Amid protests, Palace vows to pursue war on crime
Malacañang on Monday promised to pursue an unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs, crime, corruption, terrorism and insurgency as activists and militants took to the streets to demand an end to abuses against the people and a lawmaker called President Rodrigo Duterte the “biggest threat to human rights.”
Human rights defenders and relatives of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings gathered in different parts of Metro Manila, Central Luzon and major cities in the Visayas and Mindanao to condemn the President’s bloody war on drugs, deadly attacks on militants, imposition of martial law in Mindanao, and the plan to form a hit team to assassinate communist rebels.
In a statement, the Presidential Human Rights Committee headed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea pledged to “further human rights” under the President’s leadership.
“Every administration has its own emphasis and approach in its efforts to make human rights real for our people. Today, we further human rights in the era of Mr. Duterte along relevant paths reflected in our theme for this year’s observance: ‘Protecting Human Lives, Uplifting Human Dignity, and Advancing People’s Progress,’” Medialdea said.
“To protect the lives of the innocent, law-abiding citizens of the country, this administration remains unrelenting in its crusade against criminality, corruption, terrorism, insurgency, and the proliferation of illegal drugs that destroy families and the future of the young,” he said.
Medialdea issued the statement as the Philippines joined the rest of the world in marking the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
President Duterte has been criticized by local and international human rights groups over thousands of deaths in his brutal war on drugs, which rights advocates have called extrajudicial killings.
The Philippine National Police has acknowledged the killings in police operations of 4,999 drug suspects from July 1, 2016, to Oct. 31 this year, but rights groups have given higher figures, with Karapatan saying the toll is more than 20,000.
Information from at least two groups of complainants has been brought against the President in the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking for an investigation of what could be crimes against humanity.
The ICC has opened a preliminary investigation, angering the President, who responded by withdrawing the Philippines from the Rome Statute, the international treaty that underpins the ICC.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, however, has said that the withdrawal will not affect the investigation, as the killings happened while the Philippines was a member of the ICC, and that assessment of the situation in the country will continue even after the withdrawal takes effect next March.
The President said last week that he was taking full responsibility for the killings, and vowed to press his war on drugs, which he swore would be no less harsh than when it started after he took office in 2016.
For that statement and his attacks on critics of the drug war, including Catholic bishops who he said last week the people should kill, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros sees the President as “the biggest threat to human rights” in the Philippines.
“The President has singlehandedly rolled back human rights safeguards and made the country a haven for human rights violators,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Monday.
But Filipinos don’t have to live in the kind of environment that the President has created, she said.
Hontiveros called on the people to stand up for their rights.
“We cannot continue treading this path. I call on the people to push back and stand up against the threat to our human rights. When the institutions we build to protect us are used against us, we prove aspiring tyrants wrong and take them back,” she said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Hontiveros was “entitled to her opinion.”
The President respects human rights, Panelo insisted.
“We have been saying so and we have shown it. We prosecute people who violate human rights,” Panelo said.
Sen. Leila de Lima, detained on what she calls trumped-up drug charges, also issued a statement, noting a “growing absence of human rights leadership in the world today.”
“Some governments themselves, led mostly by populist demagogues and autocrats, have actually attacked their own people. And far too many politicians and so-called leaders, including those in my country, the Philippines, seem to have forgotten the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights],” De Lima said.
She called on the people to take collective action for the common defense of human rights.
“We cannot remain quiet and rely passively on governments. We the people ourselves have to act — act urgently and in solidarity with one another,” she said.
Hundreds of human rights defenders marched across Manila on Monday to protest the Duterte administration’s alleged abuses.
“This is a united people’s march for human rights,” said Ellecer Carlos, leader of the rights group iDefend.
Carlos said the groups intended to rouse the public and remind people about the importance of human rights.
“The public should realize that it is up to them to form a critical opposition,” Carlos said.
In the City of San Fernando in Pampanga province, the rights watchdog Karapatan led the march against President Duterte’s “murderous, vindictive and tyrannical rule,” while in Baguio, students, teachers and pastors from the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines marched with black ribbons marked “resist tyranny” tied to their heads and arms.
In the Visayas, thousands of human rights advocates took to the streets in Iloilo, Leyte, Capiz, Aklan and Negros Occidental to decry what they called President Duterte’s “creeping nationwide dictatorial rule.”
“This President is spitting on the rule of law, implementing it when it favors him but disregarding it when it [does not],” said businessman Aurelio Servando, who joined the march in Iloilo City.
“Thousands [have been] killed. There is no stopping him. Every day he keeps on telling his people to kill and kill,” Servando added.
The marchers also condemned the President’s plan to form a hit team to assassinate communist rebels.
“Even without the formal and open creation of this hit team, unarmed activists, lawyers, leaders of militant groups are already being targeted and killed. It is unimaginable that the President himself has openly advocated for the creation of a group [that] will murder,” said Reylan Vergara, national vice chair of the human rights group Karapatan.
In Bicol, hundreds of militants marched through Legazpi City in Albay province urging the Duterte administration to end abuses against the people, including alleged extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs.
Martial law in Mindanao
In Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental province, human rights groups marked the day with mass actions against the government’s plan to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.
The groups slammed the government for claiming that there had been no rights abuses in Mindanao since martial law was imposed on the island last year after terrorists seized Marawi City.
According to the Movement Against Tyranny, there were four killings, seven frustrated killings, four disappearances, 47 trumped-up charges, 43 illegal arrests and detentions, 32 arbitrary arrests, 567 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation, and 927 victims of fake surrenders this year alone. —Reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Leila B. Salaverria, Christine O. Avendaño, Aie Balagtas See, Kimberlie Quitasol, Tonette Orejas, Mar S. Arguelles, Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Maricar Cinco, Joey A. Gabieta, Carla P. Gomez, Nestor P. Burgos Jr. and Jigger J. Jerusalem
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