Yearender 2016 | Under Duterte, rights violations continue with impunity

The death toll in Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs surpassed the number of victims of extrajudicial killings under the Benigno Aquino III, which totaled 307 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administrations with 1,200 victims combined.


MANILA – Nearly six months after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, the state of human rights has gone from bad to worse.

Duterte’s so-called war on drugs claimed over 4,600 lives according to the Philippine National Police (PNP). Of this figure, 43 percent were killed in police operations while the remaining 57 percent were victims of summary execution by vigilantes.

Police authorities said they arrested over 37,000 drug suspects from July 1 to November and “visited” over four million houses in Operation Tokhang.

While the Senate Committee on Justice claimed it found no proof of state accountability to these killings, the same committee said the “war on drugs must be won within the legal system.”

The death toll in Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs surpassed the combined number of victims of extrajudicial killings under the administrations of Benigno Aquino III, which had 307 victims, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, with 1,200 victims.

Majority of the victims of drug-related killings were poor, according to Rise Up, a newly-formed network against drug-related cases of extrajudicial killings. Fr. Gilbert Billena, convenor of Rise Up, said fear has gripped many urban poor communities.

Even more alarming were reports on how the anti-drug war is used as a “smokescreen to harass political activists.”

The most recent victim was Joel Lising, 40, a local leader in Tondo, Manila opposing the proposed phase-out of tri-wheels in the city. According to a report by Manila Today, Lising was shot dead by two men riding a motorcycle at around 5:30 a.m., Dec. 5. Lising’s family and colleagues maintained that the tri-wheel driver never had any involvement on illegal drugs.

Lising is the 19th victim of political killings under the Duterte administration, according to human rights alliance Karapatan. Ten of the victims were indigenous peoples and the rest were farmers.

Meanwhile, four farmers were arrested in purok 6, sitio Karahume, San Isidro village, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan on Oct. 6 in the guise of Oplan Tokhang. The farmers, all active in opposing landgrabbing, were charged with violating the law on illegal drugs. One of the four remains detained.

Virtual martial law

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said the war on drugs is being used as one of the justifications for state agents to operate in communities despite the unilateral ceasefire.

Nida Barcenas, secretary general of Karapatan-Bicol, cited an incident in barangay Cabadisan, Ragay, Camarines Sur, where soldiers belonging to 49th Infantry Battalion and 31st Infantry Battalion roamed the villages under the guise of Oplan Tokhang from July to October this year.

“There is not one drug addict in the community,” Barcenas told Bulatlat. The soldiers interrogated residents about the activities of New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in the area.

Barcena said six battalions under the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army were deployed in 27 barangays in Masbate, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte. She said soldiers occupied health centers and barangay halls.

“Military is in control,” Barcena said. “Barangay officials could not do anything.”

In Negros Occidental, similar stories of harassment were recorded by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).

Renz Desabille of NFSW told Bulatlat that soldiers belonging to 62nd Infantry Battalion have been deployed in Central Bato, Sagay City. Desabille said soldiers, in the guise of conducting census, went to the homes of NFSW members, taking pictures of the victims and forcing them to admit that they were members of NPA.

Elsewhere in Mindanao, Barug Katungod Mindanao also documented human rights abuses committed by state security forces in the guise of community peace and development program.

The group documented eight cases of extrajudicial killings and two cases of enforced disappearances since July this year. Barug Katungod Mindanao held elements of the 39th, 68th, 66th and 46th Infantry Battalions as responsible for the killings in Southern Mindanao.

In Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions, the 29th, 23rd, 36th, 75th Infantry Battalions and AFP Special Forces occupied health centers, barangay hall and day care centers.

The group lamented the continued vilification and harassment of parents and teachers of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS) in the municipality of Palimbang which has resulted in the disruption of classes of hundreds of Dulangan Manobo school children. The local government of Palimbang, officials of the Department of Education and Department of Social Welfare and Development, along with the police and 6th Marine Battalion Landing Team, publicly linked the CLANS to the NPA.

In Zamboanga Peninsula, the Subanen communities were forced to attend community assemblies initiated by the 53rd Infantry Battalion, the group said.

Karapatan documented over 14,000 incidents of use of schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purpose, a violation of the international humanitarian law.

From July to November 30, Karapatan said more than 13,000 became victims of forced evacuation due to military operations.

More violations foreseen

With the recent appointment of Gen. Eduardo Año as AFP Chief of Staff, Karapatan forebodes more human rights violations and sabotage of the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

“With a notorious implementer of US-directed counter-insurgency programs Oplan Bantay Laya and Oplan Bayanihan now at the helm of the fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), there is greater danger of human rights violations and militarist efforts to sabotage peace initiatives,” Palabay said.

Karapatan linked Año to the 2007 enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the 2014 Paquibato massacre, and the hamletting of civilian communities and the proliferation of various paramilitary groups in Mindanao.

Palabay noted that it was also during Año’s stint in Mindanao that human rights workers and leaders of mass organizations were charged with trumped up cases for helping Lumad evacuees from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Karapatan also held Año responsible for the arrest of peace consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Ruben Saluta, which, she said, is a direct violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

The killing of NPA Commander Leoncio Pitao and medic Vanessa Limpag, both violations of international humanitarian law, is also part of his bloody ‘credentials,’ Palabay said.

Karapatan also took note of Duterte’s loose pronouncements regarding the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the proposal to revive the brutal Philippine Constabulary and the death penalty.

“More than ever, we call on the Filipino people to struggle against state fascism, as we denounce the unmistakable fascist tendencies of the Duterte administration,” Palabay said. (

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