By DOMINIC GUTOMAN and VIANCA MULINGTAPANG
With reports from Anne Marxze D. Umil
MANILA — Grieving is how Jane Lee described how she felt on May 9 when the initial results of the national elections showed a big lead for Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son, and namesake of the late dictator.
“It was the same feeling I felt when my husband died. I lost interest in many things. It was as if President Duterte’s term will not end,” Lee told Bulatlat in an online interview.
Lee’s husband Michael was killed by riding in tandem in Caloocan City in 2017. Five years later, she said neither a proper police investigation nor anyone held accountable for her husband’s killings as in the thousands of purported drug users and peddlers who were murdered under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs.
But with Marcos Jr. in place, the agony remains for Lee.
On this newly installed administration’s first Monday in office, Interior and Local Government secretary Benhur Abalos said he will continue the previous administration’s war against drugs. This time, however, he said the agency will “put greater focus on building up strong cases against illegal drug suspects to ensure that no cases will be dismissed and they will be spending the rest of their lives behind bars.”
Critics, however, fail to see how this can help the loved ones of the victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against illegal drugs.
For Temario Rivera of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, authoritarian leaders are able to rule when mechanisms for justice and accountability deteriorate.
“The combination of state terror through police, military, and intelligence agencies; and weakness of accountability mechanisms, have yielded grave counts of abuses against the Filipino people,” Rivera said.
Seeking accountability under Duterte
Under President Duterte, the appalling number of victims of his war on drugs and their families’ search for justice further revealed the already weak accountability mechanisms in the country. This pushed them to lodge their complaint before the International Criminal Court.
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Rivera said that Duterte used the issue of illegal drugs to invite voters in. By then, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA)’s 2015 annual report revealed that 11,321 out of 42,036 villages in the Philippines, or about 26 percent, have drug-related problems. This, he said, he can eradicated in three months.
Setting such unrealistic goals, said Rivera, was his brand of leadership as an authoritarian leader.
“However, you are bound to fail when you make shortcuts using these iron fists. It can only target the innocent and small fry suspects, while the real drug lords remain at large,” Rivera said.
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Human rights groups estimate that at least 30,000 were killed in the name of President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s review of drug-related killings was only 52. ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan also said that the review of drug-related killings was only administrative proceedings.
The investigation led by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on these killings was reportedly ignored.
The killings and illegal arrests, too, were carried out against human rights defenders and activists, with 442 extrajudicial killings from July 2016 to June 2022.
Administrative Order No. 35 under the DOJ, on the hand, which was created under the late President Benigno Aquino in 2012, was supposed to look into the political killings but according to rights groups it failed to give justice to the victims.
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Online news Rappler earlier reported that the AO 35 has handled only 385 cases including cases under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Out of this number, only 13 have convictions.
Under the Duterte government, in the more than 400 cases of extrajudicial killings, AO 35 has so far looked into the killings of Ariel and Ana Mariz “Chai” Evangelista which led to the filing of charges against 17 members of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. Karapatan said that other cases have no substantial update such as the killing of peace consultant Randy Malayao.
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Apart from human rights violations, Rivera also noted the country’s continued poor accountability mechanisms on issues of graft and corruption, particularly during the pandemic response. These include PhilHealth’s P15-billion scandal and the Pharmally scandal amid the pandemic woes.
Red-tagging as a tool to further weaken accountability measures
Rivera said that the Duterte administration further used red-tagging as a tool to weaken the accountability mechanisms.
“The media and the judiciary as accountability mechanisms remain weakened because of the climate of impunity that the Duterte administration subjects to them. He added that “red-tagging became an official policy, and victims were put through tedious harassment, arrests, and worse, killings,” he added.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was created in 2018 after Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach. This also directed all government agencies to render support to the NTF-ELCAC in relation to its implementation of the government’s counterinsurgency program. Through the years of the Duterte administration, the NTF-ELCAC incessantly red-tagged many groups, activists and even personalities not even involved in the mass movement.
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The judiciary and legislative, and even media faced various forms of attacks, including the arrest and detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, the ousting of former Supreme Court chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and attempts to stifle press freedom such as media killings, the ABS-CBN shut down, and the cyber-attacks against independent media, to name a few.
Meanwhile, those red-tagged by the Philippine government faced graver human rights abuses.
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Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), told Bulatlat that the real legacy of the Duterte administration is the shrinking democratic space.
“The legacy of this regime is more of the worst human rights record that we have seen since the Marcos dictatorship,” he said.
With the next administration, Marcos Jr.’s close ally and Justice secretary Boying Remulla earlier told media interviews that he will be “more reserved” when it comes to red-tagging and “just convert it to action.” Meanwhile, the outgoing justice secretary and now incoming Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said red-tagging is a waste of government resources and that charges should instead be filed if there is evidence at hand.
Human rights group Karapatan said that the newly-installed administration will be “the last to subvert the grand policy of terror and repression that Duterte has implemented.”
“At the same time that Marcos Jr. denies all the atrocities that his dictator father has committed in the years of martial law in the country, their ‘unity’ seems to prevent any moves from international bodies and rights groups to uncover the crimes of the previous regime,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
What awaits the new Marcos administration?
Rivera said that he sees mixed signals and a certain degree of openness in the initial appointment of Marcos Jr.’s cabinet members. But, he said, there is still a need to see the concrete policies before he can identify the country’s prospects.
“We have to be reminded of what happened during Marcos Sr.’s term, he was able to bring in his cabinet the best and the brightest technocrats of his time, but at the same time, he was reliant on a core of cronies who were corrupt and monopolized key sectors of the economy, prompting conflict in the economic situation,” Rivera added.
Palabay, on the other hand, welcomed the recent pronouncement of ICC prosecutor Karim Khan to resume the investigation, saying that “any effort to demand justice for the victims is a welcome development, as we do not see any light in the incoming Marcos administration in terms of seeking justice for victims of rights violations.”
Marcos Jr. said during the campaign season that he will only allow the members of the ICC in the Philippines only as tourists and not investigate the case filed against Duterte.
Rivera also noted the dwindling checks and balances of power under the new administration.
“There is a super majority, a massive electoral defeat of the opposition. As a result, we are going to face major realignment in the political forces in the legislative and judiciary,” he said.
As such, the political scientist said an alternative accountability mechanism may be established through people’s organization, particularly in the solidarity formed among a wide political spectrum during the recently-concluded electoral campaign.
However, despite these harsh prospects, Reyes still has high hopes that the fight is not over, adding that “far from it, the struggle for democracy burned brighter.”
Meanwhile, Lee and other mothers of victims of the war on drugs said that they will not waver despite the gloomy next six years. “Somehow we have overcome our apprehension and fear. We realized that we have no choice but to fight and continue the struggle. If we will not fight, then who will?” (JJE, DAA)