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iDEFEND reiterates its call for an independent international investigation into the Philippines

 Geneva Forum 4 PH concerns

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The bloody war on drugs by the Duterte regime has reached global infamy, and counts as the one of the world’s most miserably failed anti-drug campaigns. International and national human rights organizations have sounded the alarm on the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines amid repeated appeals to the government to adopt an alternative, rights based national drug policy. Since 2017, the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) and its international counterparts have urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold an independent international investigation into the continuing violence and summary killings in the country. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution focused on offering technical assistance (HRC Resolution 45/L.38), through which the Philippine government has committed to improve the human rights situation in the country.

One year since the adoption of the HRC resolution, the war on drugs has expanded towards a war on dissent, targeting human rights defenders, environmental activists, journalists, church workers, lawyers and known critics. The phenomenon known as red-tagging has become more rampant, even against those who expressed opinions about how the government is managing the COVID19 pandemic. In a particularly targeted campaign against left leaning activists, crackdowns have grown more brazen, following messages from top government officials which encouraged violence and hatred against so-called “communists”.

These crackdowns have been emboldened by various legislative and executive regulations which have been put in place to diminish democratic spaces. The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 and its implementing rules posed an alarming threat to many critics of the government; Executive Orders, local government and police memorandums have also been institutionalized to initiate surveillance of civil society actors, intimidate EJK victims’ families and stifle people’s activities on the ground.

Following these dangerous developments, CSOs seriously doubt that the Joint Technical Cooperation Program between the Philippines and the UN signed in July 2021 will result in substantive outcomes. A week ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs clarified that the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill will not be assured under the Joint Program while only 154 cases from the police files and 100 cases of Drug Agency operations are being investigated, out of an estimated more than 30,000 extrajudicial killings under the War on Drugs. These are gross manifestations of insincerity on the part of the government to comply with the intentions of the Resolution.

Now, President Duterte’s priority seems to be the continuity of his dark legacy in the upcoming national elections in 2022, as well as to escape the ICC investigation. Exacting accountability for the gross human rights violations of Duterte’s authoritarian rule becomes more crucial at this juncture. We reiterate our message to the UNHRC that the Philippines needs an independent, international investigation into the human rights crisis; justice for the victims of widespread and systematic killings, torture, enforced disappearance and sexual violence, demands a full recognition of the crimes that were perpetrated against them; there is no healing without a reckoning of the past and arresting its gruesome future.
As our people prepare to elect a new government in the middle of a crippling pandemic, we urge the international community to stand with us in forging a hopeful future, with the strength and solidarity of our common cause for peace, justice and human rights.