“We are alarmed by the Duterte administration’s continuous, intended choice to violate human rights and fundamental freedoms of its own people.”
MANILA — On International Human Rights Day, 152 civil society organizations and activists from the Philippines and other countries have signed and sent a letter to Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte expressing deep concern over the deteriorating state of democracy and human rights in the Philippines. “On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we stand in solidarity with all human rights and freedom fighters in the Philippines,” said Misun Woo, Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Thailand.
Woo said that “As part of the international human rights community, the civil society demands from the Government of the Philippines to fulfill its obligations to recognize, support or protect human rights defenders, and create an enabling environment that upholds democracy and human rights.
Two and a half years into the term of the Duterte administration, the number of political prisoners arrested on trumped-up criminal charges has increased to 540. About half or 203 were arrested under Duterte’s watch, 45 of them are women. Criminalization of human rights defenders remains rampant, said Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines and one of the signatories to the letter demanding accountability from the Duterte government.
Under Duterte, 33 women and WHRDs (women human rights defenders) have been killed as of September this year. Since the president declared Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23 last year, at least a thousand people have been killed in the Marawi siege, where 900 of the victims were dubbed as “terrorists”, without independent verification, by the government soldiers.
On top of this, human Rights alliance KARAPATAN has documented the following rights violations in line with counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan: 216 extrajudicial killings, 378 victims of frustrated killings, 100 victims of torture, around 2,000 victims of illegal arrests, 71, 520 victims of threat and harassment, and 447, 963 individuals displaced from their communities due to bombings and military operations. The victims were mostly workers, peasants, indigenous people, women, urban poor, youth, and human rights defenders. This number does not yet include the more than 23,000 casualties of the war on drugs whose deaths were simply listed by authorities as ‘homicide under investigation.’
“Women have suffered threats and intimidation in an environment that is increasingly treading the path to a full-blown dictatorship and military rule, enabling extra-judicial killings and encouraging a macho-fascist culture with impunity. The Philippines is a dangerous place for women,” said Cristina Palabay, Tanggol Bayi Convenor and APWLD Member, Philippines. The group also noted the series of violence against women committed by state forces on duty either as “investment defense forces,” or in the war against drugs, among others.
“The drug war did not only spin a series of brutal killings perpetrated by police forces who hide behind their twisted narratives. This campaign by the Duterte regime also gave rise to cases of gross violence against women and children committed with impunity,” Palabay said. This includes the recently revealed “sex-for-freedom” cases where policemen rape or demand to have sexual intercourse with women, some of them minors, in exchange for the victims’ freedom from alleged drug charges, or freedom of their loved ones.
The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR), another signatory to the letter sent to Duterte on Human Rights Day, has previously counted up to 56 cops involved in 33 state-perpetrated cases of violence against women (VAW) since President Rodrigo Duterte became the president. These are culled only from cases that were reported in the news. Most women’s groups would say there are more unreported cases.
Because women human rights defenders continue to bear the brunt of sham democracies and a global regime of wanton disregard for human rights in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region, “We are in a period of distress and deception,” the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) said. The Duterte government promotes economic policies that women said only worsens poverty, yet the Duterte government trumpets non-existent improvements in the economy. Despite its managers claims of “slowing down” inflation, the women’s groups said rice prices are increasing 8.1 percent, fish prices to 12.5 percent, meat to 6.3 percent, and vegetables to 11.5 percent. Water, electricity, gas, and other fuels are increasing prices at 4.2 percent rate.
With jobs remaining on an insecure, low-paid contract-basis especially for women workers, and with peasants and small farmers continuing to be landless, price hikes are an ongoing nightmare. “Policies guarantee the profit for bigtime businessmen and foreign investors,” lamented the CWR. The result: the people are in a state of discontent and rage. Unfortunately, as they express this discontent and join protests, the Duterte government calls them terrorists and have them arrested, tortured, and murdered.
Instead of doing that, “The Government of the Philippines must stop committing human rights violations, provide access to justice with the full resource to victims and survivors of the state-condoned human rights violations, and prosecute and punish human rights violations,” said Joms Salvador, Secretary General of GABRIELA and an APWLD member. The Government of the Philippines should put people’s rights and interest at the center of its governance.
The Philippine government has ratified most of the core international human rights treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It has also adopted the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Yet, the government behaves as if these rights treaties are mere suggestions. “We are alarmed by the Duterte administration’s continuous, intended choice to violate human rights and fundamental freedoms of its own people,” said Misun Woo of APWLD.
Woo said the Duterte administration has been making such choices to keep the political and socio-economic power to a handful few. Despite this, Woo is hopeful, pointing to “the inspiring waves of movements, led by courageous woman human rights defenders, reclaiming people’s sovereignty, human rights, justice and hope.”
You can read the letter and list of signatories here.