After one year in office, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has done little to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines, as Human Rights Watch notes in a June 2023 analysis. Marcos continued the repressive policies of the previous government under former President Rodrigo Duterte. These include political persecution and threats against human rights defenders, especially through the practice of socalled “red-tagging” (false accusation of supporting the communist insurgency) and the criminalisation of left-wing groups, as well as environmental, indigenous, and labour rights activists. Enforced disappearances of activists in rural areas have also continued, as emphasized through recent cases in the Cordillera region. Similarly, press freedom remains severely restricted and the lives of media workers suppressed through intimidation and assault. The vice-president has now become chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in May 2023 and, as Secretary of Education, and already marked some journalists, teachers, and activists as alleged communist terrorists.
Extrajudicial killings related to the so-called “war on drugs” continue to take place under President Marcos, albeit on a smaller scale, according to independent documentation by the university project DAHAS; official government statistics are difficult to access. Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. claimed responsibility for 46 murders in November 2022. DAHAS, on the other hand, reported at least 347 killings related to PNP anti-drug operations on July 10, 2023. Political scientist Sol Iglesias points out in this regard that “when a successive government continues to shield the crimes or potential crimes of the previous administration, that’s already institutionalizing impunity.”
Opposition politician and ex-senator Leila de Lima remains imprisoned for political motivations. Under the Duterte administration, she was arrested in 2017 for her investigations into the “war on drugs.” Her application for bail was denied – this was despite the fact that the testimonies initially in force were withdrawn and she was acquitted of two of the three fabricated charges.
Ex-President Duterte is being investigated at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “crimes against humanity”, with the investigation being continuously questioned by the Philippine government. Currently, the ICC is deciding whether the government’s petition is valid to reopen the investigation. Although President Marcos acknowledged human rights violations in the “war on drugs” under the Duterte administration in May 2023, this remains “empty rhetoric“, stated the human rights group Karapatan, as the government still doesn’t take action in holding the perpetrators of human rights violations to account.
HRW demands from President Marcos not only mere statements about democracy but obeying the law and a “genuine commitment” to human rights. In addition, “Marcos needs to demonstrate a break from the past and show concrete, measurable progress on human rights.”
Photo © Raffy Lerma