Marcos hit for silence on rights violations in SONA 2023

James Relativo - Philstar.com
Marcos hit for silence on rights violations in SONA 2023
Protesters run past a giant military boot after setting it up on fire as they march towards Congress for a demonstration in Quezon City, suburban Manila on July 24, 2023 to coincide with the State of the Nation address by Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was noticeably quiet regarding issues of human rights in his 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA), leading groups to expect no significant changes under his administration.

While Marcos briefly mentioned the "protection of constitutional rights" in this year's SONA speech, this was in connection to the strengthening and modernization of the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Juduciary:

Our Police and Armed Forces are being strengthened and modernized, to be more effective in maintaining peace and order and in defending our sovereignty. We fully support the Judiciary’s efforts to improve the justice system and to protect constitutional rights.

"In his SONA today, Marcos Jr. has literally said nothing to address significant civil and political rights issues besetting the Filipino people today," said human rights group Karapatan in a statement.

"Nothing on the International Criminal Court and the significance of the complaint on crimes against humanity in the Philippines. Nothing on the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arrests and detention, in the regime’s counterinsurgency program."

"Nothing on the gnawing climate of impunity and the dire absence of justice and accountability on human rights violations. Nothing."

The ICC last week resumed its investigation into former President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody "war on drugs" after it blocked the Manila government's bid to have it stopped. The campaign is said to have killed anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000.

Marcos earlier reiterated that it will disengage from any communication with the ICC while maintaining that the international court "no longer has jurisdiction" over the country after it withdrew from the Rome Statute.

However, the ICC can still investigate abuses that occured when the Philippines was still a member of the ICC.

Karapatan says that Bongbong's supposedly more human anti-narcotics campaign is "merely a reheash" of tired old PR lines in the context of continuing EJKs in his drug war, this while having "disinterest" in seeking justice for victims of the past administration.

The group also lambasted Marcos Jr.'s programs under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which they said have resulted in various human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression and dissent.

"What Marcos Jr.’s SONA reaffirmed is that his government will do nothing to act on and improve the civil and political rights situation in the country, while tangential, when it came to addressing the people's pressing economic issues," continued Karapatan.

"This means that we can expect the current trend of escalating human rights violations to continue. Marcos Jr.'s SONA has left us not just deeply disappointed, but disgusted, exasperated and enraged."

'Not much to show in first year of office'

The group Human Rights and People Empowerment Center, for their part, were also disappointed by Bongbong's second SONA as it "glossed over the country's worsening human rights situation."

HRPEC pointed out how the Department of Justice still pursues its "flimsy" prosecution of Sen. Leila de Lima while over 300 drug-related killings have been recorded since Marcos took office.

"But Marcos Jr. didn’t mention anything substantial about these, not when he so proudly refuses to cooperate with the ICC, not when he minds more their alliance with the Dutertes," continued the group.

"Marcos Jr.’s administration should once and for all give serious attention to our human rights and failing quality of life. Not a single campaign promise has been fulfilled and really, nothing much has changed."

Amnesty to rebel returnees

Marcos earlier in his speech mentioned his intention to grant amnesty to rebel returnees: "To complete this reintegration process, I will issue a Proclamation granting amnesty to rebel returnees. I ask Congress to support us in this endeavor."

This however was scored by Karapatan, saying that a legislated amnesty is tantamount to a call for surrender "without the resolution of the root causes of the armed conflict."

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