'Only way to end tyranny, impunity': 500 rights advocates demand accountability over killings

More than 500 individuals on Monday, August 31, demanded an end to the culture of impunity that dominates the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a statement released in time for National Heroes Day, members of different sectors called for accountability over killings of activists and continuous harassment of human rights defenders and dissenters.

The recent killings of Bayan Muna's Jory Porquia, Anakpawis leader Randall Echanis, and Zara Alvarez of Karapatan, they said, "highlighted the increasing use of extrajudicial killings against activists, political dissenters and members of the opposition."

The statement was signed by human rights defenders, lawyers, lawmakers, religious leaders, educators, artists, journalists, and various sectoral groups, among others.

They called for an independent investigation into the deaths of Porquia, Echanis, Alvarez, and of other victims of extrajudicial killings, including those in line with the government's violent anti-illegal drug campaign. (READ: The Impunity Series)

"The perpetrators of these killings and their protectors should be held accountable and punished," they said. "Only in this way will the reign of tyranny and impunity end."

Porquia, Alvarez, and Echanis are the latest in the already long list of at least 318 activists and human rights defenders killed since 2016, according to Karapatan.

The Commission on Human Rights, in a report released in July, said Duterte "created a dangerous fiction that it is legitimate to hunt down and commit atrocities against [them] because they are enemies of the State."

In 2018, the United Nations included the Philippines in the list of 38 countries where governments subject human rights defenders and activists to an alarming level of reprisals and intimidation.

The signatories called on Duterte to "stop inciting the police, military and even ordinary civilians to commit such horrible acts."

They also call for vigilance with the existence of the anti-terror law which is widely-criticized for being another "legal weapon" against dissent.

"The recently signed Anti-Terror Law provides another legal weapon to maliciously tag activists, critics and dissenters as terrorists, attack civil liberties and freedom of expression, and provide another pretext for even more EJKs," they said.

Read the full statement and list of signatories 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.