A year into presidency, Marcos quietly keeps Duterte’s drug war going — rights groups

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
A year into presidency, Marcos quietly keeps Duterte�s drug war going � rights groups
Incoming Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (L) and outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte (C) take part in the inauguration ceremony for Marcos at the Malacanang presidential palace grounds in Manila on June 30, 2022. The son of the Philippines' late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was to be sworn in as president on June 30, completing a decades-long effort to restore the clan to the country's highest office.
Francis R. Malasig / Pool / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos has yet to formally withdraw the policies enforcing Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, giving the world a “runaround” on the "war on drugs" killings and rights violations continuing under his watch, human rights groups said. 

A year into Marcos’ presidency, human rights groups Karapatan and Human Rights Watch lamented the continued increase in drug-related killings and conduct of deadly drug raids that formed the blueprint of Duterte’s "war on drugs."

The groups also hit Marcos' silence over several human rights issues even as he continuously assures the international community of the Philippine government's commitment to improving its human rights record.

“Extrajudicial killings have not only continued, but the policies that spur them are also firmly in place,” Karapatan said.

“Marcos Jr. has not rescinded any of the operational guidelines formulated, issued and implemented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in relation to the 'war on drugs' such as Oplan Double Barrel and Project Tokhang, which are both reflected as policies through a series of PNP Command Memorandum Circulars,” the group added.

The human rights group was referring to the PNP’s “Double Barrel” campaign against illegal drugs first launched in 2016 under then-PNP chief Ronaldo Bato Dela Rosa, who is currently a senator. 

"Project Tokhang" or "Oplan Tokhang," meanwhile, is part of PNP's "Double Barrel" campaign and targets small-time drug dealers. 

Human Rights Watch similarly said that "drug war" killings continue under Marcos albeit at a “lower rate” than his predecessor.

At least 336 drug-related killings have taken place since Marcos became president, most during law enforcement’s anti-drug operations, according to the UP Third World Studies Center, which maintains a running count of drug-related killings based on media reports.

More than half of these killings or 175 of them took place in the first six months of Marcos’ term, according to the center.

Inherited drug war policy

Marcos previously criticized his predecessor's violent approach to curbing illegal drug use, saying that "there were abuses by certain elements of government" in the "war on drugs" campaign.

Official figures put deaths from Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign at more than 6,000, but estimates from human rights groups peg the actual number of fatalities as at least 30,000.

In his numerous overseas trips and meetings with representatives of foreign governments, Marcos has also consistently vowed that the Philippine government is committed to improving human rights.

But Marcos “needs to do more than issue statements about democracy and the rule of law to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights,” said Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

“Without concrete action to break old patterns of abuses and secure accountability for past crimes, his words have little credibility,” Lau said.

Besides formally announcing an end to the “drug war,” Marcos should also order investigations into officials involved in the alleged killings, Human Rights Watch said.

Marcos’ administration still refuses to cooperate with the International Criminal Court that is investigating crimes against humanity allegedly committed during Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, with the president saying in March that the country will be “disengaging” with the court after it denied their request to suspend its probe pending resolution of their appeal.

Despite the Philippines’ departure from the ICC in 2018, which took effect 2019, the international court retains jurisdiction over the crimes committed when the Philippines was still a member of the court. 

Relatives of "war on drugs" victims have said that they believe that the ICC remains the only avenue for a genuine and impartial investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity committed during Duterte’s "drug war."

In their communications with the ICC, the victims have also stressed inaction from local courts and the present administration’s unwillingness to investigate "war on drugs" killings. 

A portion of a representation made on behalf of the victim read: “Cases against the perpetrators of the crimes have not been forthcoming. Even attempts to obtain recognition that the killings were extra-legal have, unfortunately, been met with resistance from state institutions.”

Marcos ‘conspicuously silent’

Karapatan said Marcos has also remained “conspicuously silent” about the rampant rights violations committed during his term “in a devious attempt to distance himself from the sordidness of his own human rights record.”

Karapatan and Human Rights Watch noted that besides the drug war, red-tagging and violent counter-insurgency programs continue to be implemented—acts that Duterte himself openly encouraged and supported.

Lau said that Marcos must “demonstrate a break from the past and show concrete, measurable progress on human rights.” 

“The Philippines’ international partners should stop getting a runaround from Marcos and settle for nothing less than real change,” Lau added. — with reports fromXave Gregorio, The STAR/Janvic Mateo,

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