'Duterte's track record shows respect for human rights' – Bello
MANILA, Philippines – The government's chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III defended President Rodrigo Duterte from the accusations of the National Democratic Front (NDF) involving the government's alleged human rights abuses.
The NDF raised a list of the government's alleged violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Human Law (CARHRIHL) before the 3rd round of peace talks in Rome.
Bello, also the country's Labor Secretary, said Duterte has not committed such violations, even saying the President's "track record" could speak for itself.
"The track record of President Duterte will speak for itself. He has always upheld the rights of political dissenters and respected their human rights," Bello said in a statement on Sunday, January 22.
"Some may find his unconventional approach in addressing peace and order issues in the country but he has always maintained high respect for political dissent," Bello added.
Since Duterte assumed office, there have been over 7,000 deaths linked to the "war on drugs" – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation).
He has also vowed to protect policemen, since it was he who ordered the war on drugs.
Gov't to investigate
Bello, in response, pointed out that the rebel forces have also committed violations of the agreement, such as the New People's Army's (NPA) torching of buses and heavy equipment.
All violations from both sides, he said, would be addressed by the Joint Monitoring Committee, the body tasked to monitor and investigate human rights abuses of security forces and communist rebels. (READ: PH, NDF activate monitoring body amid ceasefire complaints)
Bello said the government would also look into the cases submitted by the NDF and its allied rights organizations.
On Thursday, January 19, the NDF formally announced it is not prepared to sign a final peace deal earlier than 2020 but is maintaining its alliance with Duterte.
Here's a list of the complaints raised by the NDF in a statement released a day before the negotiators returned to the negotiating table:
- The NDF complained as betrayal of trust government's advice for them to withdraw their pending appeals to allow the final conviction of 3 NDF consultants – Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza – to fast-track their release through a presidential pardon. Their convictions are now final but they have yet to be pardoned.
- The NDF claimed that its consultants have been subjected to surveillance and harassment.
- The group raised "war crimes" committed during the administration of president Gloria Arroyo, citing the disappearances of JASIG-protected persons Leo Velasco, Prudencio Calubid and his wife and relatives, Rogelio Calubad and his son Nestor Entice, and his wife, Leopoldo Ancheta, and Philip Limjoco. They also raised the murder of Sotero Llamas.
- Military and police operations allegedly targeting communities sympathetic to, if not controlled by, the revolutionary movement. The NDF claimed that security forces are occupying schools, health and day care centers, public plazas, among others, and allegedly conduct illegal searches against suspected NPA members and their families.
- The NDF raised human rights concerns against Duterte's war on drugs because of the "killing of innocent people due to brutal, reckless and indiscriminate methods employed by the police in its anti-drug operations."
- The NDF protested the continuous detention of about 400 political detainees who are facing what the group called "trumped-up criminal cases."
- The NDF said the victims of human rights violations under former dictator Ferdinand Marcos' martial law regime are still waiting for justice and indemnification.
- The NDF protested Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which it said "completes the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses and the revision of the historical judgment against the crimes of the Marcos family."