“…the human rights situation in the Philippines has reached unprecedented scale and scope since President Duterte was inaugurated into office in June 2016.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Groups under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) has submitted its first wave of reports on the human rights situation in the Philippines to United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday, Dec. 9. This is in line with Resolution 41/2 which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in July this year.
“With the intensifying transgressions on the Filipinos people’s political rights and civil liberties, we are participating in this report-making process of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to pursue justice and accountability,” the convenor of Ecuvoice, Edita Burgos, said.
She added they are “determined to bring to the international community’s attention the grave violations under the Duterte administration to the UNHRC and the International Criminal Court (ICC), despite the government’s disregard of its commitments and obligations to international rights mechanisms.”
The Ecuvoice is composed of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Karapatan, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Rise Up for Life and for Rights.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said this is the beginning as there are more reports to be submitted by other groups. The deadline for the submission of the reports is set on Jan. 31, 2020.
The NUPL, NCCP and Karapatan first submitted their reports while Rise Up is currently preparing their report for submission.
Worse human rights condition under Duterte
Karapatan’s report highlighted the worsening situation of human rights in the country, “marked with by disrespect to the right to life and civil liberties, strengthened climate of impunity and closing civic and democratic spaces and unmet obligations to core international human rights convention.”
In its report, Karapatan said indications of the worsening condition are the impact of Duterte’s policies such as the so-called “war on drugs,” the counterinsurgency campaign, and other policies that undermine its commitments to international and domestic human rights framework.
“Extrajudicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearance, illegal arrests and detention, torture, forcible evacuation and other rights violations were committed with impunity against families, communities, and human rights defenders (HRDs) in the course of the implementation of these policies,” the report said.
Palabay said Duterte himself, in several of his public speaking engagements, has threatened to kill those who are involved in illegal drugs. According to the data of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as of June 2019, there were 5,526 killed in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Meanwhile, on civic and democratic spaces, Karapatan said the counterinsurgency program and other repressive policies of the government have also resulted to the killing of legal activists and human rights defenders.
From July 2016 to November 2019, Karapatan documented 293 victims of extrajudicial killings perpetrated in line with the counterinsurgency program, with 167 defenders killed or an average of one to two HRDs killed every week. At least 429 were victims of frustrated killings. Karapatan also reported the continued and intensifying vilification of legal activists and the increasing political prisoners who were slapped trumped up charges. As of November 2019, the group said there are 629 political prisoners currently jailed in different facilities. At least 382 are arrested under Duterte administration which, according to the group, surpassed the number of political prisoners in the previous terms.
Church workers, lawyers under attack
Even church workers also end up as victims of human rights abuses even if their mission is to serve the poor and the marginalized, said Minnie Anne Calub, acting general secretary of the NCCP.
Calub cited the cases of harassment and vilification of church leaders such as bishops of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines as New People’s Army members.
For one, the Rt. Rev. Felixberto Calang of the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro of the IFI, also the chairperson of Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace), spokesperson of Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao and a core group member of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) as well as The Rt. Rev. Antonio Ablon, IFI Bishop of the Diocese of Pagadian, were included in the list of those that were tagged as “terrorist members of the New People’s Army.” Rt. Rev. Carlo Morales, Diocesan Bishop of Ozamis of the IFI was also detained after he and National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Romel Salinas were arrested in May 2017. Morales was also recently released.
Included in their report was also the killing of their members such as UCCP Pastor Rev. Ernesto “Tata” Estrella who was shot in August this year while driving his motorcycle, in Antipas, North Cotabato.
Meanwhile, NUPL President and International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) Transitional President Edre U. Olalia said 44 lawyers were killed from July 2016 when Duterte effectively began his presidency. As a result, 15 have been linked to their work in prosecuting human rights violations and defending alleged drug offenders.
NUPL also recorded at least five frustrated/attempted murders from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2019. Olalia said motives include their involvement in human rights cases or in handling drug cases.
“In August 2017, NUPL regional officer Ron Ely Espinosa, who also handles the defense of drug suspects, was targeted by an armed man who went to his law office in the province of Sorsogon but the attempt to assassinate him failed when the armed man saw several people including journalists inside,” the report read.
They were also subjected to vilification, tagging human rights lawyers as destabilizers, leftists, communists, and terrorists by State forces and their allies in media and the private sector.
Latest was last December 7 during the NUPL Leyte Chapter were Chairperson Neri Colmenares was the guest speaker. A poster depicting the NUPL as a communist front was placed at the entrance of the hotel in Tacloban. Olalia also spoke before them two weeks prior to the incident.
Its members were also slapped with trumped up charges such as the case of lawyer Katherine Panguban who was charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention after she assisted the mother of a minor who survived the Sagay massacre in Negros Occidental, to regain custody. It was dismissed later on by the Department of Justice.
“By way of prefatory context, we submit that the human rights situation in the Philippines has reached unprecedented scale and scope since President Duterte was inaugurated into office in June 2016. The number of killings and other human rights violations has consistently increased in the last three years,” said Olalia.
Olalia said the government is determined to repress the people who rise to fight for their right thus the increase of human rights violations in the Philippines. “We are under attack because we are standing in the way,” said Olalia referring to their strong opposition and taking it into courts on policies which they deemed as anti-people.
‘Duterte must face the consequences’
For Emily Soriano of Rise Up, Duterte must face the consequences of his blatant disregard to human rights. She said it pains them that while they are mourning the passing of their loved ones who were killed in what they described as “sham war on drugs,” the perpetrators are free and worse, the President is protecting them.
Soriano is a mother of the 15-year old boy who was killed in a massacre in Caloocan City on Dec. 28, 2016. At least seven people were killed in the incident.
She encouraged mothers and the relatives to come out and speak. She said their fight for justice is what they hold on to so as not give up amid the attacks against them.