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Defend the Right to Life, Resist Institutionalised Violence

Friday, 9 December 2016

International Human Rights Day , December 10, 2016

Attempts of the Duterte administration to link the drug trade with a supposed rebellion in Mindanao to justify a nationwide terror alert level 3, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the railroading of the death penalty bill in Congress, lowering the age of criminal responsibility of children from 15 to nine (9) years old, revisions in the anti-wiretapping law, attacks on human rights values & principles, misogyny, derogation of the rule of law and due process, and death threats to human rights defenders, have revealed a dangerous political direction which the people must resist.

To date, at least 5,800 victims of extrajudicial killings and counting. The sustained social cleansing is desensitizing Filipinos from the sanctity of life and laying down conditions in which killings of any kind may be done with full impunity without any opposition.

President Rodrigo Duterte continues to leverage the solidification of support from state security forces and politicians which, reminiscent of the Marcos dictatorship, paves the way for the perpetration of atrocities against human rights defenders and political opponents. By pledging to protect Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos and other police officers found responsible by the NBI of murdering Albuera Leyte Mayor Espinosa, President Duterte espouses continued violence and disregard for due process among law enforcement operatives. He has consistently worked to entrench impunity in Philippine society.

With Duterte supporting Marcos, local official investigations into extrajudicial killings become all the more futile because criminals will not be held accountable in any way. Given that there is a 97% kill rate in police operations, and zero resolutions, investigations by international bodies become necessary to halt the killings. [1]

As a Christmas present, the House of Representatives is railroading the passage of a bill to reintroduce capital punishment. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez proudly refers to it as “killing that goes through a process.” The proponents presented no concrete evidence that death penalty is able to curb crime or eliminate the illegal drug trade. Enforcement of death penalty by a corrupt and ineffective criminal justice system will only worsen criminality. Without addressing structural injustice, the death penalty becomes merely a tool which a despotic government uses to wipe out the poor and purge the “undesirables.”

Meanwhile the same proponents are rushing a similar draft legislation lowering the age of criminal liability of children from 15 years to nine (9) years old, making it gruesomely possible to mete out the death penalty on children. The bill to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility violates every fundamental principle of child protection and welfare reflected in all international treaties to which the Philippines is a party, contravenes every scientific, biological, psychological, neurological knowledge of the need to protect children from adult culpability, and again, fails to provide evidence that sending juveniles to their deaths solves criminality. Both measures are vehemently opposed by concerned government and non-government agencies, child rights advocates, international organizations, inter-parliamentary institutions and international human rights experts.

Like many poor countries, the Philippines trails behind in the state’s opinion and view of drug use. Both in policy and action, drug use is treated as a crime rather than an illness. This fact is clear cut in government drug rehabilitation programs being integrated into criminal justice institutions such as the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Corrections and the NBI. It is undesirable and unwise to penalize those who need to be cured from addiction and mix them with those who are serving jail time for harming others and are being deterred from committing further crimes. Duterte’s administration must focus on social justice- democratizing essential services so that all can have a way out of poverty. Fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights, radical social reforms in the criminal justice system must take place, and the national drug policy must shift from punitive to a public health response separating drug dependents from those who are undergoing reforms due to having broken the law.

The rise of a new strongman in the Philippines tries to fit the pattern of a late dictator who had promised economic progress in place of freedom and democracy. In ordering the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Duterte betrayed his real political loyalties. Now there is no doubt about how he will betray his promises on ENDO, land conversions, environment, corruption and the peace process with an emerging police state. Similarly, with sponsoring the Marcos burial, Duterte categorically gave impunity to dictatorial rule and the attendant killings, the number of which he now surpasses.

We attribute the rise of a ruthless but populist president to the successive administrations after the EDSA revolt, which have persistently deprived the most basic needs and services to the people. We have consistently engaged past administrations to adopt and apply a Human Rights Based Framework to Governance which could have narrowed the social inequality gap, minimized chronic poverty and malnutrition, offered education to the youth and provided a fighting chance for the poor majority to lead a life of dignity. A human rights based approach to governance is a fail-safe roadmap towards a fairer and more equitable system. These inequalities were capitalized on by the illogical appeal of the call for order and discipline as answer to mass frustration, reminiscent not only of Marcos but of tyrants around the world. “Sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan, Disiplina ang Kailangan.”

The work towards social justice, equality and sustainable development could only flourish in an environment of freedom, mutual respect and enhanced cooperation towards achieving the highest standards of values and principles for every citizen. This is not possible in today’s climate of fear, intimidation, sexism, authoritarianism. Therefore we must resist any and all attempts to derail the people’s democratic participation in public governance. Intelligent debates must flourish and not silenced. The people must be able to protest. The people must be able to exact accountability from the highest officials of the land, and end impunity once and for all.