Khan: Marcos admin 'sets new tone' on rights issues but still 'not enough'

Khan: Marcos admin ‘sets new tone’ on rights issues but still ‘not enough’

/ 06:01 PM February 02, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has done a better job than its predecessor in terms of respect for human rights, but it still has a lot to do, according to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Irene Khan.

Khan, in a briefing on Friday to share her observations and recommendations for the Philippines, acknowledged that the country has improved from its status when former President Rodrigo Duterte was still in charge, as the Marcos regime shows a willingness to cooperate with international bodies.

However, Khan also admitted that more effort is needed to truly go against the past.


“I am very fortunate to be coming to the Philippines at a critical moment for the country, the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has set a new tone on many issues […] the decision to reopen peace talks, the release of former senator Leila de Lima, the acquittal of Nobel laureate Maria Ressa on tax fraud charges,” Khan told reporters in Mandaluyong.


“So there is a willingness to engage with the UN, these are all part of the signals, but they are not sufficient to turn the page decisively from the past. Tackling the […] human rights problems of the Philippines, many of which are related to my mandate, will require more fundamental and sustained reforms, and also a firm commitment to accountability,” she added.

Khan — who admitted that it is better now that the Philippine government is taking a greater role in the international community — reiterated this stand when she was asked if the country is now faring better in terms of UN standards.

The UN special rapporteur responded that the signs are good, but there is still a long way to go.

“Well, obviously, some changes have been made but also said a while ago that it is not enough, I think the government is trying to change the page, and turning the page will require more,” she said.

“The signs are good, it is like sunrise in the morning, but it’s the rest of the day that will come,” she added.

She also said that there is an expectation that the “government will build on the steps that were already taken to make more significant legal policy and institutional changes,” and eventually “reaffirm the image of the Philippines as [nation] of democracy, committed to human rights and rule of law.”


Marcos, since being elected President in May 2022, has shown signs of distancing himself from the human rights issues encountered by the Duterte administration.

As early as June 10, Swedish Ambassador Annika Thunborg said she got an assurance from Marcos that the drug war — Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign which was criticized for being bloody and violent — would be continued but within a framework of law and human rights.

READ: Bongbong Marcos to continue drug war ‘within framework of law, human rights’ — Swedish envoy

Then in May 2023, during a trip to the United States, Marcos admitted that “certain elements” of the government had committed abuses during the drug war.  One of the most recent Marcos statements that were seen as a deviation from Duterte’s policy was about studying a possible return to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Khan arrived in the Philippines last January 22 to assess the country’s status in terms of the right to free speech, free expression, and a free press.  She was welcomed by the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS).

She is set to leave the country by Friday.

Earlier, Khan also laid down some of her recommendations, including an appeal to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) due to it being outdated.

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According to her, the foundations of NTF-Elcac — created through former president Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 — have changed.

TAGS: Duterte, Irene Khan, Marcos, UN, UN rapporteur

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