The first week of June saw two seismic events related to the human rights situation in the Philippines.
On one hand, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights released a long-awaited and damning report on the state of human rights in the Philippines and the Duterte regime’s murderous war on drugs.
On the other, the Philippine congress was debating a brutal anti-terror law that would give greater power to the police and military in the ongoing war on civil society in the Philippines.
The Anti-Terrorism Law
ICHRP-Canada is concerned that the new anti-terrorism law currently under debate in the Philippine Congress would allow longer detentions without charge which goes against habeas corpus protections and gives the executive branch more power to suppress dissent. Among the most repressive provisions are: warrantless arrest; 14-day detentions of suspected “terrorists”; and the creation of an anti-terror council that would determine what is terrorism and order arrests without a warrant – a function usually reserved for the courts.
Given the Philippine government’s track record on vilification of political dissenters, anyone could be accused of terrorism.
The new bill also proposes 12 years of imprisonment for any person who “joins” designated “terrorist organisations or group(s)” as determined by the anti-terror council. The bill also removes a provision in existing law on payment of damages for wrongful detention, essentially giving impunity to the military and police to detain without fear of accountability.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) has condemned the bill as “sanctioned state terrorism”. Given the Philippine government’s track record on vilification of political dissenters, anyone could be accused of terrorism.
The national human rights group in the Philippines, Karapatan, expressed concerns that the new law “will only embolden to commit more human rights violations with more impunity”.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has defended the proposal, saying, “the people need not fear”, because there were civil liberties “safeguards” in place. The defence minister’s claims ring hollow in light of the release of a recent UN Human Rights report, June 4, 2020, documenting a culture of impunity in the police and military.
UN report on widespread human rights violations and persistent Impunity
The UN report details a heavy-handed focus on countering alleged national security threats and illegal drugs resulting in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent. The report’s authors identify persistent impunity and formidable barriers to accessing justice, which urgently need to be addressed.
Many of the human rights concerns the UN has documented are long-standing, but have become more acute under the Duterte administration.
The report, which was mandated by a July 2019 UN Human Rights Council resolution, noted that many of the human rights concerns it has documented are long-standing, but have become more acute under the Duterte administration. This has been manifested starkly in the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects. In addition, numerous human rights defenders have been killed over the past five years.
Given the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability thus far, the report stressed the need for independent, impartial, and credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
According to the report, despite a long-standing and robust tradition of human rights advocacy and activism in the Philippines, human rights defenders have been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment for nearly 20 years. The report notes the vilification of dissent and attacks against perceived critics, which are “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”
The phenomenon of “red-tagging” or the labelling of individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists has posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression. Ongoing threats to freedom of expression, with legal charges and prosecutions being brought against journalists and senior politicians critical of the Government, as well as actions to shut down media outlets.
The report examined key national security laws and policies and their impact on human rights, particularly in the southern island of Mindanao and Negros Island, which have seen increased militarization through the imposition of emergency measures. The effect of this militarization – coupled with the long-standing presence of armed groups and the pressure by powerful landed elites and large business projects – is particularly dire on already embattled indigenous and farming communities.
ICHRP Canada calls on the Canadian government to respond in the strongest and unequivocal terms to the subversion of human rights and democracy by the Duterte government by ending Canadian support for it. Specifically, we call on the Canadian Government to:
- Publicly support the UNHCR process and investigation of human rights crimes in the Philippines under Duterte and actively lobby other governments to support the process.
- Hold hearings on the human rights situation in the Philippines through the Parliamentary Human Rights Sub-committee during the current session of Parliament.
- Establish a Philippine Peace secretariat at Global Affairs Canada, including a Senior Peace Liaison officer to conduct liaison work between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The Peace Secretariat would support restarting discussions for some of the tables examining social and economic reforms as part of the peace process and provide logistical and research support to the two sides as well as host meetings in Canada for the discussion of technical issues.
- Play a facilitating role in the peace process between the Philippine government and the NDFP by removing the Communist Party of the Philippines and Jose Maria Sison from its own so called terrorist and proscribed lists (i.e. FINTRAC) and allow for safe passage of all NDFP negotiators to Canada in support of the Philippine Peace Process.
- Challenge the Duterte Regime on its abysmal human rights record with concrete and measurable steps. The Canadian government should make representation to the Duterte government to: reverse the terrorist listing of Indigenous and other civil society leaders; revoke Executive Order #70 institutionalizing the whole-of-nation counterinsurgency approach; and stop the anti-terror legislation.
The Canadian government should end all Canadian support to the Duterte government. This includes financial, socio-economic programming, tactical, logistical and training support, military sales and defense cooperation.
ICHRP Canada calls on the Canadian government to provide leadership in the international community to call the Philippine government to account for widespread and systemic human rights violations, and give substance to its own commitment to global human rights!