Protests against human rights violations mark Duterte’s two years in power

President Duterte's two years in power has been characterised by a disturbing regression on human rights. According to Amnesty International his ‘war on drugs’ which includes "directly encouraging unlawful killings have seen thousands of people murdered with total impunity amid growing lawlessness, with extrajudicial executions in homes and on the country’s streets still happening on a daily-basis".

Human rights groups have also raised concerns that Duterte is assassinating his opponents under the guises of a "war on drugs". Two provincial mayors were killed in July 2018, bringing to at least 10 the number of mayors who have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016.

On 19th June 2018, a joint statement on the Philippines was delivered by Iceland, on behalf of 38 states, at the Human Rights Council. The joint statement called on Duterte’s government "to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable”. The states also raised concerns over reports of harassment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders and journalists and called the government “to provide and guarantee a safe and secure environment for all, including journalists and human rights defenders”.

Peaceful assembly

Thousands protests President’s State of the Nation Address

On July, thousands of protesters, occupied a major portion of Commonwealth Avenue – the road leading to the House of Representatives in Quezon City – to protest against President Rodrigo Duterte's 3rd State of Nation Address. Other protests were also held across the country.

The protesters – calling their activity the "United People's SONA" – were from political, civic and faith-based coalitions comprising of over 330 opposition groups. These included the #BabaeAko movement, Tindig Pilipinas, Coalition for Justice, and the Movement Against Tyranny, among other groups. The United People’s SONA showed its strong opposition to Duterte’s charter change initiative, the war on drugs, tax reforms,and contractualization, among other issues, through speeches, performances and placards.

The protest also showcased performances to express their dissent. One of which was a cultural performance that depicted a group of people reading out names of victims killed in the war in drugs. Another act of defiance against President Duterte’s policies was the burning of an effigy of the President

Police violently disperse group protesting US, China

On 21st July 2018, Philippine riot police used shields to to disperse more than 100 left-wing activists in front of the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

The flag-waving protesters first converged at a Chinese consulate in the financial district of Makati to protest China's assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, then marched in the rain to the US Embassy in Manila to protest alleged US meddling in the Philippines.

Farmers and workers belonging to the militant Bayan group burned cardboards showing the US and Chinese flags at the end the protest outside the embassy. When participants were leaving the area when they were stopped by the police, who insisted that they use a side road to disperse the crowd. In the ensuing confrontation between protesters and security forces more than a dozen protesters were injured.


Five media workers killed in two month period

Media workers continue to be targeted in the Philippines. On 7th June 2018, unidentified assailants shot dead Dennis Denora, a publisher working for Trends and Time from Panabo City. He was shot several times in the head while his driver, Mayonito Revira, was wounded in the hand. Denora died on the spot while Revira, who managed to drive away for a few hundred meters, was taken to the hospital for treatment. Denora was a member of the Davao Region Multimedia Group and was also a former contributor to Sunstar Davao

On 23rd June 2018, two media workers were killed in two separate incidents. Jessie Cano, from Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, was gunned down at around 7 pm by unknown assailants. Cano, who works at the government-owned dxSO Radyo Pilipinas Marawi, was on his way home to Aggie Village inside the Mindanao State University campus when he was shot. He sustained four gunshot wounds and later died of injuries sustained in the attacked. He had been working at the station for 20 years.

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen also shot Manuel Lacsamana, from Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija at close range before midnight. Lacsamana was a contributor to the regional monthly newspaper, The Media Messenger and chairman of the board of the Central Luzon Media Association - Nueva Ecija. Lacsamana was brought to hospital but died shortly after arrival. Nine .45 caliber bullet casings were recovered from the crime scene.

On 27th June 2018, radio reporter, Julius Barellano was shot dead by men on a motorcycle in San Carlos City, Negros. Julius of Radyo Bandera Sweet-FM Bacolod was leaving his house at around 8:30 a.m. when he was shot at close range. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was declared dead on arrival at the San Carlos City District Hospital. 

On 20th July, radio journalist Joey Llana, 38, was gunned down as he drove to work at Radio DwZR in Legazpi City, where he hosted a morning radio programme. Local police said he was hit at least 14 times in the head and body by shots fired by five unidentified gunmen. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the killing and has called on the authorities to do everything possible to find possible to find the perpetrators. Commenting on the situation, they said:

“The Philippines, which is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in Asia, must do everything possible to effectively combat violence against the media and impunity for this violence.”

Media groups, in May 2018, recorded at least 85 cases of attacks and threats against the press during the first 22 months of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. These attacks include 9 murders, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attacks, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies. The Philippines has slid 6 spots in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Concerns about amendments to anti-terror law

Human rights groups have expressed concerns that amendments to the anti-terror law (Philippines’ Human Security Act of 2007) which if passed, “would trample the people’s civil liberties" and remove important safeguards against abuses perpetrated by state forces.

The anti-terror law was passed in 2007, amid protests by activists who raised alarm over the vague provisions in the law, which they claimed would be used by authorities to persecute the critics of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Critics say that the revised definition of terrorism in the bill, which now refers to attempts to “compel a government, an international organisation or any person or entity to do or to abstain from doing any act,” is too broad and that it can be used to criminalise rallies, labour strikes, and other legitimate acts of grievances and exercise of freedom of speech and expression.

Other proposed amendments include the extension of detention without charge from three days to 30 days, the raising of the penalty for terrorism from 40 years to life imprisonment, expanding the list of terror acts to include most crimes in the country’s penal code, conducting surveillance operations against individuals and limiting a person’s right to travel based merely on suspicion, and providing a longer period for the freezing and seizure of assets of suspected terrorists.

According to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) the proposed amendments, if adopted, would give government authorities a license to commit human rights violations with impunity and urged the House of Representatives to reconsider these proposed amendments.

Karapatan, a local human rights group said:

“These amendments to the already questionable HSA will enable the wholesale disregard of human and people’s rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and is severely inconsistent with international human rights standards”


Authorities arrest activists in Mindanao

On 4th July 2018, 13 activists and church development workers were arrested in the in the southern city of General Santos, as part of an ongoing campaign by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to intimidate and silence human rights defenders.

Philippines National Police (PNP) members and military personnel raided a meeting of the Iglesia Filipino Independiente-Visayas Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) and presented three arrest warrants, none of which corresponded with any of those present. Despite this, the entire group were arrested and 11 defenders were charged on spurious charges of obstruction of justice. While the 11 were later released on bail, charges against the remaining two participants are currently unknown.

Among those arrested were Teresita Naul, Karapatan National Council member for Northern Mindanao; Aldeem Yanez of Iglesia Filipino Independiente (IFI); Datu Jomorito Guaynon, Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organisation chairperson; Ireneo Udarbe, of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Vennel Chenfoo, previously of the Kabataan Partylist; Kristine Cabardo of the League of Filipino Students; and Roger Plana, an IFI-VIMROD volunteer.

Since the declaration of martial law on 23rd May 2017, Karapatan has documented the arbitrary arrests of almost 1,000 people on the island of Mindanao. Some 95 of them remain in detention. 

Australian nun given another reprieve

On 22nd July 2018, 72-year-old Australian missionary nun, Sister Patricia Fox, who had been served a deportation order by Philippine authorities won a reprieve following an appeal by her lawyers.

After more than three months of fighting to stay in the Philippines, the nun lost her battle, with the Bureau of Immigration (BI) issuing an order for her deportation. In a 10-page document the BI Board of Commissioners (BOC) said that “there were photographs documenting that she was engaged in political activities including reportedly demanding the release of political prisoners, joining rallies for land distribution in Hacienda Luisita, and attending a labour rally in Davao City".

As previously documented, Sister Patricia Fox, has spent almost three decades in the country helping farmers and pushing for agrarian reform. She is the head of the provincial superior of the Our Lady of Sion Sisters. On 25th May, Sister Fox was given a temporary reprieve after she petitioned the Department of Justice to seek a reversal of the leave order against her, but she will still have to leave the country by 18th June 2018.