By VIANCA MULINTAPANG and NICO PINPIN
MANILA – More rights violations.
This is what rights groups foresee in the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said in a webinar last week that there would be no fundamental policy shift on matters of human rights, accountability, and peace.
“There is a political presumption or even prognosis that Marcos Jr. will not promote, protect, or defend human rights,”said Olalia.
He also said that in his inauguration, Marcos Jr. did not mention any commitment to peace, human rights and anti-corruption practices. “There are reasonable grounds to be skeptical,” he said.
Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a support group for family and friends of political prisoners, said that they expect more arrests and detention under Marcos Jr., citing his support for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“He doesn’t find it wrong that a regional trial court is issuing search warrants and warrants of arrests for activists in Negros Occidental and Southern Tagalog that resulted in mass arrests and even extrajudicial killings,” Lim said.
‘Bad deja vu’
Olalia described the human rights situation in the country as a “bad deja vu.”
He noted some recurring indicators which, he said, had happened since the administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., including impunity and lack of accountability.
“The form and name is new, but basically, what we were 50 years ago is the same with what we are today,” Olalia said.
Among the indicators is red-tagging. He said that during the Marcos Sr. administration, oppositions and activists were called subversives, justifying the arrests, violence, and killings.
He also noted that former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has used the word “affiliated” in his order to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to block 27 websites including Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
Progressives said the blocking of 27 websites is also a throwback to Marcos Sr.’s regime, when he closed down private media and broadcasting networks critical of the government.
Meanwhile, Lim described the human rights situation in the Philippines as “back to square one.”
Lim said that the Philippine Constitution under the Bill of Rights, Article 3, Sec. 18 states that “No person shall be detained solely by reason of his political beliefs or aspirations” but there are 802 political prisoners detained in different parts of the country. She said this is the highest number 36 years after the downfall of Marcos Sr. in 1986.
Lim added that 592 of them were arrested under the administration of President Duterte.
“This constitutional prohibition on political imprisonment is a direct product of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship,” said Lim.
Kapatid noted that the bulk of the arrested political prisoners came from Mindanao, followed by Western Visayas then Southern Tagalog, areas where they said NTF-ELCAC had the biggest budget allocation.
Lim added that while political prisoners are factual evidence of repression, “they are also a living testament of resistance.”
On freedom of the press and expression
Jonathan De Santos, national chairperson of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said that it cannot be denied that the current landscape is challenging.
He cited different attacks against media in the past administration, from threats, libel and cyber-libel cases, cyber-attacks, and killing of journalists.
In particular, De Santos cited the recent blocking of 27 websites including Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly using resolutions of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) designating revolutionary organizations and alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines Central Committee as terrorists. Esperon alleged that Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly are affiliated with the said groups.
“This is what we fear, that the ATC would be (against the media). They even said that it would not happen, but this happened,” De Santos said.
He said Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have not even given a chance to refute allegations made by the NSC.
De Santos said that legal and regulatory processes are being used to muzzle the media. This is also the same with the cases of the non-renewal of ABS-CBN franchise and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s revocation of Rappler’s registration.
He also cited the longer prescriptive period for cyber liber which is 15 years. “That’s longer than a lot of our careers,” he said. This means that any journalist can still be charged with cyber libel for a story they wrote 15 years ago.
“But even then, we will still continue with our call to defend and assert press freedom. We are in a difficult and challenging situation and we have to push back and keep doing what we’re doing,” De Santos said.
Is there hope?
Given the current situation, Fr. Ben Alforque said the people’s struggle – the struggles of the workers and farmers – should give the people hope.
“To me the solution is not the violence of war. But love, effective, political love through social friendship and social dialogue for justice, peace and integrity of creation,” he said.
“Continue to work and act rejecting that which is evil and upholding that which is good. And we work for social change for real, fundamental integral social transformation,” Alforque said.
Olalia said there are also victories which are incremental, overtime, such as the dismissal of cases against activists in the courts.