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SONA 2021 Statement: Investigate, Prosecute, and Make Change!

The following was delivered as a speech in People’s State of the Nation Address events in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal on the weekend of Rodrigo Duterte’s sixth SONA, July 2021.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Canada chapter, stands with the Filipino people in the face of heightened abuses of their human rights and basic dignity.

On the occasion of Rodrigo Duterte’s sixth and final State of the Nation Address as President of the Philippines, we draw attention to important advances in the international sphere to the investigation and documentation of crimes perpetrated by the Philippine state against its people. 

International Attention

In July 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report detailing massive violations of human rights in the Philippines. The report describes tens of thousands of extra-judicial killings as a result of the drug war, the war against the Muslim Moro people of Mindanao, the attacks on democratic and civil spaces, and the bloody counter-insurgency. 

For these crimes against humanity and the total impunity enjoyed by the civilian, police, and military sections of the Philippine state responsible, we say: Shame!

Last October, when the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council deliberated on these findings, it failed to launch an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines as recommended by the report. 

Instead, a resolution was passed, drafted by several member and non-member countries of the Human Rights Council including the Philippine state itself, to send technical assistance to the Philippine state! The Human Rights Council believes that aiding the very perpetrators of the human rights abuses would help to resolve the issue!

For this backward and illogical response, we say again: Shame! Shame!

InvestigatePH and the ICC

Driven by the urgent need to address the deepening crisis in the Philippines, we, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, initiated an Independent International Commission of Investigation Into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines – known as InvestigatePH. 

With the partnership and backing of an international array of civil society organizations like the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Australia Greens, the United Church of Canada, and many more, InvestigatePH has already conducted research and interviews for two reports. A third report will be released at the end of September. 

The results of the investigation and reports are clear. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines has used their state machinery to terrorize the people. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines is responsible for the thousands of extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, illegal arrests and detentions, and harassment. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines has committed grave violations of the rights of the Filipino people to life, livelihood, development, and peace. 

The investigation finds that the Philippines currently lacks sufficient domestic mechanisms to address these violations. The perpetrators must be held accountable on the international level. Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials must be investigated and they must be made to stand trial at the International Criminal Court! Investigate Philippines! Prosecute the perpetrators!

Most recently, the International Criminal Court has opened up a call for submissions for their investigation in the Philippines, which would launch in November. The ICC process would have Duterte and his officials stand trial in The Hague. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines welcomes this attention from the international community. It’s a long-await step toward justice and accountability! 

Yet, we know that these pressures on the international level are not the ultimate solution to the problem of human rights abuses in the Philippines. A deep systemic change in the Philippine economic and political systems is required.

Domestic Remedies

What changes are required is not a mystery. For almost thirty years, the changes have been clearly laid out in the peace process in the civil war between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, to address the root causes of the armed conflict. 

The Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, or CASER, is the next item on the agenda of the peace talks. For many years, CASER has been the most difficult agreement for the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to accept.

It describes economic changes such as agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and progress, and protection of the environment. It describes social reforms to protect and uplift the rights of women, children, seniors, people with disabilities, national minorities, and more. It describes what it would look like to build a just social system, with access to public services, education, health, housing, water, electricity, and transportation.

Those are the first steps toward a just peace in the Philippines. Resumption of peace talks, not state terror and silencing of dissent. Not killings and jailings of peace consultants and activists. But that is exactly what Duterte has done. Duterte has shut the door on the peace talks again and again, against the interests of the people of the Philippines for peace. Just this month, the so-called Anti-Terror Council designated the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a terrorist organization. Until that is lifted, it is the final nail on the coffin of the peace talks! Shame! Resume the Peace Talks! 

As Duterte sets out to give his final State of the Nation Address, we raise the call alongside the struggling people of the Philippines striving for their right to life, livelihood, development, and peace. The international community has turned its attention to killings and abuses and the lack of domestic remedies. The peace talks and their constituent agreements pave the path toward those. The terror listings must be withdrawn, political prisoners freed, and peace talks resumed! 

Karapatan ng mamamayan, ipaglaban!

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