Human rights in Central Visayas alarm Amnesty International
This was how Amnesty International described the state of human rights in Central Visayas and the rest of the country since President Duterte assumed his post on July 2016.
“There’s a human rights crisis in our country right now, and we have not experienced anything like this since the martial law period (in 1972 to 1981),” said Jose Noel Olano, section director of Amnesty International-Philippines, in a press conference in Cebu City on Friday.
While there are no concrete proof that the government has something to do, much less sanctioned, the rising body count in the war against illegal drugs, Olano said no “meaningful” investigations into the killings of drug suspects had been made.
In Cebu and other parts of Central Visayas, policemen were the top violators of human rights.
“Law enforcers are duty-bound to respect human rights, not only in implementing national policies such as Oplan Tokhang but in all their actions to actively protect human rights against abuse,” said Olano as he read the annual report of the London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights.
“When they fail to do so, either by committing human rights violations through the unlawful use of their powers or by failing to protect people against human rights abuses by others, they must be held accountable,” he added.
Supt. Reyman Tolentin, information officer of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), lashed out at the Amnesty International, saying that the group’s report is not acceptable.
“What was their basis in saying so? That is just their perception. The killings have been investigated, and there have been no proofs that the police are involved or violated human rights,” he said in an interview.
“Are they investigators? If not, why do they say there are human rights violations in Central Visayas? They should know that we, policemen, are doing our jobs professionally,” he added.
Based on the records of PRO-7, at least 188 drug suspects in the region were killed in alleged shootouts with policemen, while 213 others were gunned down by still unknown assailants since July 1, 2016.
On the other hand, at least 9,466 drug suspects were arrested in the region, while some 108,742 drug users and pushers surrendered to authorities at the onset of Oplan Tokhang (toktok hangyo), a police door-to-door anti-drug campaign, where suspects are asked to surrender and sign documents renouncing their involvement in illegal drugs, either as a user or a peddler.
Since the war on drugs started, PRO-7 has seized a total of 35,039 grams of shabu worth P363.8 million.
But Amnesty International stressed that most of the killings remain unsolved.
In its annual report, the group noted that the wave of unlawful killings across the country followed the election of President Duterte who they considered as among the world’s worst leaders when it comes to human rights compliance.
“The deliberate, unlawful, and widespread killings of thousands of alleged drug offenders appeared to be systematic, planned, organized, and encouraged by the authorities, and may have constituted crimes against humanity,” Olano said.
Most of those killed, he said, were from poor urban communities.
For fear of reprisals, relatives of those killed in police operations opted not to file complaints against the policemen.
“So far, no police officer was known to have been held accountable,” Olano said.
Amnesty International also noted that human rights defenders critical of the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs were singled out and targeted by President Duterte and his allies.
They cited as example the case of Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested on charges of drug trafficking after becoming the most prominent critic of the war on drugs.
Amnesty International also mentioned President Duterte’s attacks against the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as the administration-backed “supermajority” at the House of Representatives earlier approved a budget of just P1,000 for the commission before the decision was overturned in the Senate.
Also pointed out in the report were the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) revocation of the registration of online news outfit Rappler for supposedly violating the Constitutional prohibition against foreign ownership of media, and the increasing number of arbitrary arrests of political activists.
The Amnesty International annual report will be sent to the Office of the President.
“We hope the government will respond to it by providing solutions instead of issuing derogatory comments which will just muddle the issues,” said Olano in anticipation of what could be another tongue-lashing from President Duterte.
Maria Edilyd Orias-Palma, program coordinator of Amnesty International-Philippines, said their annual report was launched in Manila last February 22 before they brought it in Cebu on Friday.
“We will also present the report in Cagayan de Oro on March 15 and Baguio on March 23,” she said.
Amnesty International’s State of the World’s Human Rights covers 159 countries and delivers a comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today.
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