PHILIPPINES: Human rights situation under President Duterte continues to deteriorate

A Statement from International Peace Observers Network (IPON) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The repressions against human rights activists in the Philippines have been increasing dramatically. With the end of the peace talks and the declaration to label left-progressive organizations as terrorist groups, President Duterte not only threatens the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and their military wing (NPA), but announces also to take repressive manners against all people who would support a rebellion. Fabricated charges, arbitrary imprisonments, political killings as well as Red Baiting, in other words the defamation of activists as violent left-radicals, are increasing, which is leading to an even more dangerous situation for human rights activists and civil society organizations.

18 months ago, Duterte was elected as President of the Philippines. The peace talks with the CPP, NPA and the National Democratic Front (NDF) were part of his campaign promise. The hope for the Duterte government, to destroy this interstate conflict which involved big parts of the society since 1969, has now been destroyed. Duterte once again ended the peace talks on the 23rd of November and ultimately proclaimed the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations on the 5th of December, which probably precludes all further possibilities for negotiations. Furthermore, as part of the Human Security Act, he announced to proceed against all organizations, which in his opinion could support a rebellion. Already after the first peace talk termination there had been an increase in trumped-up charges, arbitrary imprisonments, Red Baiting and extrajudicial killings (EJK’s). It is now expected, that there will be yet again an increase of repressions against human rights organizations, unions, journalists and activists.

On Human Rights Day, Duterte announced his plans to extend Martial Law in Mindanao for another year. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), had already welcomed this extension in a statement on Friday. The request for extension had been passed on to the Senate and the House of Representatives this Monday. Due to the ongoing conflict with the Maute group in Marawi, Martial Law had been proclaimed on the 23rd of May this year. Even though the fights in Marawi had officially been declared over on October 23rd, the AFP still justifies their decision to extend the law due to the danger still emanating from other extremist groups and the NPA. Since the proclamation of Martial Law in Mindanao, many organizations report of an increase in breaches of law and human rights violations. Especially muslims in the region were put under general suspicion since the law took effect. Severe human rights violations were also reported by our partners in Mindanao. A climate of fear in the light of threats, surveillance and murder, as well as other repressions and the resulting impunity, interfere with an accurate documentation of these violations of rights.

The newest developments are taking place in the background of the so called War on Drugs, which overshadows the country since Duterte took office. Meanwhile, human rights organizations are talking of more than 12.000 deaths. Among them also government critics, journalists and other human rights activists. As of now, President Duterte announced to continue his so called War on Drugs for at least another year. Furthermore, the Philippine National Police (PNP), which hadn’t been active in the so called War on Drugs for the past two months, is planned to be once again included. The presidents promise of total impunity towards public servants had so far been proven well-founded. Announcements of investigations by the UN Special Rapporteur and the International Criminal Court had been met by Duterte with a threat of resignation from these institutions. Human Rights Watch underlined again, following those proclamations, the necessity of an investigation by the UN.

Altogether there have been more and more tendencies towards an authoritarian regime in the Philippines lately. Since Duterte took office, critics of all political entities were faced with fabricated charges and threats. Senator Leila De Lima had been imprisoned since February 24th, following trumped-up and political motivated charges brought up against her. She had criticized Duterte in his approach in the so called War on Drugs since the beginning of his term. The plan to accredit the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with merely 1000 PHP (16-17€) for the following year, had only been stopped in last instance through the senate. This budget would have meant the end of the institution if decided. Moreover, the President threatened with the dismissal of Ombudsman Conchita Morales. She is responsible for the investigation and the criminal prosecution of Philippine government officials and had previously announced she would investigate claims of money embezzlement by the Duterte family. Furthermore Duterte has announced plans to suspend Maria Lourdes Sereno, chief justice of the Supreme Court from her office. After the House of Representatives approved a charge against her, she proclaimed the accusations were fabricated and warned about the danger to democracy, if the highest instance of justice would be pulled from office.

An active civil society and opposition are the key factors for the protection of a democracy. IPON expresses therefore deep concerns about the developments in the Philippines since Duterte took office. We call upon the international community to intensify their efforts to hold the Philippines to their agreement to the observance of human rights and to initiate an investigation by the UN Special Rapporteur.

About IPON:

The International Peace Observers Network (IPON) is an independent, non-intervening and non-profit organization which accompanies HRD and monitors and informs about their situation in regards to human rights. The overall objective of IPON is to ensure that HRDs who are subjected to intimidations, threats, violence, and other forms of harassments can undertake their work free from harm and repression.

For questions or comments, you may contact:

Johannes Richter (Office, Germany): buero[at] , +49 (0)40 25491947

or Office, Philippines: observer.negros[at] , +63 (0) 9293263780

The views shared in this statement do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.