Investigate PH: Duterte's policies, justice system institutionalize widespread repression

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Investigate PH: Duterte's policies, justice system institutionalize widespread repression
Groups march to Mendiola in Manila City to commemorate the Human Rights Day on December 10, 2020.
Karapatan, Handout

MANILA, Philippines — The dangerous effects of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on dissent are now widespread across civil society, with the country’s justice system “weaponized” to further violate people’s rights, a panel of lawyers and rights advocates said.

In its second report, the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines, or Investigate PH, documented what it called  intensifying political repression in country that is broadly harming activists, church groups, and democratic institutions.

Investigate PH is a coalition of lawyers and faith-based groups conducting an independent probe into human rights violations in the Philippines. The creation of the international investigation was prompted by the “weak” resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council in its 45th session last year.

Investigate PH said Duterte's executive orders, the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which has been red-tagging individuals and groups without showing evidence, have provided the institutional machinery for repression.

“There is now a chilling effect and the consequent restriction of civil society across broad swathes of Philippine society including national and local government officials, human rights groups, the media, as well as the academe and the education sector—including indigenous Lumad schools,” the report read.

“All these undermine the independence, credibility and stability of the justice system as a protector of due process and human rights,” it added.

It said the police and military are executing human rights defenders and political dissenters in a manner similar to extrajudicial killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign. It cited the “Bloody Sunday” raids that led to killing of nine activists and arrest of six others.

From July 2016 to December 2020, there have been 367 cases of extrajudicial political killings and 488 cases of attempted killings, according to rights groups Karapatan.

‘Weaponization’ of legal system

Investigate PH said the country’s justice system contributes to the suppression of dissent by using the law to facilitate abuses and by failing to enforce legal protections.

“In Duterte administration’s ongoing war against dissent, the legal system has been utilized through repressive laws and jurisprudence, the reinvention of law and settled legal practices, and the circumvention of legal procedures, among others,” the report read.  

Investigate PH cited the filing of trumped-up charges against critics of the government and the issuance of search warrants against activists that result in arrests and sometimes killings on the narrative that suspects allegedly resisted arrest.

“While the legal system should protect the rights of dissenters, it is instead weaponized as a tool of state violence to do them harm, violence their rights, and deprive them of measurable redress or effective remedies,” it said.

At an Investigative PH hearing, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia said justice is “elusive or very much delayed, if ever attained” for those who are criminalized, imprisoned and killed for their activism.

Investigate PH urged the UNHRC to make Duterte criminally liable for official orders reinforced by his public statements to target dissenters, and ensure the protection of human rights defenders, journalists, and government officials who are or are perceived to be members of the opposition.

The report was based on testimonies and verified information from survivors of abuses, relatives of victims and human rights advocates, and an expert witness on autopsies.

Investigate PH will deliver a final report to the 48th session of the UNHRC, which will begin in September.


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