‘Drug war worsened HR status’

DESPITE positive developments in some areas, the human rights situation during the second half of 2016 considerably worsened as a consequence of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, the European Union said in its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World.

“The EU released last week its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2016,” according to the report, sent to the media by Human Rights Watch. 

“In 2016, the Philippines had two different governments— that of President Benigno Aquino III who left office on June 30, and that of Duterte who succeeded him. Despite positive developments in some areas, the human rights situation in the second half of the year...considerably worsened as a consequence of the so-called ‘war on drugs’,” the EU report said.

“It should, however, be noted that some trends and circumstances detrimental to human rights, such as extrajudicial killings [including killings of human rights defenders, indigenous people and journalists] and the climate of impunity, were already present under previous administrations,” it said.

In a related development:

– The Department of Justice has been asked to dismiss the criminal charges filed against the12 former Caloocan policemen in connection with the killing of teenager Kian Loyd delos Santos last Aug.16.

Respondents—Police Officers 2 Arnel Canezares, Diony Corpuz and Fernan Cano; and PO1s Reynaldo Dan Blanco Jr., Silverio Garcia Jr., Ronald Herrera, Myrldon Yagi, Christian Joy Aguilar, Ceferino Paculan, J-Rossillini Lorenzo, Erwin Romeroso and Ferdinand Claro—denied the charges, saying they could not be held liable for Kian’s death.

“They were not present so apparently they shouldn’t be included in the case because they don’t have any participation. Some were on sick leave while some were assigned in other cases,” the respondents’ lawyer Oliver Yuan said after the hearing.

They are facing charges of murder, torture, planting of evidence and violation of domicile under Article 128 of the Revised Penal Code.

The additional respondents appeared before the DoJ and submitted their counter-affidavit to the complaint filed by Kian’s parents.

In their amended complaint, Saldy and Lorenza delos Santos asked the DoJ to indict the additional respondents in court.

The complainants, represented by Public Attorneys Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta, stressed that the additional respondents were part of the police team that conducted the anti-illegal drugs operation where Kian was killed.

The initial complaint named only four policemen as respondents—Chief Insp. Amor Cerillo, Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares, and Police Officers 1 Jeremiah Pereda and Jerwin Cruz of Caloocan City police community precinct 7.

The four policemen also insisted innocence in an earlier answer, claiming they killed Kian after the student shot at them.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said Monday he directed his men to keep alive all motorcycle-riding suspects they will arrest.

The PNP chief  earlier said that riding-in-tandems would now be among their priorities after President Rodrigo Duterte removed from them the lead role in the war against illegal drugs.

However, Dela Rosa said he could not give assurances the operations would not be bloody.

“Keep them alive para walang problema, walang kaso. It’s so foolish of us to insist on killing these suspects unnecessarily. We have been facing a lot of criticisms already bakit namin patayin ‘yan na hindi naman dapat patayin,” he said at a press conference, in a mix of Filipino and English.

He said he wanted his men to also stay alive as well.

Following the publication of the first GSP+ country report on the Philippines in January 2016, the EU’s priority has been to address the abovementioned shortcomings with the Aquino administration. 

In the second half of the year, the killings in the “war on drugs” as well as the possible reintroduction of the death penalty were the focus of the EU’s attention, the EU report said.

The number of extrajudicial killings decreased under the Aquino government and a national monitoring mechanism for extrajudicial killings was launched by the National Commission on Human Rights.  

Various problems—in particular the culture of impunity and torture—remain, however, and a series of key legislative measures were not passed. 

The second half of the year was marked by a serious deterioration in respect for the right to life, due process and the rule of law. 

According to data from the Philippine National Police, as reported in the media, the ‘war on drugs’ led to the killing of around 6,000 people from July to mid-December, with one third of the deaths occurring in police operations.  

In addition, more than 40,000 persons were arrested in the same period. 

The president’s statements and actions have seemingly encouraged the police to take an aggressive approach in dealing with drug users and pushers, and have—according to human rights advocates—also encouraged vigilante style extrajudicial killings, the report said. 

The “war on drugs” still enjoys considerable popular support. 

Two key legislative priorities are the reintroduction of the death penalty, and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility for minors from 15 years to either 12 or 9 years. 

Draft bills have been introduced in Congress with a view to adoption in 2017.

Positive developments under the government of Duterte include the new momentum provided to the Mindanao Peace Process, peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front and a socio-economic agenda aimed at lifting people out of poverty. 

The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2012—under which an institutionalized human rights dialogue could be established—still requires ratification by two Member States as well as the Philippines. 

The EU and MS have consistently engaged with the government and other interlocutors on the human rights situation. 

The GSP+ monitoring is ongoing. In September 2016 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on developments in the country which triggered negative reactions from President Duterte. 

One major problem in the Philippines is the prevailing culture of impunity since cases of grave human rights abuses, including killings of human rights defenders and media workers, remain largely unresolved. 

According to reports by specialized non-government organisations, 31 human rights defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2016, one of whom was a beneficiary of an EU-funded project. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines as no. 216 EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2016, four in the world on the Global Impunity Index in 2016. 

“Since his election, President Duterte has made statements justifying the killing of ‘corrupt’ journalists and human rights defenders. On the other hand, he has issued a landmark ‘Freedom of Information Order’ and has recently created a Presidential Task Force on Violence against Media Workers,” the EU report stated.

The EU assisted civil society organizations and HRDs through project grants for HRDs under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and under the Development Cooperation Instrument, programs of EU Member States, and dialogue with HRDs. 

Three EIDHR projects implemented by civil society organizations supported activities of human and land rights defenders, including through the provision of sanctuary, legal and medical support, and training. 

The EU also supported justice sector reform and efforts to combat impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The EU launched its Governance in Justice Program.

The main objective of one of its four components is to strengthen national and regional human rights institutions and civil society capacity to promote accountability and fight impunity (implemented by Spain’s AECID).

A particular focus of the Multiannual Indicative Program 2014-20 is conflict-affected Mindanao, where the EU has been supporting peace and development.

The EU remained a key partner in the reform of the health sector. 

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act signed in 2012 was seen by civil society organizations, especially by women’s rights advocates, as a positive development in the decades long fight for gender equality in health. 

The law would allow Filipino men and women to have increased access to quality reproductive health services and information (including family planning). 

However, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition, imposed a temporary restraining order that hampers the government’s ability to procure 70 percent of contraceptives by 2019 potentially affecting availability of future stocks in government hospitals and clinics all over the country. 

The EU is supporting the full implementation of the measure through a bilateral cooperation programme on universal health care with the Philippine Department of Health and grant assistance to NGOs. With Bill Casas and Rey Requejo

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , Human rights , Campaign against illegal drugs , European Union , Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World , Human Rights Watch
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