human rights in the Philippines

Countries urge Marcos gov’t to fix human rights crisis left by Duterte

Jodesz Gavilan

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Countries urge Marcos gov’t to fix human rights crisis left by Duterte

UN RIGHTS BODY. Overview of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, September 12, 2022.

Denis Balibouse/REUTERS

(1st UPDATE) Member-states of the UN Human Rights Council urge swift justice for the victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte's violent war on drugs

GENEVA, Switzerland – Several countries called on the Marcos administration to address violations and issues left by former president Rodrigo Duterte’s culture of impunity.

These recommendations were made by United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) member-states during the universal periodic review (UPR) of the Philippines on Monday, November 14.

The UPR is a process where UN HRC assesses the human rights record of a country. The Philippines last underwent this process in 2017, barely a year into the Duterte administration.

At least 11 member-states urged the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to address the extrajudicial killings that occurred during Duterte’s war on drugs, specifically ensuring justice for victims killed since 2016.

Estonia, for example, called on the Philippine government to not just exact accountability from perpetrators, but also ensure remedy and reparations for victims and their families. Cuba, meanwhile, urged the state to focus its anti-illegal drug efforts on prevention, education, and rehabilitation – a jump from the approach of the former administration.

Government data show that at least 6,252 individuals were killed in police anti-drug operations between July 2016 and May 31, 2022. This number does not include those killed vigilante-style, which human rights groups estimate to be between 27,000 to 30,000. 

Only one incident has led to a conviction so far – the case of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos. In October, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla vowed “real justice in real time” but there still has been no significant development in the much-touted drug war review panel initiated by the Department of Justice in June 2020. 

Brazil, for its part, said that the Philippine government should adopt additional measures to conduct “prompt, impartial, thorough” investigations by strengthening the drug war review panel.

Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, and Ireland also called on the Marcos administration to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC), years after the Duterte government withdrew from the Rome Statute in response to ongoing proceedings against his violent drug war.

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Protect journalists, human rights defenders

Aside from the drug war, UN HRC member-states also put focus on the situation of journalists and human rights defenders in the Philippines – sectors that were heavily affected by the policies and vitriol of the former president.

At least 27 countries urged the Marcos government to protect civil society members by pushing forward legislations and measures, including the long-awaited Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, ratifying the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the amendment of the anti-terror law, and the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines.

“We remain however deeply concerned about the intimidation and harassment of civil society activists with the widespread and grave human rights violations,” Austria said.

Rights group Karapatan documented 427 incidents of killings and at least 537 recorded incidents of frustrated killings between July 2016 and December 2021. Meanwhile, at least 1,161 activists have been arrested and detained over the past six years. Red-tagging of activists and journalists remains a huge problem in the Philippines.

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Fixing Duterte’s mess

The UPR came as the Marcos administration came under close scrutiny to address the human rights crisis left by Duterte, as well as the pending decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to greenlight Prosecutor Karim Khan’s investigation into the drug war killings.

Speaking before the council, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said the Marcos government is focused on four pillars of the Philippine human rights agenda: transformational reform for justice and law enforcement sectors, investment on rights, protection of vulnerable groups, and constructive and open engagement with the international community.

“We will dispel the mistaken notion that there is a culture of impunity in our country,” he said. “We will not tolerate the denial of justice nor any violation of human rights.”

Filipino human rights groups, however, warned that the promises of the Marcos administration may just remain as rhetoric. They previously called on the UN HRC to see past the “charm diplomatic offensive” of the government, and focus on the still deficient justice and accountability in the country.

“These are lies meant to distract from the fact that accountability measures do not exist and extrajudicial killings continue with no prosecutions until now,” Rose Trajano of the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement said.

Aurora Parong, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) national executive member, hit the Marcos government for covering up the violations.

“The human rights-based governance of the Marcos government is just a show, it’s just a joke,” she said. –

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  1. ET

    For now, it is doubtful that the Marcos Administration will fix Duterte’s mess. Secretary Remulla’s “charm(ing) diplomatic offensive” includes an evasion of the Duterte’s mess using impressive diversionary tactics. But the Duterte’s mess can be used by the Marcos Political Clan as an ammunition when the time comes when there will be a Marcos vs Duterte conflict. Hence, it is just covered up by now, reserved by the Marcos clan when needed in the future.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.