Gov’t wars on dissenters, Moro worry rights groups
MANILA, Philippines — A global coalition of human rights advocates in the Philippines has asked the international community to pay attention to the government’s “wars” against dissenters and Moro people as it took note of the escalating violence within these sectors even after the International Criminal Court (ICC) asked for judicial authorization to investigate alleged crimes against humanity in the country.
This was the call made by Investigate PH, which released on Tuesday the second of three reports as part of its independent investigation of human rights violations in the Philippines.
The first report published in March found that the human rights situation in the country had only gotten worse since the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights first flagged brazen abuses in June last year.
This time, the second report focused on three aspects: the Department of Justice (DOJ), which was “obstructing” a full review of the drug war killings, the increasing harm against political dissenters, and escalating military violence in Mindanao.
It examined testimonies and information from survivors, victims, human rights and legal advocates, as well as forensics experts.
Ultimately, the coalition called on the international community, including the ICC and UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to pressure the Philippines to hold perpetrators accountable and give justice to victims.
Crimes against humanity
At the same time, it urged the ICC to pursue its investigation of President Duterte’s crimes against humanity during the government’s war on drugs.
In the report, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was criticized for “overpromising” before the UNHRC that all cases of extrajudicial killings in the country were being investigated.
As of February, the high-level review panel Guevarra formed for this purpose had looked at only 328 cases.
That month, he admitted before the UNHRC that many of the police agents had “failed to follow standard protocols” that would have proven their victims resisted arrest.
“Yet this finding has not translated into changes in anti-drug policy and operations or placed accountability for the killings,” the coalition noted. When Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar later became the chief of the Philippine National Police, the DOJ and the PNP committed to open at least 53 cases.
“Guevarra is thus overpromising to the UNHRC, as part of his broad assertion that Philippine domestic remedies are adequate to the perceived human rights challenge,” the report said.
“The Duterte government has ensured the lack of accountability for police failing to follow standard protocols in thousands of cases of antidrug operation killings.”
Investigate PH also noted that the “systematic killing” developed during the drug war was now being “applied to the overt campaign of killing political dissenters.” This fell under the broader state practice of Red-tagging, or the labeling of individuals as members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
From July 2016 to December 2020, at least 376 cases of extrajudicial political killings and 488 cases of attempted killings were recorded, the report added.
“Extrajudicial killings of dissenters by the Philippine armed forces and police have become more brazen throughout the country,” it said, noting that the practice has extended to the academe, opposition, government officials, lawyers, and even celebrities.
At the extreme, red-tagging has led to the massacre of farmers in 2018 and 2019 in Negros province; the murder of nine Tumandok people in Panay in December 2020; and the killing of activists during the March 7 raids in the Calabarzon area.
Given the violence resulting from Red-tagging, the report warned that this could be a “violation of principles of distinction [as a war crime], as it implicates civilians who are not directly participating in hostilities and who are not combatants.”
Investigate PH also observed that human rights violations have not abated in Mindanao despite the pandemic.
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