Today, Human Rights Day, how does the Philippines stand?
At his inauguration in July 2016, President Duterte said his administration would “be sensitive to the state’s obligations to promote, protect [and] fulfill the human rights of citizens … even as the rule of law shall at all times prevail.” But that hopeful start unraveled early on, with the administration choosing to abide by the explicit platform that Candidate Duterte took during the election campaign: “[to] kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable,” as part of his vow to “solve drugs, criminality, and corruption in three to six months.”
Mr. Duterte’s disdain for human rights is well-known, as he has publicly and repeatedly vilified the local Commission on Human Rights, the global Human Rights Watch, and even then US President Barack Obama for mentioning the Philippines’ dismal human rights record. He continues to assail United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard and has called her “incompetent” and “biased” for condemning his administration’s war on drugs. Lately, Malacañang has threatened to withdraw from the UN and the International Criminal Court, again because they had condemned the extrajudicial killings that mark the antidrug campaign.
The President’s protectiveness of lawmen involved in questionable killings speaks volumes. The case of Supt. Marvin Marcos and other officials of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Region 12 is particularly instructive. Charged by the National Bureau of Investigation with murder for killing Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, a suspected drug lord, right inside his jail cell, Marcos and company were allowed to post bail when the Department of Justice downgraded the charge. They have also been ordered reinstated, and might be up for promotion.
He has their back, the President has repeatedly assured the police and military during his many speeches. He will not allow them to go to jail for doing their job, he adds. No wonder the police have seemingly become brazen in their behavior, glibly passing off as a shoot-out even the killing of minor Kian delos Santos in August.
Faced with the possibility that the police would be required to wear body cameras to make their operations more transparent, Chief Supt. Joseph Adnol had the temerity to say that such devices are unnecessary “as our camera [as policemen] is God.”
The Philippines’ serious human rights lapses have not escaped the notice of Human Rights Watch, which listed at least 4,800 killed in the Philippines’ antidrug campaign in its World Report 2017.
When HRW executive director Kenneth Roth noted the dangerous rise of populism in various countries, the Philippines was prominently mentioned. In what could be a mirror held up to the current Philippine situation, Roth said: “When populists treat rights as an obstacle to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda. The risk only heightens when populist [leaders] attack the independence of the judiciary for upholding the rule of law…”
Populist politicians, Roth said, often portray rights as protecting only the terrorists, the asylum seekers, and other malcontents at the expense of the safety and welfare of the majority. Substitute “terrorists and asylum seekers” with “drug users and pushers” and Roth might well be describing how the war on drugs has been justified in these parts.
How do we face down the assault on human rights? By standing up to uphold them. Civil society, NGOs, students and other groups must publicly condemn and protest any infringement on the human rights of any group—women, LGBTs, migrants, Muslims, indigenous folk, etc.—because these rights are inclusive and must be extended across all groups.
The media, too, must continue to cover human rights transgressions and explain how such violations can reduce the democratic space.
Netizens should make a habit as well of rebutting propaganda and exposing fake news to curtail disinformation. As Roth noted, facts remain powerful, but must be constantly defended.
Indeed, the culture of respect for human rights needs “regular tending,” because the “fears of the moment” can easily sweep away the gains made when these rights protect us from authorities’ abuse and neglect.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
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