Drug war widow brings husband’s case to UN

A widow of a victim of the government’s so-called war on drugs called for a stronger United Nations (UN) effort in investigating the killings in the Philippines.

Amy Jane Lee, whose husband Michael was among the thousands killed, said the bloody campaign started by the Rodrigo Duterte government is continuing under the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“The killings continue. If the ‘war on drugs’ was effective, the proliferation of illegal drugs would no longer be an issue. If the domestic investigation processes were efficient, I wouldn’t be here asking for help again,” Lee said.

A member of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, Lee is in Geneva, Switzerland as the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) publicized its report on human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.

Rise Up is among the groups that submitted complaints to the OHCHR and was cited in the report, particularly about human rights violations “resulting from the militarization of anti-drug operations that disproportionately impact the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society.” 

The UN OHCHR report also stated that: “In most cases, accountability for human rights violations and access to effective remedies for victims and communities remains lacking.”

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is conducting its 54th session attended by a delegation of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch from human rights, lawyers, indigenous peoples, church, and environment groups from the Philippines.

The HRC is currently conducting a UN Joint Program in the Philippines that includes dialogues and trainings with government agencies in upholding and protecting human rights.

The program however had been receiving criticisms from local human rights groups for being “insubstantial in bringing about changes in the country’s drug policies, with the killings continuing under the Marcos administration unchecked and un-prosecuted.” 

“The heat is on the Philippines, with UN special rapporteurs noting concern over recent developments in the Philippines, on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the extrajudicial killings committed during the Duterte administration’s drug war,” said Atty. Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-National Capital Region.

The NUPL represents victims of the “war on drugs” in proceedings before the ICC.

Lee and Philippine UPR Watch called on missions of state members of the ICC to support the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor.

Conti emphasized the continuing obligation of the Philippine government to cooperate with the court.

“It is logically inconsistent for the Philippines to cooperate with the UN but not the ICC,” she said. 

Philippine UPR Watch also reiterated its call for the UN through the OHCHR to continue their monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, with the killing of a lawyer in Abra province  and the abduction and arbitrary detention of two environmental activists in Bataan. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gov’t loses bid to stop probe of Duterte’s drug war

Groups welcome decision; urges Marcos to let investigations continue

Local groups welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reject the Philippine government’s appeal to stop its investigations into thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in Davao City and under the previous Rodrigo Duterte government.

In announcement Tuesday, July 18, the international tribunal said the Philippine government failed to show any error in the pre-trial chamber’s decision to authorize the investigation.

The Hague-based ICC also found that the Philippine government had not met its burden of proof to show its investigation would be “unnecessary or disproportionate.”

Human rights group Karapatan said it is high time the ICC investigation proceeds without a hitch to give justice to the victims of Duterte’s anti-drug war.

“There is urgent need for international mechanisms such as the ICC to come in because all domestic investigation mechanisms presented by the Duterte and the current Marcos regime in response to calls for justice and accountability are ineffective and only meant to window-dress the current dire human rights situation,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan lauded the families of the families of victims and their lawyers for their “courage, perseverance and tenacity” in having the investigations continue.

“Let this welcome development further inspire the Filipinos’ struggle for justice and accountability. We remain steadfast in the call to hold Duterte and those responsible for the bloody drug war and other human rights violations held fully accountable,” Palabay said after learning of the ICC decision.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said the ICC decision is a significant victory for Duterte’s drug war victims and for the ICC’s efforts to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.  

“It also sends a strong message to governments around the world that they cannot violate international law with impunity,” it added.

The International Criminal Court announces its judgement on the continuation of the investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as July 18 in Brussels, Belgium. (ICC photo)

Escaping accountability

Upon submissions of complaints to the ICC on the Duterte government’s drug war killings starting 2017, the Philippine government in March 2018 withdrew its participation in the tribunal in an attempt to save the former president and cohorts from trial.

Previously, both Duterte and top police generals publicly bragged about the killing of thousands of suspected illegal drug personalities.

With a Duterte as vice president and their respective dynasties as allies, the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration upheld the move to reject ICC’s investigations.

The Marcos government also echoed the Duterte government’s line the ICC investigations violate Philippine sovereignty since the country is no longer a part of the tribunal.

Rights groups however pointed out that the complaints were received when the Philippines was still a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) president Renato Reyes Jr. yesterday urged the government to stop invoking sovereignty just to escape accountability for the killings, even for just the 6,000 victims it acknowledged from 2016 to 2018.

“It seems that when it comes to the question of human rights accountability, the current regime does not try to hide how very much the same it is to the previous regime. No rebranding and no pretensions there of any sort. Just a firm commitment to the same brand of impunity that became a hallmark the past regime,” Reyes said.

‘Killings continue’

Members of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, an organization of families of victims of the killings, gathered at the Boys Scourts Monument in Quezon City Tuesday to await ICC’s announcement of its decision.

Amy Jane Lee of Rise Up said: “We will continue to speak up, find justice and struggle. Duterte is no longer president but the killings continue.”

“The truth is, ICC’s decision does not even erase the pain. Only time, humility of the aggressors and their accountability would heal our wounds,” Lee added.

Their lawyers however cautioned the families that the ICC decision only ruled on the government’s petition to defer the investigations but refused to rule on the challenge of jurisdiction and admissibility.

“The victims intend to communicate with the Office of the Prosecutor, as well as the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims, and have sought to be represented by an independent legal representative as well,” members of the National Union of Peoples’ lawyers said.

‘Not worried’

In a radio interview, Senator Ronald de la Rosa said he is not worried about the ICC investigation saying he will just take extra precautions when travelling abroad.

Among those named as perpetrators of the drug war killings, de la Rosa said his current travel plans are between Manila and Davao anyway.

De La Rosa was director general of the Philippine National Police when the killings were launched in 2016.

Former president Duterte has yet to issue a statement about the ICC decision. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Don’t pressure journalists to sign drug inventories

Although the Dangerous Drugs Act requires that the inventory and documentation of suspected narcotics that authorities seize in operations is done in the presence of witnesses this should not be taken to mean that law enforcement personnel have the authority to force members of the media to act as witnesses and sign inventories.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has taken the position since 2018 that the law should be amended to remove media workers as official witnesses in drug operations since this can put them at risk of retaliation from drug suspects and of contempt of court if they fail to attend hearings if the case goes on trial. The requirement in the law also means that journalists who cover drug operations could find themselves isolated from police sources or deprived of access to information if they refuse.

We welcome the National Bureau of Investigation’s apology over attempts by its personnel to coerce some of our colleagues — including the use of homophobic slurs — to sign during a recent anti-drug operation.

NUJP reminds the media community that while we may be assigned to cover law enforcement operations and that while it is our duty to report on these operations, the burden of ensuring that these are done according to due process and the law is on the authorities.

Our role as journalists is the best way to act as witnesses to drug raids and other law enforcement operations without signing government affidavits and forms. #

(March 17, 2023)

Groups welcome conviction of policeman in teeners’ killing

‘ICC investigations on Duterte’s responsibility must continue’

Activist groups welcomed the conviction of the Caloocan City policemen for the killing of two teenagers in 2017, but said there is no reason to rejoice yet as thousands of other victims are still denied justice.

Bayan Muna said that while it is glad that the families of Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman received initial justice, the conviction of former Police Officer Jefrey Sumbo Perez for “intentionally killing” the victims is proof that genuine investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the drug war killings is necessary,

“This conviction does not in any way detract us from our assertion that the justice system in the Philippines is inhospitable to human rights prosecution. Thousands of families continue to wait for justice years after their loved ones were brutally executed in ex-president (Rodrigo) Duterte’s drug war,” former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said.

Colmenares said that only a few low-ranking police officers like Perez are being prosecuted while high officials like Duterte remain unscathed.

Brutal death

In a 80-page decision, Judge Romana Lindayag del Rosario of the Navotas Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 287 ordered Perez to suffer 40 years in prison without eligibility for parole.

The former policemen was also ordered to pay each of the victims’ kin P100,000 for civil indemnities, P200,000 for moral and exemplary damages, and P45,000 for actual damages.

Perez’s co-accused in the double murder trial, former police officer Ricky Arquilita, died in detention in April 2019.

Testimonies presented in court said Perez shot Arnaiz five times while the 19-year old was on his knees begging for his life while 14-year old de Guzman was stabbed 28 times.

Arnaiz was later found by relatives in a Caloocan City funeral home while de Guzman was found in a creek in faraway Gapan, Nueve Ecija.

ICC investigations must continue

In a statement, Bagong Alyansan Makabayan (BAYAN) said there is not much rejoicing in Perez’s conviction.

“The very long period it took to convict the dismissed police officer—which is just among a handful convictions in the last six years—shows what is wrong in the Philippine justice system and why the ICC probe should continue,” BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

Human rights group Karapatan also welcomed the conviction but said it is lamentable and infuriating that it took a long time and that no higher-ups are made accountable.

“The drug war and its consequences are not mere acts of one or two police personnel – there are government policies behind it and there are those who ordered, incited and encouraged these killings and human rights violations. For the thousands of victims in Duterte’s drug war, this recent conviction remains a drop in the bucket,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Colmenares, co-counsel for the victims in the ICC complaint against Duterte and other high-ranking government officials, said there should be vigilance in the Arnaiz and de Guzman cases as Perez is sure to appeal the case.

“We will continue to pursue the crimes against humanity case against Duterte and his subordinates in the ICC,” added the former Bayan Muna solon.

Colmenares said they will continue to oppose the demand of the Marcos-Duterte government for the ICC to stop its investigation.

“Kung matigil ang imbestigasyon sa ICC lalong mahihirapan makakuha ng hustisya ang EJK (extrajudicial killings) victims. Dapat mag partisipa ang pamilya ng mga EJK victims sa ICC para marinig din ang panig nila lalo nat kaanak nila ang pinatay sa drug war ng ex-president,” Colmenares said.

(If the investigations are stopped at the ICC, it will be more difficult to achieve justice for the EJK victims. The families of the EJK victims must participate to be heard as their loved ones were killed during the former president’s drug war.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights lawyers ask ICC to continue investigating Duterte’s drug war murders

Human rights lawyers requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged drug war atrocities.

Even as the Hague-based international tribunal has agreed to defer its investigation, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said the Philippine government’s request is merely a “belated action” to whitewash the mass killings.

“These domestic ‘remedies’ described by the Philippine ambassador (to The Netherlands) in his letter have proven utterly ineffective in stopping wave after wave of drug-related killings, the imprisonment of thousands of poor Filipinos on questionable charges, and the commission of countless human rights violations during the anti-drug campaign,” the group said.

In his letter to the ICC, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya asked the ICC to defer to Philippine domestic remedies when it comes to the investigation into crimes against humanity in connection with the drug war.

President Duterte and several other government officials are charged before the ICC of the murder of thousands of suspected drug dependents.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan reported on November 18 that his office temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the Philippine government’s deferral request.

Khan however said his office will continue its analysis of information it already has, any new information it may receive from third parties, as well as “actively assess the need for applications to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence.”

Saving Duterte

In opposing the Philippine government’s petition, the NUPL said the Duterte administration has failed to hold perpetrators accountable for at least six thousand of drug-related killings.

“[T]he Duterte administration is now suddenly waving the DOJ (Department of Justice) investigation into some low-ranking police personnel for a handful of killings – 52 out of tens of thousands  –  as an indicator that domestic mechanisms are working. We know better,” the NUPL said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra announced on October a formal agreement is being drafted between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for an investigation into cases of irregularities in anti-drug operations.

But the NUPL said the 52 cases the PNP itself identified “conspicuously excludes the possibility of investigating President Duterte and other high-ranking officials who are most responsible” for the killings.

The group agreed with the ICC prosecutor and the tribunal’s pre-trial chamber’s previous assessment that the crimes were the result of an established state policy.

Duterte himself has repeatedly said he takes responsibility for the killings.

The NUPL said the ICC investigations have given the families of the victims a faint glimmer of hope, which would be dashed if the international tribunal takes on the side of the Philippine government.

“We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made the Duterte administration,” the NUPL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups on DOJ review of 52 drug war deaths: ‘Paltry, late, tentative’

Human rights group Karapatan urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go beyond reviewing and further investigating the 52 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings by police officers under the Rodrigo Duterte government’s drug war.

In response to the DOJ’s reported disclosure of the details of the cases, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the public, most especially the families of the victims, deserve clear answers to several questions.

“[W]hat are the patterns in these killings? Who are the perpetrators and from what basis or orders have they conducted the said violations? What are the implications of the policies of the Philippine National Police as well as the President’s pronouncements on such acts” Palabay asked.

The DOJ statement.

In a statement, the DOJ said it concluded its review of 52 cases submitted by the Philippine National Police and its Internal Affairs Service that resulted in deaths during the course of the so-called war on drugs and has referred them to the National Bureau of Investigation.

“These cases are to undergo further investigation and case buildup for the possible filing of charges against erring police officers,” the DOJ said.

The DOJ also said it authorized the release of information concerning the cases for the purpose of informing the families of the victims and to invite witnesses to provide information on the killings.

Palabay however said the DOJ decision is not only too late but is too little.

“Why are only .8% of the 6,151 reported deaths by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency being investigated and reviewed?” Palabay asked.

Palabay added the decision can only be mere window dressing by the Duterte administration amid scrutiny by the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“Without establishing the clear patterns of killings, as well as the level of command responsibility and policy issues on these violations, such piecemeal acts do little to render justice and to will and institute genuine policy change,” Palabay said.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia agreed with Palabay, saying “the paltry number, the inordinate lateness, and the unusual tentativeness” of the DOJ decision may be viewed as “more of going through the motions rather than as a thoroughgoing and proactive desire to decisively stop the carnage and the impunity.

“[W]hy are these extrajudicial killings happening in the first place and why are a puny number of ‘erring police officers’ taking the fall all alone even at this very overdue time?”Olalia asked. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘A clear and undeniable pronouncement’

“President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to block access to records of police killings in the drug war is a clear and undeniable pronouncement that this government openly encourages impunity.”Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General, Karapatan

Gov’t snubs CHR in review of anti-drug war list of victims

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed it is being kept out of the review of the first partial report of the deaths resulting from the conduct of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug operations.

The CHR said the snub is contrary to the commitments and assurances of the government during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year.

“This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations,” CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement Monday.

In his speech delivered online during the UNHRC’s 44th general session last June 30, Guevarra said the Duterte government established an inter-agency panel, chaired by his office, “that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.”

The members of the interagency panel are the Department of Justice, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Presidential Management Staff, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, Guevarra later revealed.

The government assured the international community that the CHR would play a role in the panel.

“As with all human rights-related mechanisms in the country, the Commission on Human Rights would be involved in its capacity as an independent monitoring body,” it said.

But Dumpit said the CHR has not been involved despite “respectfully, diligently, consistently, and repeatedly asked the Department of Justice” concerning its role in the said panel, to no avail.

Nonetheless, Dumpit said the CHR strongly urges the Government to publicize the findings “as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report.”

“This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice. We reiterate our openness and willingness to engage with the government in this process,” Dumpit said.

What the UNHRC said

In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.

In examining key policy documents of the Duterte government relating to its campaign against illegal drugs, the UNHRC found a troubling lack of due process, protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.

“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the UNHRC report stated.

In a separate statement issued last June 26, various UN special rapporteurs said the UNHRC report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.

“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” the UN experts said. 

The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:

  • Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
  • At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
  • The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
  • At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
  • The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
  • On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
  • There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
  • President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.

The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN urges Duterte gov’t to investigate, prosecute rights abusers anew

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) again urged the Rodrigo Duterte government  to conduct “independent, full, and transparent” investigations to ensure accountability for rights violations and abuses in the Philippines.

In a resolution Wednesday (Philippine time), the UNHRC also condemned all “acts of intimidation and reprisal, both online and offline” against human rights groups and other critics.”

In its 45th General Session from September 14 to October 7, the Council took note of the scathing report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) last June 4 detailing the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs that has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

[READ: UNITED NATIONS: Rights violations widespread and persistent under Duterte gov’t]

The new resolution recommended that OHCHR and Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet assist the Philippines in its “fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and commitments” through:

  • technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability measures
  • data gathering on alleged police violations, engagement with civil society
  • national mechanism for reporting and follow-up
  • counter-terrorism legislation
  • and human rights-based approaches to drug control.

The resolution was sponsored by the Philippine government itself, along with fellow member-States India and Nepal, as well as non-members Hungary, Thailand, Turkey and Iceland.

‘Human rights crisis’

A human rights alliance said the latest UNHRC resolution indicates that the international community has acknowledged the human rights crisis in the Philippines and persists in its scrutiny of the Duterte government.

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) said the resolution is proof that the Duterte administration, despite its belligerent stance and statements in past HRC sessions, has also started to acknowledge “domestic and international pressure for justice and accountability” for its reported human rights violations.

“The resolution comes after the damning report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the persistent and widespread killings and human rights violations in the Philippines, the numerous statements of UN Special Procedures expressing concern on the situation, the European Parliament resolution calling on the European Commission to initiate the temporary withdrawal of trade perks of the Philippines in the light of the serious rights violations, and the proposed measure at the US Congress to end military and police aid to the Philippine government,” EcuVoice said in a statement.

EcuVoice led the filing of dozens of reports of human rights violations by the Duterte government at the HRC’s 43rd General Session in Geneva, Switzerland last February and March that became part of Bachelet’s report recommending investigations to be conducted in the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan said the new resolution is “a sign that the international community remains committed in closely monitoring the situation of human rights in the country.”

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, however, expressed disappointment that the new resolution “looks over the urgent demands of victims, their families and communities” for in-country probes.

 “[I]t (the resolution) falls short of a decisive and adequate response to the worsening human rights crisis in the country — and we strongly believe that technical cooperation and capacity-building activities would not stop the administration’s human rights violations,” Palabay said.

Karapatan challenged the Duterte government to allow access to UN investigators if it has nothing to hide in line with Bachelet’s original recommendation.

It also urged governments, parliaments, civil society groups, and international non-governmental organizations to conduct independent investigations to validate the real human rights situation in the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UNITED NATIONS: Rights violations widespread and persistent under Duterte gov’t

A day after Congress passed a new version of the Philippine anti-terrorism measure, the United Nations (UN) released a scathing report detailing widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

In a 26-page report Thursday, June 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

Persistent impunity and formidable barriers to accessing justice need to be urgently addressed, the report said, also raising alarms over possible human rights violations by the prospective Human Security Act of 2020 that has been generating massive opposition among civil society groups since its passage by the House of Representatives Wednesday, June 3.

The report noted that many of the documented human rights concerns are long-standing but have become more acute in recent years.

“This has been manifested particularly starkly in the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects. Numerous human rights defenders have also been killed over the past five years,” the UN said.

The report said that the human rights violations brought about by the government’s focus on security threats are also reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high level officials.

The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.

The UN Human Rights Office also documented the work-related killing of at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists between 2015 and 2019.

There has been near impunity for these killings, with only one conviction for the killing of a drug suspect in a police operation since mid-2016, the report stated.

In gathering the report, the UN said it interviewed witnesses, family members, journalists and lawyers who expressed fears over their safety and a sense of powerlessness in the search for justice, resulting in a situation where “the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable.”

Killings encouraged by highest officials

The UN Human Rights Office said it examined key policy documents relating to the campaign against illegal drugs and found a troubling lack of due process protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.

“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the report stated.

“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the report stated. (Malacañan photo)

Police raids on private households were routinely carried out without warrants, and post-operational spot reports examined by the Office indicated that evidence may have been falsified.

“Police repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations,” suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their killing, the report revealed.

It added that human rights defenders have also been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment in a manner that “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

Red-tagging as weapon

The report also identified “red-tagging” – labelling individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists – as posing a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression, noting that, in some cases, those who have been red-tagged were subsequently killed.

“Human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency and the focus diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message,” the report said.

“This has muddied the space for debate, disagreement and for challenging State institutions and policies,” it added.

In the report, the UN Human Rights Office also detailed ongoing threats to freedom of expression, with legal charges and prosecutions being brought against journalists and senior politicians critical of the government, as well as actions to shut down media outlets.


The report also examined human rights violations in Mindanao and Negros Island, which have seen increased militarization through Duterte’s imposition of emergency measures.

“The effect of this militarization – coupled with the long-standing presence of armed groups and the pressure by powerful landed elites and large business projects – is particularly dire on already embattled indigenous and farming communities,” the report said.

The UN said there are concerns that counter-insurgency policies have given rise to patterns resembling “those that characterize the anti-illegal drugs campaign, notably a presumption of guilt and lack of due process or effective oversight – this time against those suspected of supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (CPP and NPA).”

The report also said it received unverified complaints against NPA killings, abductions, recruitment of children and extortion by the New People’s Army (NPA), a charge repeatedly denied by the Communist guerrillas.

A meeting room inside the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (UN photo)

On to the UN Human Rights Council

The UN said there is a failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability for the violations thus far, hence the need for independent, impartial, credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Duterte government refused requests by the UNHCHR to conduct in-country investigations since the UN Human Rights Council passed the Iceland-sponsored resolution in July 2019 asking for an investigation on the killings connected with Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

The UNHCHR said its report is based on 893 written submissions, substantial input from the Government of the Philippines, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.

The report is due to be discussed at the next UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

‘A damming rebuff’

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) welcomed the UN Human Rights Office report, saying it highlights the practice of vilification, criminalization and elimination of free expression, democratic dissent and the continuing vicious attacks against civilians.

Ecuvoice said the facts and reality are undeniable and the report has practically rebuffed the Duterte administration of its false narrative and pretensions about human rights.

Ecuvoice sent a delegation to Geneva last February and March to participated in the UN HRC’s 43rd general session.

“It is a damning indictment of its non-compliance with principles, standards, instruments and conventions on human rights. The government must shape up and should seriously rethink its draconian approaches like institutionalizing opportunities for even more widespread violations through dubious “anti-terror” legislation, national security policies and those related to its bloody anti-narcotics campaign, the group said.

“We look forward to further concrete action and specific recommendations and resolutions when the report is taken up by the UNHR Council,” Ecuvoice said.

“We also hope this report is also taken into account and consideration by the International Criminal Court as well as the UN Human Rights Committee with its upcoming review on the Philippines,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Disclosure: The reporter, himself a victim of vilification and harassment, was part of the Ecuvoice delegation to the UN HRC’s 43rd General Session last February-March session in Geneva, Switzerland.)