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Callamard: 5 years on, state forces still 'free to kill as they please' in Duterte's Philippines

There is no letup in human rights abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte even as the Philippines faces a massive health crisis, Amnesty International said in its latest report released on Wednesday, April 7.

Former United Nations (UN) special rapporteur and now Amnesty secretary-general Agnes Callamard said Duterte consistently orchestrated widespread abuses across the country under his watch.

"Almost five years into his presidency, President Duterte continues to incite a wave of human rights violations and fuel a climate of impunity for the perpetrators, turning the Philippines into a country where police and state forces are free to kill as they please," she said.

In its 2020/2021 State of the World's Human Rights annual report, Amnesty noted that "measures taken by the [Duterte] government to curb the spread of COVID-19 led to numerous abuses of human rights."

The report noted the strict policies that resulted in massive arrests of alleged quarantine violators and the violent dispersal of protests, including those calling for assistance from the government.

Between March and November 2020, at least 134,298 were arrested for allegedly violating community quarantine guidelines.

Further violations

Amnesty International also emphasized the violent and deadly rhetoric of Duterte himself, who once ordered state forces to shoot those who violated strict community quarantine.

Duterte's violent war on drugs still continued despite the pandemic, with government data showing that at least 6,069 killed in police operations as of February 28, 2021. This number does not include victims of vigilante-style killings.

In February, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the "continued high number of killings by police remain a serious concern."

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also found indications of excessive use of force on the part of the Philippine National Police in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations.

Aside from the drug war killings, Amnesty expressed concern over the repression of dissent which has led to the red-tagging of human rights defenders and activists. In many cases, these have led to deaths.

As of March 7, CHR data showed that 130 activists have been killed under Duterte.

The Amnesty report also indicated the continued attacks on press freedom in the Philippines under the Duterte administration, citing the killings of activists, the shutdown of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, and the cyber libel conviction of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.

'No longer stand idly'

In February, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced before the UN Human Rights Council that an inter-agency drug war panel found that police did not follow protocols in more than half of the operations it reviewed.

Callamard, however, said that the assurances of the government to the international community cannot be taken seriously, given the dire human rights situation in the Philippines.

"The world can no longer stand idly by while the deadly campaign against people using or selling drugs continues," she said.

"Amnesty International demands justice and accountability for the victims and countless families left behind," Callamard added.

The International Criminal Court is expected to decide by the first half of 2021 whether or not to open a formal investigation into the Philippine killings.

The constitutionality of Duterte's drug war is also being questioned before the Supreme Court. A Rappler investigation found that the case has been stalled by the Duterte government's submission of "rubbish" files. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

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.

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