MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday, January 18, called the current human rights situation under President Rodrigo Duterte as the worst since the lifting of Martial Law imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“President Rodrigo Duterte has plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s,” HRW said in its World Report 2018.
Duterte’s violent war against drugs has been heavily criticized for its large number of deaths.
Latest government data shows that at least 3,993 suspected drug personalities were killed in police anti-drug operations since July 2016. The tally of those killed by vigilantes remain heavily contested. (READ: CHR: Death toll in drug war higher than what gov’t suggests)
Valid criticisms and calls for international probes were met with threats from the President himself. He had also demonized human rights activists and those deemed to be countering the government narrative as they consistently called for the end of killings.
“The administration has widened its “war on drugs” to include critics and political foes,” the New York-based organization said, citing what happened to Senator Leila De Lima.
His allies, meanwhile, has “adopted a tactic of denying as alternative facts” the reality of human rights violations in the face of mounting international criticism, HRW added. (READ: Drug war in 2017: The year of deaths and denials)
The Philippine National Police (PNP) in October 2017 said there has been “officially no case” of extrajudicial killings. But HRW Geneva director John Fisher told Rappler that the government “cannot just define these bodies out of existence.” (READ: No extrajudicial killings in PH? World ‘not fooled,’ says HRW)
Extension of war vs ‘foes’
Activists were not the only ones subjected to the tirades of the government. Even the press, who relentlessly covered the war on drugs, has been consistently attacked by online mobs.
“Journalists who report critically on the Duterte administration are also subjected to harassment and threats online,” HRW said.
Duterte also took part in the harassment of media.
In March 2017, he said that karma is sure to catch up with newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer and television network ABS-CBN. He eventually moved into further issues against the two – from threatening to block the renewal of franchise of the network to threatening an “exposé” against the newspaper broadsheet.
In January 2018, meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the registration of Rappler allegedly for violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law. This move comes 6 months after Duterte claimed that the news site is “fully owned” by Americans. (READ Rappler’s statement: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)
These moves are nothing short of harassment aimed to stifle press freedom in the Philippines.
Phelim Kine, HRW deputy director for Asia, Kine also warned against a chilling effect in other media outlets as they cover controversial issues under the administration – particularly the bloody war on drugs.
“This could have profoundly negative impact in terms of stifling media freedom and encouraging self-censorship amongst media outlets that will be fearful of reaping the wrath of the Duterte government,” he explained. – Rappler.com