Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

What Marcos excluded from SONA: Human rights, justice, peace

Lian Buan

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What Marcos excluded from SONA: Human rights, justice, peace

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., delivers his first State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives on July 25, 2022.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) By evading these topics, he also did not have to tackle what's attached to them: accountability
What Marcos excluded from SONA: Human rights, justice, peace

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address for an hour and 14 minutes that highlighted a 19-point legislative agenda but excluded human rights, justice, and peace – issues that have hounded the previous regime.

Unlike his predecessor and ally former president Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos made no mention of peace and order and anti-criminality measures. He did not talk about the campaign against drugs, which was Duterte’s pet project. By evading the topic, he also did not have to tackle the question of accountability for the estimated 27,000 Filipinos killed in Duterte’s bloody drug war.

No word either on the all-encompassing issue of justice and the rule of law. He did not tackle any reform measures for the judiciary or for law enforcement. He also did not mention any specific anti-corruption program.

What Marcos excluded from SONA: Human rights, justice, peace

Long-awaited appointments to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Presidential Commission on Good Government – tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of his family and their cronies – were also not mentioned.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, also noted how there was zero mention of “press freedom, disinformation, death penalty, and failed domestic accountability mechanisms.”

“When there’s eerie silence on these issues, we surmise that there are no significant shifts in the draconian policies of the previous Duterte administration. The impact is a more threatening environment that encourages further closing of democratic spaces,” said Palabay.

Duterte’s bloody legacy by the numbers include killings of 66 lawyers killed, 28 mayors and vice mayors killed and 427 human rights defenders.

Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher of international group Human Rights Watch, said that while the exclusion “was not surprising, it doesn’t make it less disappointing.”

Former Senate minority floor leader Franklin Drilon said the Marcos government should not “sweep under the rug” issues concerning justice and rule of law, saying that a strong justice system could also boost investors’ confidence.

“Nakakalungkot dahilan ang tiwala sa demokrasya ay nakasalalay sa tiwala ng taumbayan sa ating hustisya. Hinihimok ko ang administrasyon (It’s sad because trust in democracy depends on trust in the justice system. I urge the administration), it’s not too late to come up with programs that can restore the people’s confidence in the justice system and the rule of law,” said Drilon, also a former justice secretary.

Security and peace

Marcos included in his legislative agenda the approval of a newer National Defense Act to change the military structure, adding that it’s to make the armed forces “more responsive to current and future non-conventional security threats to the country’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”

Unlike Duterte, Marcos made no promises of incentives, perks and protection for the uniformed personnel. But he did include as a legislative agenda a measure that would revive the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Talk about this during the campaign raised fears of a continued militaristic bent by the new government.

While Marcos was not categorical in claiming he would enforce the Hague ruling from 2016 to assert our claim in the West Philippine Sea, he did say – to much applause – that he would not “preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”

“The Philippines shall continue to be a friend to all. And an enemy to none,” Marcos said, reiterating that “we will stand firm in our independent foreign policy.”

It’s a marked departure from Duterte who was hostile to the international community. Yet, Marcos made no mention of how he regarded the International Criminal Court, which is investigating his predecessor for alleged crimes against humanity over the killings during his term, both as president and as Davao City mayor.

The scarce reference to security allowed Marcos to also skip discussing any peace process with the communists or the challenges faced by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict earlier said it will not recommend national peace talks with communists, making him the first president after his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to not resume such talks after winning. The Philippines’ communist insurgency is the longest running in Asia. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.