Contributed by the Philippine Australia Solidarity Association (PASA)
Filipino and non Filipino Australians are gravely concerned about the appalling human rights situation in the Philippines and are urging the urging Australian Government action on this.
Photo by Katrina Yamzon/BAYAN
The Philippine government is responsible for an alarming number of human rights violations, particularly extra-judicial killings (EJKs) resulting from President Duterte’s “drug war”.
Estimates put the number of drug war EJKs at more than 25,000 since Duterte came to power in 2016. These killings have paved the way for hundreds of politically motivated EJKs, where the government is trying to silence its critics and tighten its grip on power.
Photo by Rouelle Umali / MCT: The gun toting President Rodrigo Duterte
A June 2020 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted these concerns, noting the “widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects”.
It noted that “harmful rhetoric emanating from the highest levels of the Government” and “near impunity” for killers amounted to “permission to kill”.
Most of this “harmful rhetoric” has come from President Duterte himself, who promised to kill drug dealers during his election campaign, saying 100,000 people would die in his crackdown, with so many dead bodies dumped in Manila Bay that fish there would grow fat from feeding on them.
These threats continued after he took office with comments such as “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself”. Given this “permission to kill”, the Philippine National Police have pursued a brutal campaign against alleged drug suspects.
Extrajudicial killing by police. This 17 year old was falsely accused of a drug crime. Evidence led to the officers being imprisoned in this case. But this does not happen most of the time.
The June UN report said that police regularly raid homes and private property without warrants, and systematically force suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk lethal force; that victims killed during police raids “were unarmed at the time of their killing”; and that there was evidence that police planted weapons.
There have also been many killings not connected with police raids, and reports have pointed to evidence that police have paid hired killers to commit these murders.
Drug war EJKs have paved the way for increasing attacks on critics of the government, including human rights lawyers and advocates, peace negotiators, church workers, and trade unionists.
Duterte’s tough on crime rhetoric and promise to rid the Philippines of drug-related crime was key to his election victory, and surveys show that most Filipinos continue to support the war on drugs. Survey results also show, however, that most Filipinos do not support EJKs.
There is a perception that the drug war has reduced crime, and this is a key factor in Duterte’s continuing popularity.
That popularity, and the government’s ability to get away with thousands of drug war EJKs, has meant that they can now target their critics with similar brutality.
The June UN report raises concerns about the “vilification of dissent”, noting that “attacks against perceived critics” are being “increasingly institutionalised” and that “between 2015 and 2019, at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists were killed in relation to their work”.
It also notes the continuing use of “red-tagging” to attack its critics and that “human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency”.
The UN report also warns of other “threats to freedom of expression”, including “legal charges and prosecutions being brought against journalists and senior politicians critical of the Government, as well as actions to shut down media outlets”.
Photo from Altermidya: Journalist Avon Ang was arrested in Manila after going to the aid of an injured person
Two alarming recent examples are the closure of national broadcaster ABS-CBN and the recent conviction of Rappler CEO, Maria Resa, on charges of “cyberlibel”. A further concern is the passing of the Philippine Anti-Terror Act, which will give the government greater powers to suppress dissent and persecute its critics.
PASA calls on the Australian Government to:
· Call for the UN Human Rights Council to urgently launch an independent international investigative mechanism on the human rights situation in the Philippines, as demanded by civil society organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in their 27 August “Letter to member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council”;
· Press for the continuation of the case in the ICC against Duterte and his war on drugs.
· Demand that the Philippine Government complies with the recommendations of the June 2020 Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about human rights in the Philippines.
· Condemn the passing of the Anti-Terror Act in the Philippines.
· Review Australia’s relationship with the Philippines to ensure it encourages respect for human rights, including the suspension of support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police.