By Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS)
The statement was originally released during the press and civil society briefing about the Philippines at the United Nations Human Rights Council last Wednesday, September 7.
The human rights situation in the Philippines remains dire.
Since 2016, the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS) has documented 727 human rights violations under the Duterte administration. 392 of these were killings, 306 involved the taking of persons, while the rest are other violations ranging from torture and sexual crimes to threats and intimidation. The victims are often males residing in urban poor areas, many of them breadwinners with families relying on them for sustenance. The effect of these violations is exponential, creating lasting trauma to their families and communities. Even children are killed and treated as merely collateral damage while surviving families are often silenced by fear.
Even in a new administration, drug-related rights violations continue to proliferate in the Philippines’ poorest and most vulnerable communities. IDEALS is currently assisting two cases of human rights violations that occurred as late as July 2022.
The first case involves two brothers, Pedro and Juan who went missing for 2 days and were later found to have been killed in an alleged police operation. They were found at the morgue with multiple gunshot wounds and a bruised face. The police investigation report states drugs, drug money, and firearms were found at the scene of the crime.
Another recent case exposes the brutal torture and killing of a man under the guise of a buy-bust operation in Bulacan. Last July, police raided the house of Gardo without a warrant. Based on witnesses’ accounts, Gardo was beaten repeatedly with a baseball bat, suffocated with a sack, and forced to drink bleach with water. He was tortured for four hours until he died. Despite clear statements from witnesses, Gardo’s death certificate states he died of “sudden cardiac death.” His wife and brother were also arrested and remain detained.
The reality is, even after the Duterte administration, there has been neither relief nor justice for victims of rights violations in the Philippines. Communities still report drug-related killings and arrests near their homes, and members of the community who are vocal about human rights face new forms of harassment such as red-tagging.
Most victims and their families are often met with silence or superficial “investigations.” A survey conducted by IDEALS on the status of 96 cases of extrajudicial killings indicated no effective probe of these violations, based on responses from the victims’ family members.
Almost all of the families stated that actions on their cases were either non-existent or limited to the perfunctory taking of statements. Over half of the 96 family members also said that no government investigation or questioning was conducted in relation to the incidents, while action for 39 cases were limited only to on-the-spot questioning of the families with no further efforts.
Even when questioning is conducted, there are significant inconsistencies in the families’ narratives and the police reports they receive. There are cases where reports indicate that the victims retaliated against police officers although witnesses and evidence point otherwise.
Families are highly willing to pursue cases against perpetrators but face many roadblocks. Fear of retaliation and the lack of resources are the greatest barriers. There are also deep emotional scars that families must overcome. They not only face emotional trauma from the violent death of their loved ones, but also the stigma of being associated with the brutal campaign against illegal drugs in their community.
CALL TO ACTION
In July 2021, the Philippines and the United Nations launched the first-ever national-level UN Joint Program on human rights (UNJP). The program aimed to provide a stronger call to investigate and prevent further human rights abuses. However, despite paying lip service to a more “accountable” and humane drug war, the current administration has held no concrete action to indicate that these killings will be investigated, or its perpetrators held accountable.
In light of this, we are reiterating our call to the Human Rights Council (HRC) for an independent and effective domestic investigation on human rights violations related to the Duterte Administration’s violent Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign. We are critical of the UN Joint Program on Human Rights because it has muted the call for accountability of the
Philippine government and diluted the search for justice by the families of victims.
It is also imperative to institutionalize a Truth Commission equipped with the mandate to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, unlawful detentions, and other human rights violations committed by the State. This will help protect victims, witnesses, and key persons, and prevent such a culture of death and impunity from being embedded in our society again.
Lastly, IDEALS calls for stronger mechanisms for protection and capacity-building of the victims, their families and potential witnesses. There must be an assurance that the human rights violations will cease and that the families of the victims will be protected while seeking justice and accountability. We join the call to the Human Rights Council to bring up the human rights situation in the Philippines as a pressing issue which needs to be discussed during their 51st session.