On the Duterte admin’s human rights summit

The irony of this so-called Human Rights Summit is not lost on human rights advocates, victims of human rights violations and the general public.

As this so-called summit is being held, notorious human rights violator Philippine National Police Chief Debold Sinas has ordered his personnel to use rattan sticks to hit people for allegedly violating social distancing protocols, as if the more than 200,000 individuals arrested and detained, and some physically tortured, were not enough to prove the government’s archaic, misguided, and utterly disproportionate response to the pandemic.

As the summit is being held, extrajudicial killings continue to be committed by State forces with impunity in its drug war and counterinsurgency operations led by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. No report has been issued by the Department of Justice on the status of its so-called review on alleged drug-related killings by State actors. Meantime, Karapatan counts at least 353 extrajudicial killings of peasants, trade unionists, indigenous peoples, human rights workers and lawyers, among many others victimized in the counterinsurgency campaign that remain unsolved under the Duterte administration. A few days ago, Duterte himself has reiterated his kill, kill, kill orders and has once again lambasted human rights advocates.

As the summit is being held, the Duterte administration has intensified its rabid red-tagging rampage against progressive groups, individuals advocates and institutions, with government and security officials as brazen as the President inciting violence and harm on those they consider as “terrorists” to justify these killings and the illegal arrests of activists and political opponents.

As the summit is being held, trumped-up charges based on planted evidence and perjured testimonies continue to hound activists, critics, and communities. At least 3,614 have been illegally or arbitrarily arrested. Another young mother, Amanda Echanis, whose father was brutally tortured and killed this year, is the latest victim.

As this summit is being held, critics such as Senator Leila de Lima continue to remain behind bars while Duterte and his lapdogs are ramping up their spurious legal machinations to intimidate the media such as Maria Ressa and Rappler, to justify the closure of ABS-CBN, and to embolden other attacks on journalists and media workers.

As this summit is being held, Duterte’s terror law hangs like a Damocles sword on the exercise of free speech, press freedom, the freedom of association, and the right to political dissent, as we descend to the lowest of lows in the government’s human rights record. 

We hope that this irony won’t be lost on those participating in the event, including the international community. The realities on the ground, including the inadequacy of domestic mechanisms of accountability, are plain to see. 

Hence, the necessity of an international, independent, and impartial investigation into what can only be described as a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines by the United Nations Human Rights Council and other bodies is of paramount importance.

At the end of the day, the barometer of sincerity in addressing the human rights catastrophe in the country can be visibly seen in policy and practice in obtaining justice for the victims of rights violations, in holding the perpetrators accountable and in truly upholding and realizing the people’s right to a life with dignity. Anything less are smoke and mirrors.