This photo taken on June 27, 2019, shows policemen at the crime scene where the body of a barangay (inner city neighbourhood) health worker and former drug surrenderee Michael Oescayno, lies on the ground after unidentified gunmen shot him.
AFP/Noel Celis
Human Rights Watch sees no letup in Duterte's brutal war on drugs
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - January 15, 2020 - 3:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s anti-narcotics campaign is still as ferocious as when it started in 2016, signaling no let-up in a bloody crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives, a human rights watchdog said Wednesday.

In its World Report 2020, the New York-based Human Rights Watch tagged President Rodrigo Duterte’s internationally condemned initiative as the Philippines’ “gravest” human rights concern in 2019.

“President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign remains as brutal as when it started, with suspects being killed regularly across the country,” Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, said.

He added: “Four years into the ‘drug war,’ the need for international mechanisms to provide accountability is as great as ever.”

Philippine authorities said the death toll from Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs stood at 5,552 drug personalities killed in police operations as of Nov. 30, 2019. Rights groups, however, estimate deaths as high as 27,000.

HRW said the impacts of the drug war include not only death but damage to the livelihoods, education and mental health of surviving family members.

A recent Social Weather Stations survey found that 76% of Filipinos believe there are “many” human rights abuses committed under the government’s campaign.

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said it will finalize the preliminary examination into Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity in 2020.

Upsurge in attacks vs activists

The human rights watchdog also noted the rise of attacks against political activists, community leaders and human rights defenders.

HRW cited the situation in Negros island, where 116 killings reportedly took place from July 2016 to August 2019.

“While some cases may be drug-related, most victims were activist farmers and farmer group leaders, reflecting the violent land conflict that has wracked the island for decades,” HRW said.

It also noted that attacks against journalists and civil societies intensified in 2019.

HRW’s Robertson said “there are no signs that President Duterte is going to end ‘drug war’ killings or act to stop attacks on activists.”

“That makes it all the more important for international institutions like the ICC and the UN Human Rights Council to do what they can to hold Duterte and other senior officials to account for their abuses,” Robertson said.

In 2019, the UNHRC adopted a resolution asking UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to prepare a “comprehensive” report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. The resolution, however, fell short of setting up a full-fledged investigation into the alleged abuses.

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