On Thursday, July 11, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) narrowly approved a resolution that authorises an investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. With 18 nations voting for, 14 against, and 15 abstaining, this victory is an important step towards justice for the people in the ongoing struggle against President Rodrigo Duterte’s fascism and tyranny. Over the last three years of Duterte’s term in office, the UNHRC’s independent human rights experts raised their concerns 33 times and in response Duterte continues to openly intimidate and ridicule their efforts.
The human rights violations identified by the experts include “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, including of children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, trade union and land right activists” and “arbitrary detention, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, gender-based violence against women human rights defenders, attacks against the independence of judges and lawyers, freedoms of expression and of assembly, as well as people’s right to food and health.”
Sovereignty or Isolation?
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the UNHRC’s independent human rights experts were, “peddling a biased and absolutely false recital of facts, adulterated with malicious imputations against the constituted authorities, smacks of unpardonable intrusions on our sovereignty.” This comes in complete contradiction to the admitted death toll of 6,600 killed in the ‘war on drugs’ by the Philippine National Police (PNP). Col. Bernard Banac, spokesperson for the PNP, defended the extrajudicial killings saying, “as the war on drugs continues we expect that the number of deaths will also increase because the suspects continue to put up violent resistance against our operatives.”
Panelo challenged “the propriety of the resolution as well as its validity” citing the lack of a majority vote, but in doing so has made the already antagonistic Duterte administration even more isolated from the international community. The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into Duterte and the Government of the Philippines for its ‘war on drugs’ in February of this year and one month later the Philippines withdrew from the ICC. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific referred to that withdrawal as a “futile attempt to evade international justice”.
After the resolution passed, Duterte unsurprisingly attempted to mock Iceland for having led the resolution: “What is the problem of Iceland? – Ice only. That is your problem. You have too much ice and there is no clear day and night there.” In the same address to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology he said, “don’t f–k with me. I’ll really kill you. So what’s wrong? I’m asking human rights people: Is it wrong to say, ‘If you destroy my country, I will kill you?’ Is that a crime for a president, mayor, or a governor to say that in public?” This brazen admission of guilt by Duterte failed to address the full extent of identified human rights violations.
The War on Drugs Claims Its Youngest Victim
Only weeks away from her fourth birthday, Kateleen Myca Ulpina was killed by the PNP in a drug raid shootout. Officers claimed that her father, Renato Dolofrina, used her as a human shield, but as Human Rights Watch has reported: “police accounts of drug raids are not reliable because the officers enforcing the ‘drug war’ have been shown to manufacture evidence such as planting weapons and drugs to justify killings.” Senator Ronald dela Rosa defended the casualty saying, “Would a police officer want to shoot a child? Never, because they have children as well. But shit happens during operations.” The former Chief of the PNP has since apologized for his dismissiveness over her death as part of “living in an imperfect world.”
Momentum in the Meantime
Because of the UNHRC resolution, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief will have one year to examine the evidence and present a “comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines”. Whether or not that report results in substantive changes by the Government of the Philippines is to be seen but Duterte’s latest comments indicate that his tyranny will continue with impunity.
Coincidentally this all falls just 11 days before his 4th yearly State of the Nation Address on July 22nd. Duterte has hinted at addressing certain concerns at his including a recent maritime incident where a Chinese coast guard vessel rammed and sunk a Filipino fishing boat but so far there has been no mention of addressing the human rights violations.
In response to the violations a mass protest movement has been building in major cities throughout the world. Organizations including BAYAN, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), MALAYA Movement and their constituent organizations have been working to garner support for the victims and draw international attention to the ongoing human rights violations. In the United States major activities are planned for a United People’s State of the Nation Address for July 22nd in Washington, D.C. Houston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.