Hold Ferdinand Marcos Jr. accountable for the grave human rights violations under his regime

After a year in power, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has proven to be virtually indistinguishable from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Extrajudicial killings (EJKs) have not only continued, the policies that spur them are firmly in place. Marcos Jr. continues to implement Duterte’s 2017-2022 National Security Policy that has engendered counter-insurgency programs and policies that resulted in numerous victims of EJKs. Among these are: Executive Order No. 70 that spawned the “whole-of-nation” campaign of terror and the creation of the notorious National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC); Presidential Proclamation 374; Presidential Memorandum Order No. 32; and the implementation of draconian counter-terror legislations, among others.

As of June 30, 2023, there have been at least 60 victims of EJKs in 40 incidents documented nationwide by Karapatan since Marcos Jr. took power. Twenty of the victims are from Negros and 16 are from Bicol, two of the three regions singled out for intensified counter-insurgency operations under Duterte’s Memo No. 32, which Marcos Jr. continues to enforce.

Marcos Jr. has not rescinded any of the operational guidelines formulated, issued and implemented by the Philippine National Police in relation to the “war on drugs” such as Oplan Double Barrel and Project Tokhang, which are both reflected as policies through a series of PNP Command Memorandum Circulars. The implementation of these guidelines has resulted in thousands of killings. The UP Third World Studies Program’s Dahas Project has monitored at least 300 drug war-related killings in the first eleven months alone of Marcos Jr.’s term.

All domestic investigation and redress mechanisms presented by the Duterte and Marcos Jr. regimes such as the Task Force on Administrative Order No. 35 and the drug war review panel in response to demands for justice and accountability have been utter failures.

Marcos Jr.’s refusal to allow the conduct of independent investigations by the International Criminal Court and international human rights bodies on the human rights situation in the Philippines indicates his intention to perpetuate the same culture of impunity and lack of accountability that have shielded criminals and human rights violators from the time of Marcos Sr. to the present.

Marcos Jr. has neither acknowledged the sufferings inflicted by his father’s dictatorial regime, nor offered an apology. Instead, he harps on the tired and false theme of his father’s regime having been a “golden age” in Philippine history. Massive disinformation campaigns by Marcos Jr. and his family’s minions continue to deodorize their sordid record of impunity, plunder and exploitation.

The Marcos Jr. regime continues the malicious practice of unjustly jailing activists and other dissenters, slapping them with trumped-up charges in order to justify their prolonged detention. As of June 30, 2023, there are 778 political prisoners in the Philippines, 49 of them arrested under Marcos Jr.’s watch.

The possibility of illegal arrest on trumped-up charges through the use of questionable search warrants, “John and Jane Does” and alias warrants is a continuing threat to all political activists and human rights advocates. The use of the terror law against activists and political dissenters has been observed, with at least 12 Southern Tagalog-based human rights defenders facing criminal charges under the terror law, while peace negotiators and consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines face arbitrary designation.

Meanwhile, one of the most alarming trends under the Marcos Jr. regime is the rapid rise in the number of involuntary disappearances. The eight victims of enforced disappearance documented in the first ten months of Marcos Jr.’s rule already constitute 40% of the 20 victims documented throughout Duterte’s six-year term. Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law remains largely unimplemented and is widely violated.

Marcos Jr. is likewise the only post-martial law president so far who has not embarked on peace talks with the NDFP. Instead, he pursues the same policies initiated by Duterte, who scuttled the talks, discarded all signed bilateral agreements and declared the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army 11(NPA), and NDFP as terrorist organizations and designated NDFP peace consultants as terrorists in order to eschew the talks altogether in favor of a policy of all-out war.

In the countryside, bombings of civilian communities and production areas in the course of the counter-insurgency war have resulted in massive physical and economic displacement under Marcos Jr. The most notorious case under the Marcos Jr. regime involved the series of indiscriminate bombings and strafing by the 94th IBPA in the areas bordering the villages of Carabalan and Mahalang in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental on October 6 and 8, 2002 that triggered the forced evacuation of up to 15,024 persons or almost 14% of Himamaylan’s population.

The military has also conducted aerial bombings in Kalinga and Cagayan province, affecting upland production areas and causing the evacuation of more than a hundred families.

It is unarmed civilians who have been bearing the brunt of the vicious counter-insurgency operations of the AFP. They are often deliberately targeted, in brazen disregard of IHL protocols because the military suspects them of supporting the NPA.

Rampant violations of civil liberties and political rights, especially the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, right to due process, among others have been documented as a result largely of the Marcos Jr.’s intolerance for dissent and the people’s right to organize, and the implementation of the “whole of nation” terror approach.

Progressive workers’ groups and unions continue to be red-tagged, curtailing their freedom of association. Farmers invoking their rights under the government’s land reform program are still denied the lands awarded to them through various legal shenanigans, as in the case of Hacienda Tinang in Tarlac where more than 50 farmers and peasant rights advocates were arrested in 2022. Months after the incident, they continue to be red-tagged, threatened, harassed, and intimidated.

Members and leaders of people’s organizations are hounded by repeated and incessant violations on their right to privacy and due process by the NTF-ELCAC and are terrorized and coerced into stopping their participation in activist organizations or other groups upholding people’s rights and welfare. Such harassment is perpetrated in cahoots with local government, military and law enforcement units. Even in urban centers, these forms of threats and harassment are committed, while soldiers creep their way into basing in these communities.

Existing domestic redress mechanisms for victims remain ineffective in rendering justice and accountability. The state of impunity is furthered with the implementation of policies that drive these violations. The writ of amparo remains inutile as a safeguard for beleaguered human rights defenders, as seen in the case of Cordilleran activists whose petition for a writ of amparo has been denied despite numerous cases of physical and legal harassment against them. Despite a Supreme Court ruling making the use of body-worn cameras mandatory in operations to serve warrants, the requirement is more observed in the breach. Add to this the fact that inquest proceedings are not compulsory when deaths occur during police operations shows how skewed laws are against the common people.

A law to protect human rights defenders has managed to survive the congressional wringer only to face a seeming dead end with the lack of strong human rights advocates in the Senate.

Amid these gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, Marcos Jr. remains conspicuously silent on human rights issues and cases in a devious attempt to distance himself from the sordidness of his own human rights record. His silence however does not save him from accountability for the grave results of his evil policies.

We hold Ferdinand Marcos Jr. accountable for the numerous human rights violations suffered by the Filipino people under his watch, and we will not relent in our demand for justice and accountability.

Karapatan joins various organizations and individuals in the protest march to the Mendiola bridge today to express our indignation and demand justice, accountability and an end to impunity.