Watchdog Amnesty notes 'repression of dissent' in Philippines
Protesters hold a rally in celebration of International Human Rights day near Malacanang Palace in Manila on December 10,2020.
AFP/Maria Tan

Watchdog Amnesty notes 'repression of dissent' in Philippines

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 7, 2021 - 12:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Even amid a global pandemic, human rights defenders and activists continued to be killed, threatened and face “unjust” charges, international watchdog Amnesty International found.

In its Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights report, the watchdog said “measures taken by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19 led to numerous abuses of human rights.”

“Human rights defenders and political activists were killed, harassed, detained and unjustly charged,” it said in its 408-page report.

Repression of dissent

Amnesty International noted “repression of dissent” in the Philippines in 2020, citing the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, on drug charges since 2017. Other critics, former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and activist priest Fr. Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva and nine others faced warrants of arrest over conspiracy to commit sedition charges, for a supposed plot to oust Duterte.

As the country also grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte signed into law the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in July, the Amnesty noted.

“Human rights groups criticized the new law for contravening international standards and granting the government unchecked powers to detain perceived enemies of the state,” the watchdog added.

A month later, peace consultant Randy Echanis and Karapatan paralegal Zara Alvarez were killed. Both were tagged as “terrorists” in the Department of Justice’s proscription petition filed before the Manila court in 2018.

The watchdog added that “other human rights defenders and political activists were arbitrarily detained and faced increased threats and harassment after the government 'red-tagged’ or linked them to communist armed groups.”

Amnesty also noted the police treatment of activist mom Reina Mae Nasino in the funeral of her three-month-old daughter River who was separated from her a week from birth.

In December, a journalist and six trade unionists were arrested on illegal possession of firearms and explosives — allegations that human rights groups claimed are fabricated, the report noted.

And as the year drew to a close, on December 30, nine Tumandok leaders were killed and 17 were arrested in Capiz and Iloilo provinces. “Indigenous community defending their land while police claimed they were members of the New People’s Army and that the nine were killed after resisting arrest,” it added.

Rights groups have called on the Supreme Court to take more definitive action in the face of continuing threats on activists and “weaponizing” the rule of law, such as court-issued warrants, to round up progressive groups.

In March, the 15 justices of the tribunal issued a rare statement saying it has “resolved to work on, deliberate, and promulgate rules on the use of body cameras for the service of search and arrest warrants.”

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