The Philippines will hold its general election on May 9, 2022. The OMCT urges the incoming administration to put human rights at the center of its political agenda and commit to the following points.
1. Halt “war-on-drugs” killings and ensure accountability
Extrajudicial killings have increased dramatically since President Duterte took power in 2016. Thousands of individuals, including children, have been killed in the framework of Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs”. Of these deaths, only a few have been investigated. In even less cases have perpetrators been brought to justice. On 20 October 2021, the Department of Justice released details on 52 cases of deaths related to the government's “war on drugs”, finding gaps in police operation protocols. In most cases however, officers were only suspended or dismissed from service.
The new administration should immediately put an end to extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations related to the “war on drugs”, including of children, undertake transparent, prompt and impartial investigations into all killings and ensure full accountability of perpetrators as well as appropriate compensation to and rehabilitation of victims and their families. It is particularly important to ensure adequate assistance for families of victims of drug-related killings, including financial aid, legal support, psychosocial services, and livelihood assistance independent of criminal proceedings. The new government should also allow unhindered access to international human rights monitoring and investigative mechanisms, including UN experts and Special Procedures, as well as International Criminal Court investigators.
2. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy against torture
Despite a legal framework criminalizing torture, torture remains frequent, and impunity is widespread. Victims rarely access any form of reparation. Police officers, community watchmen (tanod) and civilians with the acquiescence of the authorities are routinely implicated in torture to coerce suspects into confessions. The authorities frequently employ threats and ill-treatment to punish persons in their custody and to extort money in exchange for their liberty. Law enforcement have used excessive force and deadly violence to disperse peaceful protesters, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. Reports of children being tortured during arrest, detention, or before being extrajudicially executed are particularly disturbing.
We call on the new Government to fully implement the 2009 Anti-Torture Act and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for torture, both in custodial and extra-custodial settings. As a first step, the new administration should immediately convene the Oversight Committee that is mandated by Republic Act 9745 to look into the gaps and deficits that impede the effective enforcement of the Anti-Torture Act. A national preventive mechanism on torture should also be established in line with the Philippines’ obligations under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
3. Protect human rights defenders
Since Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders have faced relentless attacks, killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, stigmatisation and red-tagging campaigns led by both State and non-State actors, with the aim to discredit their peaceful work and to silence all critical voices. The result has been a climate in which attacks against human rights defenders are not only acceptable but legitimised. The killings of defenders are rarely investigated. Against this background, it is all the more welcome that the House of Representative adopted House Bill No. 10576, also known as the Human Rights Defenders Act, in January 2022. The Act is now pending before the Senate.
We urge the new Government to immediately cease all red-tagging, harassment, threats, arbitrary detentions and attacks against human rights defenders and publicly recognize the essential role they play in the Filipino society. As a sign of its good faith, the new administration should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained human rights defenders and enact measures protecting defenders, including the Human Rights Defenders Act. We expect the new Administration to enable a safe environment for defenders to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals, including by upholding their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
4. Improve detention conditions
Overcrowding rates in the Philippines are among the worst in the world. As of 31 December 2020, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facilities housed a total of 115,336 inmates, despite having a capacity for only 34,893. For years, there were delays case in the administration of justice, resulting in a high number of pre-trial detainees. In addition, court hearings completely halted for months during 2020 and 2021. This resulted in a further increase in the number of pre-trial detainees, which worsened the overcrowding of detention centres compounded by years of systemic neglect, lack of staffing and other resources. Moreover, restrictions adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic severely limited detainees’ access to their lawyers or family members.
The new government should take urgent measures to alleviate overcrowding in detention facilities, including through the application of alternative measures to imprisonment and by ensuring that pre-trial detention is an exception and not the norm. Pre-trial detainees should also be released unless there is a legitimate and real risk for public safety.
5. Bring anti-terrorism legislation in line with international standards
The Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into force in June 2020, has been heavily criticised by the United Nations as well as civil society for undermining fundamental rights and creating an environment prone to abuse. Several human rights organisations challenged the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, which however upheld most of the law’s problematic provisions, including the one that gives security forces the power to execute arrests without warrant and to detain a suspect without charges for up to 24 days. As it is, the Anti-Terrorism Law could lead to forced confessions and torture.
The Anti-Terrorism Act and its implementing rules should be amended and brought in line with international standards. Moreover, a system of checks and balances should be put in place to ensure that anti-terrorism legislation does not undermine the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and is not used to target human rights defenders and other individuals perceived as critical of the government.
6. Protect children deprived of liberty
Despite a robust legal framework, civil society organisations have documented hundreds of cases of torture and other ill-treatment against children in detention, at the time of arrest and during custody. Methods of torture include beatings, punching, kicking, butt-stroking, electric shock, tight handcuffing, blindfolding, solitary confinement, and waterboarding. Children, the majority of whom have only committed small offences, are held in severely overcrowded cells lacking ventilation, sunlight or mattresses. They receive insufficient food and are rarely allowed outside their cells. Such inhuman conditions may amount to torture and other ill-treatment when applied to children. While the minimum age of criminal responsibility is set at 15 years old, many of the children detained are younger.
The new government should fully enforce the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 to protect children detained from any act of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment during arrest and custody. It should ensure that no child under 15 is detained, provide alternatives to detention, ensure fair trial and subject the detention of children to judicial review.
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