War on drugs suspended but attacks against journalists continue

On 26th January 2017, President Duterte suspended his war on drugs. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Duterte's brutal campaign to eradicate drugs from the Philippines has led to widespread extrajudicial killings. Human rights groups estimate that over 7,000 people have been killed for alleged links to the drug trade since the crackdown began.

President Duterte has now been forced to investigate corruption within the police force. During the war on drugs, security forces could commit abuses with impunity, while being financially incentivised for killing alleged drug dealers. This led to investigations that lacked integrity and contained fabricated evidence. The death of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, in October 2016, galvanised growing international pressure to put an end to the reckless anti-drug offensive. As with many of the killings, there is no evidence that Jee Ick-joo had any involvement in the drug trade.

Reports from the Philippines allege that the crackdown continues, despite the official suspension. International human rights group, Amnesty International has extensively documented abuses committed during the war on drugs.  

Expression

On 13th March 2017, Filipino journalist, Joaquin Briones, a former broadcast journalist and the columnist at the Manila-based tabloid Remate, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in province of Masbate. It is currently unclear whether Briones was targeted because of his journalistic work or a personal grudge against him. In 2000, Briones was found guilty of six libel charges and sentenced to twelve years in prison. After serving five years, he was released in 2005 on parole. 

Briones is the second journalist to be killed during President Duterte's tenure. In the most recent CIVICUS Monitor update from the Philippines, Larry Que, the publisher of the Catanduanes News was murdered by an unidentified gunman on 20th December 2016. Freedom of speech advocates have condemned both killings and called upon the authorities to conduct a swift and impartial investigation into both crimes. 

Association

Civil society groups in the Philippines have mobilised to advocate against a proposal to introduce the death penalty. On 7th March 2017, Code NGO, a platform for over 1,600 CSOs in the Philippines issued a declaration on the proposed initiative, stating

"The experience in other countries which impose death penalty have demonstrated numerous cases against the poor and marginalised individuals. Based on statistical review, many of the victims of the capital punishment – including innocents – were not able to afford good lawyers; instead they just relied on the limited legal assistance provided by public lawyers. The poor quality of our law enforcement and judicial systems at present would also result to many unjust sentences, particularly affecting the poor and defenceless."

 On 1st March 2017, the Philippines House of Representatives approved the proposal, pulling the country a step closer to reintroducing capital punishment nearly a decade after it was abolished. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 25th February 2017, thousands of people took to the streets of Manila to commemorate the anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution that eventually unseated President Marco. The anniversary sparked protests both in support of and against the current president. Opponents condemned Duterte’s deadly nationwide crackdown on drug gangs and extrajudicial killings. Reports showed that protesters clashed with police officers, who responded with water cannons to control the crowds. Two protesters were reported to have sustained injuries during the confrontations. 

On 4th February 2017, dozens of protesters marched in front of the U.S. Embassy in Manila calling upon the international community to condemn Trump’s temporary travel ban on travelers coming from seven predominately Muslim countries. Protesters at the event burned a portrait of the president; however, no violence was reported.

In another demonstration outside the U.S embassy on 8th March 2017, various groups and individuals held rallies to mark International Women’s Day. Hundreds of activists from left-wing women's groups marched along the streets demanding an end to the presence of U.S. troops in country, violence against women, extrajudicial killings and the abolition of the death penalty.