Human rights not discussed in ASEAN lawmakers’ anti-drug meeting

Mara Cepeda
Human rights not discussed in ASEAN lawmakers’ anti-drug meeting
AIPA Secretary-General Isra Sunthornvut says there was 'no room' to criticize the controversial Philippine war against drugs

MANILA, Philippines – The controversial issue of human rights violations in the Philippines’ drug campaign was not discussed by legislators from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-countries who met in Manila this week.

House committee on dangerous drugs chairperson Robert Ace Barbers said this to media on Thursday, July 6, during the 13th Meeting of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly Fact-Finding Committee (AIFOCOM) to Combat the Drug Menace at the Conrad Manila in Pasay City. 

“It was never discussed. No discussion on human rights,” said Barbers, who was appointed as AIFOCOM chairperson. (READ: ‘Demonizing’ human rights in the first year of Duterte)

He said the ASEAN lawmakers only focused on information sharing, intelligence gathering, as well as identifying the best practices used by the different countries in solving the drug menace.

According to Barbers, the Philippine delegation identified the following as the best strategies from the local drug war:

  • Public naming of narco politicians, judges, military, and police officials
  • Raiding of major shabu labs and arresting the personalities involved in the operations
  • Oplan TokHang and Oplan Double Barrel

Barbers described the last two as the methods by which “drug dependents surrender voluntarily and allow themselves to enter into a community-based rehab program initiated by this government under the program of the Department of Health.”

The lawmaker glossed over the 7,000 drug suspects killed in both legitimate police operations and apparent vigilante style killings nationwide.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been repeatedly criticized locally and internationally over the human rights violations occurring because of his war against drugs. (READ: PH drug war can be a ‘model’ for other ASEAN countries – Barbers)

AIPA Secretary-General Isra Sunthornvut, a legislator from Thailand, said the AIFOCOM was not meant to criticize the drug campaigns of each member.

“The drug menace is a problem for us all. But we’re not here to judge anybody. Everybody has different methods of dealing with the drug menace. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to learn from one another, to learn what methods here in the Philippines can be applied to Thailand, what methods in Thailand can be applied here and so on and so forth,” he said.

“So we want to learn from one another, so there was no room for criticism, there’s no reason for criticism because the Philippine way is the Philippine, the Thai way is the Thai way,” Isra added.

During their meetings from July 4 to 6, the AIFOCOM approved a resolution acknowledging the urgency to forge an “inclusive partnership” towards a drug-free ASEAN community.

They also approved a second resolution turning the AIFOCOM into the AIPA Advisory Council on Dangerous Drugs. 

‘No reason’ to connect human rights to drug war?

Barbers reiterated the drug-related extrajudicial killings should not be blamed on Duterte.

He said the President never sanctioned the killings, though Duterte had previously encouraged the public to go after drug suspects. (READ: Duterte to mayors on ‘final’ drug list: Resign or die

“It was never a direct order coming from the President. So I don’t see any reason why we should connect the issue of human rights to the campaign of the Duterte administration on the war against drugs,” said Barbers.

He reasoned that there is “collateral damage” in every war. 

“Perhaps as I’ve also mentioned before, in this war, in this fight, you cannot treat your enemies with kid gloves because these guys are armed, they’re willing to kill and they have a lot of money,” said Barbers. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.