Linking rights groups with drug lords ‘dangerous, shameful’

Jodesz Gavilan

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Linking rights groups with drug lords ‘dangerous, shameful’
(UPDATED) 'Are they trying to have death squads target human rights activists?’ asks Human Rights Watch, after Malacañang tagged groups critical of its drug war as paid lackeys of drug lords

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday, March 26, condemned the “shockingly dangerous and shameful” claims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies that human rights organizations are being used by drug lords. 

HRW Asia director Brad Adams, in a statement, said that Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque should withdraw their comments because they have no evidence.

Roque on Monday floated the possibility that criticism of Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs persists partly because groups are getting funds from drug lords. Human rights groups, he added, had become “unwitting tools of drugs to hinder strides” by the administration.

Adams, however, said that Roque’s statement could further risk the lives of human rights activists. “Are they trying to have death squads target human rights activists?” he said.

The Philippines is often referred to as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a human rights defender. In 2017, Front Line Defenders said in its annual report that 80% of deaths of human rights defenders took place in 4 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines.

At least 4 human rights workers have been killed under the Duterte administration so far: Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator Elisa Badayos, Bicol paralegal Edwin Pura, Catholic priest Father Marcelito Paez, and Moro human rights activist Billamin Turabin Hasan.

The move to connect drug lords to human rights workers is reflective of Duterte’s overall stance against criticism and dissent, according to critics. 

Roque, in return, slammed HRW for making such pronouncements, and reiterated that the possibility of drug lord-funded nongovernmental organizations “should not be discounted.”

“We stand by the statement we made on the possibility that some non-governmental organizations, instead of assisting the government fulfill its human rights obligations, have become unwitting tools of drug lords. Such scenario, we reiterate, should not be discounted given the billion-peso losses of the drug lords,” Roque said on Tuesday, March 27.

“Human Rights Watch should therefore not feel alluded to, exaggerate, and politicize the issue to get some media mileage and public attention,” added the former human rights lawyer.

Roque’s statements are the latest in what human rights advocates called administration efforts to “demonize” human rights workers as they continue to call for accountability in the high number of deaths linked to the war on drugs. (READ: Demonizing human rights under Duterte)

The International Criminal Court has started a preliminary examination on the alleged crimes committed since 2016. Duterte, however, has decided to withdraw the Philippines’ participation as a member-state – a move which human rights groups cited as a way to evade accountability.

Liberal Party (LP), meanwhile, said the statements are “abdsurd and baseless.”

“We also see the statement as an attempt to taint and damage the efforts of human rights groups, who have been courageous and untiring in monitoring the implementation of the government’s anti-drug efforts and the abuses that go with them,” Erin Tañada, LP vice president for external affairs, said.

“They help provide sanctuary and voice to the voiceless victims of this invented war,” he added. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.