The Philippines: four years into a human rights crisis

Franciscans International today renewed its call on the Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on the Philippines, after the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented a report which confirmed that serious violations have been committed during the country’s ongoing ‘war on drugs’.

Human rights organizations monitoring the situation on the ground estimate that over 27,000 people have been killed by security forces and vigilantes since 2016, in a campaign that has disproportionately targeted poor communities. These extra-judicial killings have been encouraged by President Rodrigo Duterte, who publicly stated that “if you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.”

The Franciscan family in the Philippines, together with the wider Catholic church and civil society organizations, has stood in vocal opposition to these abuses committed under the administration of President Duterte. While official governments documents call for the “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects, the church has attempted to establish treatment centers for people suffering from addiction. It also continues to provide financial support and pastoral care to the families of victims of the killings under the ‘war on drugs’. This work of the church has invited death threats, including in at least one instance by the President himself

Franciscans and their network from the Philippines have repeatedly shared their testimony at the United Nations. In one instance, Father Angel Cortez OFM conveyed his vivid memories of standing vigil over the bodies of two children from Sampaloc, aged 16 and 17, that had been killed by death squads. Since 2016, Franciscans International has consistently conveyed the experiences of brothers and sisters in the Philippines, calling on the international community to act. Today, during the presentation of the High Commissioners report, we again expressed our deep concern over the situation in the country in two joint oral statements delivered by Father Angel Cortez and Father Christian Buenafe O.Carm.

While the ‘war on drugs’ is perhaps the most visible manifestation of the human rights crisis in the Philippines, there has been an alarming decline in space for its vibrant civil society and free press. ‘Red-carding’ of human rights defenders – accusing them of being communists or terrorists – has become a common practice. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented at least 248 cases where human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been killed in relation to their work. Meanwhile, President Duterte is set to sign into law a new anti-terrorism bill that would use overly broad definitions to shift the burden of proof to the accused and can be used to further criminalize legitimate human rights work and other dissenting voices. 

This ongoing human rights crisis has not prevented the Philippines to seek membership of the Human Rights Council. In 2018, it was elected on a ‘clean slate’ with no opposition for the position. Despite the commitment of members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council”, the Philippines has actively sought to avoid scrutiny and, at times, even threatened UN officials.

In a major step forward after sustained advocacy efforts by civil society, the Human Rights Council requested the High Commissioner to produce a report on the situation in July 2019. The damning findings of this report, as well as the conclusion that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable” leave no room for doubt: it is essential that the Human Rights Council  takes action by establishing a Commission of Inquiry as a next step to ensuring accountability for the crimes committed in the Philippines and end the impunity that prevails today.

FI's (joint) statements on the Philippines since 2016

44th Session of the Human Rights Council

  • Item 2:Enhanced Interactive Dialogue the High Commissioner (June 2019)
    Delivered by Fr Angelito Cortez OFM - Full statement
  • Item 2:Enhanced Interactive Dialogue the High Commissioner (June 2019)
    Delivered by Fr Christian Buenafe O.Carm - Full statement

42nd Session of the Human Rights Council

  • Item 2:Oral Update by the High Commissioner (September 2019)
    Delivered by Fr Angelito Cortez - Full statement

41st Session of the Human Rights Council

  • Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on summary execution and on the right to education (July 2019
    Delivered by Fr Christian Buenafe O.Carm - Full statement

39th Session of the Human Rights Council

  • Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights (14 September 2018)
    Delivered by Fr Christian Buenafe O.Carm - Full statement
  • Item 4: Matters that require the Council's attention (18 September 2018)
    Delivered by Fr Angelito Cortez OFM - Full statement

38th Session of the Human Rights Council

37th Session of the Human Rights Council

  • Item 4: Matters that require the Council's attention (14 March 2018)
    - Full statement

36th Session of the Human Rights Council

 

 

 

Photo Credit: © Gustave Deghilage