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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Human rights is this administration’s lowest priority

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"Why is this government so afraid of letting international human rights groups investigate cases of alleged violations here?"


The pre-recorded remarks of President Rodrigo Duterte at the three-day Human Rights Summit convened by the Department of Justice starting last Monday as part of the commemoration of International Human Rights Day on December 10 was both good and original.

But the good part was not original, and the original part was not good at all.

The good part is his assertion that the Philippines is really "one of the few countries that signed many of the world's core human rights treaties…This affirms our serious commitment in honoring and fulfilling our treaty obligations."

It is good because it is true that we were among those countries that were the original signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

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The original part, that his administration "prioritizes the human rights agenda as a means to achieve our country's sustainable development goals" and that "the work is far from over" in so far as human rights protection is concerned, is not good as this is totally contrary to what is happening under his watch.

We do not have, as he insisted, a “healthy” human rights environment at present.

As a matter of fact, the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Constitution has been routinely trampled underfoot since 2016 that we should instead say that "the worst is far from over."

Killings and arrest and detention of human rights advocates have taken place with disturbing frequency under the current administration.

Duterte has threatened to kill human rights activists critical of his brutal war on illegal drugs.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he urged law enforcers to shoot quarantine violators and those who cause any trouble during protest actions against government's response to the public health crisis.

Let's not forget that Duterte spewed expletives against then-US President Barack Obama for taking a dim view of the killings of drug suspects in the country in 2016. He has also rebuked various United Nations Human Rights Rapporteurs as well as the European Union for speaking out against the rising toll in his war on illegal drugs.

As free nations observed International Human Rights Day yesterday, December 10, a global human rights watchdog called Civicus has downgraded the quality of civic spaces in the country from "repressed" to "obstructed" because of attacks against activists and the media curtailed free speech and peaceful assembly.

Civicus grades countries’ civic spaces through reports from partner organizations across the world. Ratings of “open” is the highest grade possible, or an almost unhampered civic space, followed by the “narrowed” rating, then “obstructed,” “repressed,” and “closed.”

The group cited worsening conditions of civic spaces in the country as demonstrated by the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN, prosecution of the administration’s critics, and the killing of human rights defenders.

“The Duterte government has incrementally chipped away at civic freedoms since it came to power in 2016 but this has further eroded over the last year,” the group said.

“In 2020, we have seen systematic intimidation, attacks and vilification of civil society and activists, an increased crackdown on press freedoms and a pervasive culture of impunity take root,” it added. The report also took note of increased incidents of Red-tagging, or the practice of labeling protesters, human right workers, and other activists expressing legitimate dissent as "communists" and "terrorists."

The group explained that the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law in July this year has resulted in more stringent measures against terrorism but has also led to the shrinking of civic spaces because its overly broad definition of terrorism "gives law enforcers exhaustive powers and provides few safeguards against abuse, leaving it open to exploitation by those seeking to silence dissent.”

Duterte's claim of prioritizing human rights protection in the country is arrant nonsense as he himself is the subject of a complaint before the International Criminal Court for alleged extrajudicial killings in Davao City where he was the mayor for a total of 22 years and for the high death toll in his war on illegal drugs since he became president in 2016.

We ask: Why is this government so afraid of letting international human rights groups investigate cases of alleged human rights violations in the country? If it has nothing to hide, then why the strenuous efforts to block anyone from the international human rights community from setting foot in the country to probe allegations of extrajudicial killings and other violations of due process of law?

The Duterte administration's insistence before the international community that it is committed to uphold and prioritize human rights protection rings hollow and falls flat on its face amid the growing number of killings and illegal arrests and detention of those critical of its increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

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