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Rights abuses continue under Marcos, says HRW

PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

HUMAN rights abuses continued in the first six months of Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s rule, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In a global report released on Thursday, the global watchdog said drug war killings, communist tagging and attacks against journalists continue to damage the country’s democratic institutions.

“President Marcos has sought to reassure the international community that he is committed to human rights,” it said. “Human rights and civil society groups, however, debunked these claims with reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council of continuing human rights violations.”

Law enforcers killed more than 6,000 drug suspects in police raids on July 1 to May 31 last year, HRW said, citing government data.

“After Marcos took office, the government stopped releasing these statistics,” it said. “The official death toll does not include those killed by unidentified gunmen whom Human Rights Watch and other rights monitors have credible evidence to believe operate in cooperation with local police and officials.”

The authorities have seriously investigated very few drug war killings, Human Rights Watch said in the report. “Only a handful of cases — 12 out of thousands — are in varying stages of investigation by police or active review by prosecutors.”

There is only one case — the video-recorded murder of 17-year-old student Kian delos Santos in August 2017 — that resulted in the conviction of police officers, it added.

Journalist killings and harassment also persisted in the past year, HRW said. In July, the government sought to silence journalists critical of the administration by shutting down the websites of Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, two alternative press publications.

The National Security Council sought to close these two outlets because of alleged links to communist insurgency, a charge the editors and journalists denied.

“During the year, the government used the Cyber-libel law several times against journalists, columnists, critics of the government and ordinary social media users,” HRW said. “In August, police arrested activist and former member of parliament Walden Bello after a staff member in the office of Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of Mr. Duterte, made allegations against him.

The Justice department’s Office of Cybercrime reported that 3,700 cyber-libel cases had been filed as of May 2022. Of that number, 1,317 were filed in court while 1,131 were dismissed.

Twelve cases ended in a conviction. Among those who have been convicted of cyber-libel was Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of news website Rappler, it said.

HRW cited the detention of former Senator Leila M. de Lima, who has been in jail since 2017 on drug trafficking charges. It urged the government to drop what it called were trumped-up charges against her.

At least four witnesses have taken back their allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Ms. De Lima, one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s fiercest critics, has asserted her innocence, saying she was being tried for criticizing the government’s deadly drug war.

“The reality is nothing has changed but only a change in tone and a greater effort in public relations,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told a separate briefing streamed live on Facebook. “There has to be accountability on the ground, not just talking about an investigation.” — Norman P. Aquino and JVDO

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