MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Hundreds of people marched in the Philippine capital on Saturday protesting what they said was a rising number of extrajudicial killings and other injustices under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The protesters, led by a Philippines-based rights group, gathered at a public square in Manila before marching toward the presidential palace to demand justice for victims. Police estimated around 800 protesters took part in the rally, which coincided with International Human Rights Day.
Cristina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan said under the Marcos administration’s counterinsurgency campaign, the group has documented at least 17 cases of extrajudicial killings in addition to four other incidents of violence where victims survived.
The number of political prisoners continues to rise, with 828 detained as of Nov. 30, Palabay said, noting that at least 25 of them were arrested after Marcos took office in June.
“Despite these sordid figures there has been zero justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings,” Palabay said in a statement. “The culture of impunity continues to rear its ugly head.”
Organizers said protesters in Manila and other parts of the country included families of activists who disappeared or were tortured during the administration of Marcos’ father and namesake, ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, as well as human rights victims under former President Rodrigo Duterte, whose brutal war on drugs is under investigation by the International Criminal Court after leaving thousands dead.
The dictator was ousted in an army-backed “People Power” revolt in 1986 and died three years later in exile in the U.S. without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and other associates amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.
“We come together as families of victims from different regimes and presidents. … We have made it a point that every International Human Rights Day we call for justice and commit to not allow the same violations to happen to others,” said Evangeline Hernandez, chairperson of a human rights victims group.
Karapatan said the current administration is also increasing the use of anti-terror laws to suppress dissent and curtailing freedom of expression and association.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has urged the Marcos administration to address the killings and other rights abuses.
The government has said it is committed to protecting human rights, citing reforms in the country’s judicial system.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, in a speech last month in Geneva before the Human Rights Council, dismissed allegations that there is a culture of impunity in the Philippines. He said the government will not tolerate the denial of justice or the violation of rights.
Also coinciding with International Human Rights Day, journalist Maria Ressa, one of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, launched in Manila her memoir “How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future.”
“It is a time when we are seeing our rights eroded globally, where you are seeing a shift away from democracy to … fascism and it’s time for us to hold the line so this is what we did today,” she told The Associated Press.
The co-founder of local news website Rappler faces a string of criminal charges filed by Duterte’s administration and his allies that are related to Rappler’s coverage of the killings in the war on drugs and alleged government-sponsored disinformation networks.
Her book warns of creeping authoritarianism in the Philippines and other parts of the world, allegedly aided and abetted by social media companies whose algorithms and business models have allowed their platforms to spread lies.
“It’s not a coincidence that when lies spread faster than facts you see an erosion of democracy globally,” Ressa said. “Until we solve this problem to stop the corruption in our information eco system we won’t be able to solve any problems. In fact democracy is at risk.”
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