Situation in the Philippines
Human rights violations have alarmingly risen in an unprecedented pace and scale in the past year. Following this administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, Extra-Judicial Killings (EJK) has sprouted nationwide, with estimated number of deaths publicized at about 12,000. There are even reports that killings have gone up to more than 20,000, a possibility which may be closer to the reported 16,355 drug-related homicide under investigation from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017 (2017 President’s Key Accomplishments). This year is further characterized by increasing number of cases of Enforced Disappearance and killings of priests, local government leaders, and journalists.
Meanwhile, impunity continues. Out of these alarming numbers, only 19 murder or homicide cases arising from the anti-drug campaign have been filed in court. Policemen known to have been involved in many drug-related killings are promoted rather than made accountable. Police ‘internal cleansing’ has not halted drug-related killings. No one has been made accountable to the killing of at least 74 minors in police and anti-drug campaign, such as Kian delos Santos and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.
Many seem to have accepted the rising number of killings as a norm in the campaign against illegal drugs; or many have remained silent, perhaps out of fear. Families of those killed are afraid to file a case. Everyday champions of human rights are also wary or afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal. Speaking out may put them in a watch list of law enforcement. Worse, defending human rights has become unpopular and even irrelevant. Criminal and drug addicts are seen to not possess human dignity, to not have rights, with no hope for change. Some even feel that they deserve to be killed. Despite the thousands of deaths, many continue to support the anti-drug campaign.
Human rights defenders are threatened. They are tagged as communists or treated as criminals. Many are placed in the list of ‘persons of interest’ by law enforcement and subjected to state surveillance. The President has personally spoken against human rights advocates. He made public statements about wanting to slap the UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard; branding Sister Patricia Fox as an undesirable alien; and called the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights names. Sister Patricia later received deportation orders despite efforts to present justifications for missionary work. Even students advocating human rights have been tagged as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army. They have likewise been subjected to state surveillance.
The country has also witnessed the consolidation of power of the Executive Branch. At the start of the Duterte administration, there were only 3 members of the President’s political party PDP-Laban. Now it holds majority of the seats in Congress. The Executive flexed muscles by issuing a proclamation declaring the amnesty of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as “void ab initio,” without obtaining concurrence of the majority of Congress. Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a “quo warranto” petition to remove of Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno for failing to file her Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth. Instead of allowing for impeachment process for the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Sereno was “guilty of unlawfully holding” the Chief Justice position.
Both Trillanes and Sereno have been vocal against wrongdoings of the current administration. Both cases resulted in questions of law and continued weakening of the rule of law. The country’s governance and culture of democracy are threatened with the silencing of those who seek the truth, those who criticize the administration.
Further, along with Martial Law in Mindanao were a number of human rights abuses. Cases of EJKs, torture, illegal arrests and detention, and victims of indiscriminate gunfire and bombings have been documented. The war in Marawi following a terrorist attack killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands residents. Slow progress in the rebuilding of Marawi can provide a window of opportunity for recruitment of terrorists.
As of date, human rights have to be better understood by the public to get people to protect and promote human rights. Misconception and misinformation on human rights abound. A large proportion of the public believe in fake news. Unfortunately, much of the public is detached on the issue on human rights because of biases and apathy.
Given the magnitude of the problem, the Commission on Human Rights and human rights organizations need to work with other stakeholders to advance the cause of human rights. Thus, the Commission and CSOs are mobilizing other stakeholders from various sectors at both national and local levels to protect and promote human rights.
There is a need to widen safe space more conducive for people to speak out with courage and conviction about the present situation and the need to stand up for every citizen’s right to life, safe space to initiate and support programs that address drug addiction without condemnation to those sick with the addiction, safe space to support victims of human rights violations towards recovery, safe space to promote and protect human rights.
What the People Need to Know
These killings are not ‘normal’ and that these killings offend the dignity of the human being. Human dignity is intrinsic in all persons and must be respected. Persons can think, communicate, and change, and cannot be defined by one action (i.e. drug usage).
Rights as citizens are enshrined in the Constitution. The government is supposed to respect and protect those rights. Filipino place great importance to life, there should not be bias against certain sectors of the population; killing is not a normal activity for Filipinos. We have traditionally banded together to help our fellow-Filipinos in the aftermath of natural calamities; this is no different. We should come together and unite in action to bring back the traditional Filipino values of justice, truth and value of every single human life.
We should all work together in upholding human rights because it should be everybody’s concern. Human Rights is not just about the killings. It’s also about your life, livelihood and lifestyle. Anyone can be a victim of human rights violations. Everyone has the moral obligation to uphold value of life and human dignity, and the capacity to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights should be upheld and defended at all times. Let us do our part in protecting human rights, speaking the truth about human rights, upholding the rule of law, and defending our democratic institutions. This is imperative for the survival of our nation.