MANILA, Philippines – Justice remains elusive for the thousands killed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent anti-illegal drug campaign, Amnesty International (AI) said in a report released on Thursday, January 30.
AI’s Human Rights in Asia Pacific 2019 review highlighted the struggle experienced in pushing for accountability by families left behind, 4 years into the Duterte administration.
“Families were unable to obtain justice for their loved ones, due to enormous obstacles to filing cases against perpetrators, including fear of retaliation,” AI said.
“There remained no meaningful accountability for the killings at the national level,” it added.
Duterte’s drug war has been heavily criticized for the high number of killings. More than 6,000 people have been killed in anti-drug police operations while human rights groups estimate there may be as many as 27,000 to 30,000 deaths, including victims of vigilante-style killings. (READ: The Impunity Series)
A Rappler investigation showed that the Duterte government has allowed thousands of killings to go unsolved as of 2019. These are mostly attributable to systematic gaps in the police force and prosecution, among others.(READ: Duterte gov't allows 'drug war' deaths to go unsolved)
AI, meanwhile, said that the drug war also “proceeded with only modest ripples of protest internationally.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2019 adopted a resolution which, among others, tasked UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to write a comprehensive report on the situation in the Philippines.
The ICC's Office of the Prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination into the matter and is expected to make a recommendation by 2020.
Climate of impunity
Aside from targeting suspected drug personalities, AI noted an increase in the vilification and harassment of human rights defenders under Duterte.
According to Karapatan, at least 2,370 human rights defenders have been charged by the government from 2016 to 2019. (READ: Duterte's war on dissent)
In late 2019, police forces raided offices and residences of progressive groups in Metro Manila and Bacolod City, accusing those arrested as members of “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The groups said the firearms and explosives recovered during the raids were planted.
But these threats took a turn for the worse as many have been killed since 2016. (READ: Human rights defenders also killed under Duterte administration)
“The prevailing climate of impunity fueled an increase in killings of activists for their political views,” Amnesty International said.
The latest victim is human rights leader Jennifer Tonag who was gunned down on January 17. She was the local organizer of the Northern Samar Small Farmers Association.
The Commission on Human Rights, in calling for justice for Tonag's and other deaths of human rights defenders, "amplified the clamor" for the government to repeal Executive Order No. 70 which created a national task force that sought to address causes of armed conflict with communists at the local level.
EO No. 70, according to human rights groups, led to massive red-tagging as well as threats and harassment under the guise of fighting insurgency. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.