GIVEN the high body count in the government’s war on drugs, it is hardly surprising that international human rights groups have been critical of the Duterte administration. But when these groups are taken in by Liberal Party politicians who pass themselves off as human rights advocates—or even victims of oppression—they exhibit an ignorance of Philippine politics and history that is almost breathtaking.
For example, when the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) urged the government to set Liberal Party Senator Leila de Lima free in October, they offered no basis for their arrogant belief that they, better than the Philippine judicial system, could decide the guilt or innocence of the senator, who faces drug charges before a local court.
Worse, they did not know that the senator herself, not too long ago, was a secretary of Justice who persecuted the political enemies of her superior, then President Benigno Aquino III.
It was De Lima, acting as Mr. Aquino’s attack dog, who defied an order from the Supreme Court so she could jail former President Gloria Arroyo and detain her without bail for more than four years on charges that were ultimately thrown out of court.
Mrs. Arroyo’s detention, instigated by De Lima, was so patently unjust that the United Nations Working Group on Arbittrary Detention deemed it arbitrary and illegal under international law.
In its opinion released in October 2015, the five-member UN body urged the Philippine government to reconsider Arroyo’s bail plea “in accordance with the relevant international human rights standards and to accord Ms. Arroyo with an enforceable right to compensation… for the deprivation of liberty which already occurred.”
Not even this opinion from a UN human rights body swayed then Justice secretary De Lima from keeping Mrs. Arroyo locked up for the remainder of the Aquino administration. Why, we also wonder, was the IPU silent on such a blatant violation of Mrs. Arroyo’s rights at that time?
Another Liberal Party ally, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, now complains that a Palace-initiated impeachment against her undermines the independence of the judiciary and weakens our democracy. Yet we did not hear Sereno object when Mr. Aquino, who appointed her to the Supreme Court, went after then Chief Justice Renato Corona hammer and tongs, and bribed lawmakers with pork barrel incentives into convicting him on the most trivial of charges. There is some irony that Sereno now faces impeachment for the same infraction—failure to fully disclose all her assets—but that doesn’t change the fact that she is hardly the paragon of judicial independence.
There are legitimate human rights issues that this administration must tackle—but we do not need to take advice from those who abused their power and position, or kept silent when their own political allies violated those rights.