Philippine clergy, advocates say human rights dying under Duterte

IMAGE: CNS photo/Czar Dancel, Reuters


MANILIA, Philippines
(CNS) — Philippine
President Rodrigo Duterte warned the public during his third
State of the Nation address July 23 that his two-year war on drugs would become even “more chilling” in
the coming days.

that day, a group of human rights advocates attended Mass before taking to the
streets of Manila armed with banners and placards calling for an end to extrajudicial killings, rallying for “democracy, justice,
and freedom,” and demanding Duterte step down from office.

During the
Mass, the bishop who delivered the homily reminded parishioners that some
23,000 people have been slain as part of Duterte’s brutal campaign against
narcotics pushers and users, reported.

Some didn’t
need reminding; they already had lost family members to what critics see as a
campaign of state-sanctioned murder, with many suspects gunned down before
being able to defend themselves in court.

Castillo is a case in point. Her son was killed during the first wave of the
war on drugs in 2016.

“We continue to seek and wait
for justice to be served,” she said.

Father Gilbert Villena, a member of
Rise Up, a group formed by the relatives of those killed by security forces,
said it was time to demand that Duterte fulfill his promises of “change
for the greater good.”

Human rights groups have described
the past two years as the “worst years for human rights” in the
Philippines since the declaration of martial law in September 1972.

Karapatan, a local group of rights activists,
described the country as being in a state of crisis under Duterte.

“This government is even worse
than all the other administrations that followed the period of martial
law,” said Cristina Palabay, one of the group’s members.

She said the body count from
drug-related killings at the hands of security forces already has surpassed the
number of deaths recorded during the martial law years of late dictator
Ferdinand Marcos.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International Philippines said the
country has become a “far more dangerous place” because of the
impunity and lack of accountability police officers enjoy in carrying out
Duterte’s mandate.

The president has “created a
culture where anyone can kill or be killed,” said Jose Noel Olano, Amnesty’s director of
operations in the Philippines.

He also took issue with Duterte’s
“shortsightedness in accepting criticism” and “resistance to
recommendations” on policy, claiming his actions have helped create an
environment where people’s human rights are being trampled upon on a daily

Lawyer Harry Roque, a presidential spokesman, said such
claims were unfounded as the anti-narcotics drive has been conducted

He blamed the killings on suspects
who “violently resisted” arrest and said Duterte “does not and
will never condone extralegal killings.”

The Promotion of Church Peoples Response, an ecumenical
group, offered a different opinion, saying the current administration has been
characterized by a “culture of fear, death, impunity and un-peace.”

The Rev. Mary Grace Masegman, a Protestant minister,
said Duterte “has not accomplished anything except demonstrating his gross
incompetence and inability to rightly govern the nation.”

Even members of the Catholic Church
are being persecuted, she said.

In December, Father Marcelito Paez was gunned down in Nueva Ejica province after
facilitating the release of a political prisoner.

Since January, four foreign
religious missionaries, including Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian who is Philippine superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, have been arrested, detained,
deported or threatened with deportation after they were accused of participating
in political activities opposing the state.

Catholic priests and Protestant ministers
also have become more vocal in taking issue about threats, harassment and
surveillance conducted against them by the apparatus of the state.

Karapatan claims to have records
showing 169 cases of “extrajudicial killings” during the first two
years of Duterte’s rule, significantly higher than the 103 cases reported
during the same period under former president Benigno Aquino.

Moreover, from July 2016 to June
2018, at least 432,380 individuals have reportedly been displaced, compared to
9,756 under Aquino, the rights group said.

On July 16, at least 1,600 tribal
people from 15 communities in the towns of Lianga and San Agustin in the southern Philippines fled their homes because
of military operations.

Karapatan noted many more cases of
illegal arrests and arbitrary detention during the early years of the current

It listed 359 cases over the past 24
months in which people where illegally arrest and detained, and another 1,695
where suspects were apprehended unlawfully but not detained.

“The majority of those who were
arrested illegally were human rights activists, environmental defenders, union
leaders and poor people in big cities,” Palabay told

The bulk of the cases occurred in Mindanao, where martial law
was declared at the onset of a five-month armed conflict in the city of Marawi that began on May 23,
2017, the group said.

Since then, at least 72 political
killings have been reported in the region.

Even students and teachers apparently
have not been spared. Save Our Schools Network reported 535 attacks on schools
in tribal areas of Mindanao from July 2016 to April 17, 2018.

“We also documented at least 30
occasions of military encampment on tribal schools, with over 3,000 students
affected,” said Rius Valle, network spokesman.

He said that since June 2016, at
least 72 tribal schools had been forced to close their doors either permanently
or temporarily after being tagged by the military as “communist training

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