human rights in the Philippines

Groups: Members of Marcos’ human rights super body are ‘part of the problem’

Jodesz Gavilan

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Groups: Members of Marcos’ human rights super body are ‘part of the problem’

INTERVIEW. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. answers reporters' questions during his Cagayan de Oro visit on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Franck Rosete/Rappler

The 'most fundamental defect' of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s newly-created committee is its composition, 11 civil society organizations say in a joint statement

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s newly-created “super body” will not succeed in addressing the human rights issues in the country because it will be composed of agencies that contributed to the problem. 

In a joint statement on Tuesday, May 21, civil society organizations said that “the most fundamental defect of the [Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination] is its composition.”

“[These] agencies not only failed to address the many human rights issues relating to the brutal ‘war on drugs’ and suppression of freedoms and dissent but are, in fact, part of the problem,” the groups said. 

“Another layer of bureaucracy with a questionable mandate and composed of agencies with questionable human rights records will be useless,” they added. 

The statement was signed by 11 organizations based in the Philippines and abroad, including the following: 

  • Aktionsbundnis Menschenrechte – Philippinen 
  • Amnesty Philippines
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Council for People’s Development and Governance
  • Franciscans International 
  • IBON Foundation
  • In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement 
  • Karapatan
  • Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates
  • National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
  • World Organisation Against Torture
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Marcos signed Administrative Order 22 on May 8, creating the body that aims to “further champion human rights protection” in the Philippines that will be under the presidential committee on human rights (PHRC). It is expected to sustain the activities implemented under the United Nations Joint Human Rights Program, which is seen by stakeholders as lacking response to the violence under Duterte.

The new body is led by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin with Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla as co-chair. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) sit as members. 

The PHRC, according to the groups, has no credibility to discuss human rights as it “functions mainly as an apologist and propagandist of the government as it tries to parry allegations of state abuses.” 

They also hit the “lackluster record” of the Department of Justice in investigating the high number of drug war killings and DILG’s inaction against erring policemen. 

At least 6,252 individuals were killed in police anti-illegal drug operations under Rodrigo Duterte, while human rights groups estimate the number to reach almost 30,000 to include those killed vigilante-style. Only a handful of these cases led to police convictions. 

Meanwhile, there have been at least 661 drug-related killings across the country under Marcos as of May 18, 2024, according to monitoring conducted by the Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center.

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Instead of hiding behind the super body, the civil society organizations urged the Marcos administration to be more intentional and do concrete actions against impunity.

These include cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC), categorically ending the drug war by revoking official issuances made by Duterte, and stopping red-tagging as state policy.

These actions “will be far more effective in ending impunity and securing accountability for serious rights abuses.”

“The thousands of victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines at present and even during the dictatorship of the president’s father deserve better,” the groups said. “They deserve accountability, they deserve justice, they deserve closure.” –

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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.