#FightToExpress: UN Special Rapporteur urged to investigate dangerous pattern of violations on freedom of expression under Marcos, Duterte

January 16, 2024

A week before UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan embarks on an official visit in the Philippines, rights group KARAPATAN joined journalists, artists, members of the academe and freedom of expression advocates in urging Ms. Khan to investigate the dangerous patterns on violations on the people’s freedom of expression and opinion in the country.

At the launch of the #FightToExpress campaign in the light of Khan’s visit, KARAPATAN said that at least 30 inputs from people’s organizations and human rights groups from its network have been submitted in response to the Special Rapporteur’s call for her upcoming visit, while several media organizations have also submitted inputs and information.

Focusing on “laws, policies and practices that impact on the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the general public, people’s organizations and human rights defenders,” Karapatan and women human rights defenders group Tanggol Bayi stated in their submission to the UN Special Rapporteur that “the government’s counter-insurgency programs has resulted in extrajudicial killings of civilians, including human rights defenders.” Under Marcos Jr., there have been 87 victims, with four human rights defenders killed, while 442 civilians, including 222 human rights defenders, were killed, according to Karapatan’s documentation.

“Prior to the killings, the victims and/or their organizations have been routinely labeled as “members,” “supporters,” or “front organizations” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and/or the New People’s Army (NPA). This was documented in the various pronouncements of former presidents, particularly President Duterte and his officials, including those from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF- ELCAC), which was created through Executive Order (EO) No. 70. Such policies and practices are continued by the Marcos Jr. administration with his National Security Policy for 2023 to 2028,” Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi further said.

They also noted that UN Special Rapporteurs have previously expressed concern over the statements done by former president Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials, which they said “incite violence and killings, and are considered direct orders and policy pronouncements by State forces on the ground.” Karapatan’s documentation showed that fifteen human rights workers of Karapatan were killed under the Duterte administration.

Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi also said judicial harassment and the filing of trumped up criminal charges against activists and human rights defenders have become forms of stifling freedom of expression, as these were extensively conducted, enumerating violations on the right to due process of individuals like the use of defective warrants, perjured testimonies of military-backed witnesses, questionable preliminary proceedings, and planted evidence. The groups likewise mentioned the perjury case against Karapatan, Gabriela and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines as among the said trumped up charges faced by rights defenders.

They also stated that “online red-tagging and threats, as well as disinformation and false claims, against defenders have become pervasive,” at the same time that the Anti-Terrorism Act, “used to hail rights defenders to court and subject them to judicial harassment, despite bearing no sufficient evidence to back up these charges.”

“Red-tagging has quickly evolved into terrorist-tagging and the use of such laws to impede human rights and development work and quell free expression and dissent – all under the pretext of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism,” said Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi in conclusion.

Their recommendations to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion include a stop to threats and red-tagging against human rights defenders, journalists, artists, members of the academe, among others, and to hold accountable those who continue to incite violence and disseminate false information on individuals and groups; the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC; a stop to judicial harassment and reprisal suits against human rights defenders and journalists; the repeal of Republic Acts 10168 (Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012) and 11479 (Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020); and the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Protection law. #

Copies of all submissions for #FightToExpress campaign are available upon request. Attached is input submitted by Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi.