Civic space in Philippines 'repressed', global civil society study says

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Civic space in Philippines 'repressed', global civil society study says
Tension arose after activist groups tried to go in front of the Commission on Human Rights along Commonwealth Avenue on May 25, 2022 to stage a protest rally and oppose the canvassing of the House of the Representative in Batasan, Quezon City.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines was ranked among countries in the Asia-Pacific that have a "repressed" civic space — where people and organizations can participate in the social and political issues of their communities — an assertion that the government has regularly denied.

With a score of 34, the Philippines joins seven other countries — Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Singapore, and Thailand — on the list.

The 2022 CIVICUS monitor report noted how most governments in the region put an effort to shutter dissent after lifting pandemic-related lockdowns, especially as groups called for political reforms in the aftermath of the health crisis.

"Among the most common violations were the passing and use of restrictive laws to criminalize activists and critics. In several countries, these laws were used to prosecute human rights defenders and keep them behind bars for long periods," the report noted.

"The authorities also harassed activists and protesters, including by hauling them in for questioning, detaining them, intimidating their families and imposing travel bans, in addition to digital attacks," it added.

Over 20 organizations — including Asia Democracy Network and the Asian Human Rights Commission — collected "qualitative and narrative" data and information on civil society groups, activists, and human rights defenders for the report. Information was gathered from civil society organizations themselves or through other reports produced. 

These are used for regular updates on the status of civic spaces published online, which were then collated for the full annual report. For the 2022 edition, CIVICUS noted that 493 updates were used to come up with the report.

The latest edition notes a concerning development around the world, with 117 out of the 197 countries monitored facing "severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms."

The Philippine government has rejected assertions that civic space has been eroding. with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla dtelling the UN Human Rights Council in November 2022 that the country is "a vibrant democracy where freedom of expression, including the right to hold dissenting opinions, and the right of peaceful assembly is protected."

READ: Before UNHRC, Remulla denies claims of shrinking civic, media spaces

Philippines in 2022

CIVICUS reported three updates on the Philippines last year, all related to the elections and the change of leadership from the Duterte to the Marcos administration.

In an update dated February 3, the group noted that the upcoming national polls put media groups and journalists reporting on corruption at risk. It noted the cyber attacks on news websites, the libel and cyber libel cases filed by former Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and business mogul Dennis Uy, the murder of journalist Jess Malabanan who reported on the previous administration’s 'drug war', and the arrest of children's rights advocate Ma. Salome Crisostomo-Ujano.

CIVICUS also noted in June how some journalists who were following stories related to the May polls were banned from campaign events and how some candidates did not join public debates. The update also noted continued cyber attacks on news websites.

It also noted how a peaceful protest at the Commission on Human Rights during the proclamation of the winning presidential and vice-presidential candidates was disrupted by police authorities. CIVICUS also wrote about the arrest of community health worker Dr. Natividad Castro and of activists and rights defenders

In a November note, CIVICUS pointed out that despite the United Nations' calling on the Philippines to address human rights violations, “human rights defenders have continued to be arrested on fabricated charges while the terrorist financing law has been used to persecute activists” on top of the continued attacks against journalists. 

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