SONA 2020

Duterte says he will ‘fight for human rights’ after years of killings, threats vs defenders

Jodesz Gavilan

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President Rodrigo Duterte's change in tone comes amid increasing scrutiny from international mechanisms of his policies, including the drug war and anti-terror law

After 4 years of demonizing human rights, President Rodrigo Duterte was now tapping its importance to justify government’s efforts against illegal drugs and terrorism. 

The President during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 27, said that the existence of these crimes should constitute as violations against human rights.

This apparent change in tone comes amid increased backlash from the international community and mechanisms, such the United Nations, over the violent anti-illegal drug war and the dangerous anti-terror law.

“My administration believes that freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption, and criminality is itself a human right,” Duterte said. 

“Rest assured that we will not dodge our obligation to fight for human rights,” he added, after highlighting his administration’s programs for children’s rights. 

Duterte’s dangerous rhetoric

The President’s latest tone about human rights is a far cry from his rhetoric since being elected in 2016. 

His public speeches and statements against human rights groups are far and wide, from sarcasm to direct harassment and threats.

The Commission on Human Rights, in a recent report, said that the President created a “dangerous fiction” against defenders and activists. (READ: Human rights: How to deal with Duterte, the biggest challenge?

During his 2018 SONA, for example, Duterte pitted human rights against human lives. He called out advocates for being concerned over the thousands of people killed in the drug war instead of appreciating the efforts against drug proliferation in the country. 

“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” the President said.

Int’l reports, mechanisms vs Duterte’s policies

The Duterte administration is facing intensified backlash not just from local groups but also international communities.

In the past year alone, there has been a step up among foreign governments and instruments to call for accountability for the human rights violations committed during the Duterte presidency.

In June, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet released her comprehensive report which detailed human rights violations in the Philippines. (DOCUMENT: U.N. Human Rights report on killings, abuses in PH)

The report found that violations stemmed from Duterte’s “overarching focus” on countering “real and inflated” national security threats and that that local systems have so far failed in exacting accountability for the killings in Duterte’s war on drugs. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Bachelet’s report also stated that the widespread killings and violence “suggest that his public comments may have incited violence and may have had the effect of encouraging, backing or even ordering human rights violations with impunity.”

Malacañang, however, said it can’t fully implement UN recommendations intended to improve the government’s human rights record.

The Philippine situation is also the subject of a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said their decision whether or not to open a formal investigation will come out in 2020. –

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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.