Marcos Jr. administration

Marcos creates human rights ‘super body’

Bonz Magsambol

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Marcos creates human rights ‘super body’

File photo of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

Noel Pabalate/PPA Pool

(1st UPDATE) Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde fears that the new committee will 'serve mainly as a propaganda arm to defend the government against allegations of rights abuses'

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has created what Malacañang called a “super body” tasked to “further champion human rights protection” in the country.

In a press release on Sunday, May 12, the Presidential Communications Office said that the President ordered the creation of the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination that is tasked to “enhance the mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.”

“It is imperative to sustain and enhance the accomplishments under the UNJP, which is set to expire on July 31 2024, through institutionalization of a robust multi-stakeholder process for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines,” Marcos said, as quoted in Administrative Order 22 dated May 8 and made public on Sunday.

The committee is chaired by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and co-chaired by Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla with the heads of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as members.

Under AO 22, the duties and functions of the special committee include pursuing the following:

  • Efforts to conduct investigation and accountability
  • Data-gathering on alleged human rights violations by law enforcement agencies
  • Expanding civic space and engagement with private sector
  • Human rights-based approach towards drug control
  • Implement human rights-based approach towards counter-terrorism
  • Facilitate access to redress mechanism by human rights victims
  • Monitor and ensure effective implementation of government agencies and programs aimed at upholding and protecting human rights of persons deprived of liberty, particularly in guaranteeing that no one is subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment
President of the Philippines Administrative Order No 22

Marcos’ approach is markedly different from that of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, whose presidency spawned “a broader trend of so-called ‘red-tagging’ of human rights defenders, journalists, rural communities and legitimate organizations, perceived as threats or enemies of the State,” as cited by United Nations experts in an official communication to the Philippine government in December 2019.

The Supreme Court (SC) recently defined red-tagging as an act that threatens individuals.

During his presidency, Duterte took a bloody approach to his drug war, prompting an investigation by the International Criminal Court. Drug war operations under Duterte killed over 6,000 people according to police records, although human rights groups believe the death toll is much higher.

Amid the drug war killings, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018 that Duterte “plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s.”

But drug war killings continue into the Marcos administration, even if  the President himself said that his approach to the illegal drug issue in the country “has changed significantly.”

There are already at least 652 drug-related killings under Marcos as of May 7, according to monitoring by Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center.

There is also a lack of justice for the drug war victims – from Duterte to Marcos – while their families continue to be harassed by state agents. The administration is yet to issue a categorical statement declaring its full cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which is currently investigating the killings under Duterte. The Duterte-time reinvestigation of only a handful of 52 cases has yet to show any significant result.

While the “committee sounds fantastic” on paper, HRW senior researcher Carlos Conde said that he fears that it will “serve mainly as a propaganda arm to defend the government against allegations of rights abuses.”

“If Marcos is really serious about human rights, he needs to ensure that the Commission on Human Rights remains independent, abide by the [country]’s domestic and international rights commitment, protect rights defenders and keep the democratic space open [by] ending policy of redtagging, and hold perpetrators of rights abuses to account,” Conde said.

Karapatan, meanwhile, said that the new committee was created “in a desperate attempt to window-dress the grave human rights situation in the country.”

The group cited the dismal record of other administrative orders created to address violations in the past, including AO 35 which is tasked to resolve political killings. There is also an existing presidential human rights committee under the Office of the President.

“These bodies are mere embellishments meant to appease the growing indignation here and abroad against the escalating violations of civil and political rights in the Philippines and gloss over the reality of state responsibility for the extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights and international humanitarian law violations,” Karapatan said in a statement. – With reports from Jodesz Gavilan/

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I appreciate President Marcos Jr.’s effort in creating the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination. I hope he will and can prove his sincerity through actual and truthful accomplishments in human rights protection.

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.