Human rights defenders call for safe environment online vs harassment, threats

MANILA, Philippines – A human rights organization is taking a stand against the vitriol and harassment advocates have been subjected to under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Thursday, August 31, Human Rights Online Philippines (HR Online PH) launched the “Protect Freedom of Expression” project which aims to establish a support mechanism for individuals and groups working on upholding human rights. 

Gusto natin na through this project, makagawa ng safe and just environment talaga (What we want to with this project is to create a safe and just environment),” Jerbert Briola, project coordinator of of HR Online PH, said.  

The project gives a special focus on social media where human rights defenders have been attacked. Digital security trainings will be conducted for various organizations to better equip themselves in their advocacy projects online. 

The project comes amid the “demonized” concept of human rights as advocates continue to criticize the violations under Duterte’s bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign. (READ: 'Demonizing' human rights in the first year of Duterte) 

Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) shows that more than 3,500 suspected drug personalities have been killed in drug operations since July 2016. The number of people killed by vigilantes is still highly debated. (READ: CHR: Death toll in drug war higher than what gov't suggests) 

Climate of fear

One year since Duterte started his war on drugs, human rights organizations have continued to call out institutions that have contributed to the big number of deaths. 

But by doing so, they have been threatened and harassed online, according to Briola. In some cases, their pictures are posted on Facebook pages that seem to invite more hate. 

Kami ay kadalasan na tina-tag na drug pusher, minsan supporter pa ng criminals,” he said. “Nagkakaroon na ng climate of fear.” 

(We are often tagged as drug pushers, sometimes criminal supporters. There is now a climate of fear.) 

No less than the President himself who continuously harassed human rights defenders – even threatening to order to shoot them for “obstructing justice.” (READ: Duterte warns he'll order shooting of human rights advocates) 

The harassment – bordering on death threats even – have silenced some stakeholders, according to Rose Trajano of Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA). 

Marami na rin ang natatakot,” she said. “Dati, alam mo kung sino ang kalaban mo, ngayon eh magsulat ka lang online defending human rights, kung ano-ano na ang sasabihin sa’yo.  

(A lot are afraid. Before, you know who you are fighting with. Now, you just defend your stand online on human rights and you’ll be bombarded with threats.) 

Emphasis on education

Human rights allow a person to live with dignity and in peace, away from the abuses that can be inflicted by abusive institutions or individuals. (READ: Things to know: Human rights in the Philippines)

Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is tasked to ensure that the state upholds and respect these rights.  

Sadly, the concept of human rights has been muddled in the past year.  

HR Online PH’s project aims to correct this by implementing activities and campaigns that will increase the awareness among Filipinos regarding the importance of human rights.

Gusto natin ipa-realize sa public na ang mga human rights defenders ay katuwang ng bansa sa pag-unlad (We want the public to realize that human rights defenders are the country’s allies in achieving progress),” Briola said.

In an interview with Rappler in May 2017, In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) Spokesperson Ellecer Carlos said that “education and conscientization work that we have undertaken and invested in, did not really trickle down to the grassroots” in recent years. 

Efforts to adjust modules and educational methods are now planned to “simplify the way we deliver human rights to the ground and it's really bringing human rights closer to everyday reality.” (READ: Human rights in Duterte's 1st year: Where do we go from here?)  – 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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