Philippines: Accountability is the solution to human rights abuses in the Philippines – not Marcos’ ‘Super Body’

We, the undersigned civil society organizations and human rights defenders, view with deep concern the creation of the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The Office of the President spins this “super body” as the answer to the human rights problems in the Philippines and that the government now “champions” human rights.

While we don’t deny the government the right to carry out initiatives to improve, promote, and uphold human rights — indeed, we have been advocating for these initiatives — we are nonetheless concerned that this “super body,” as laid out in Administrative Order No. 22, has fundamental problems that, we fear, will prevent it from addressing the most pressing human rights needs in the Philippines at this time: accountability and an end to the policies that resulted in human rights abuses to begin with.

The most fundamental defect of the Special Committee is its composition. It is led and dominated by government agencies such as the Presidential Committee on Human Rights (PHRC), the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) — agencies that not only failed to address the many human rights issues relating to the brutal “war on drugs” and suppression of freedoms and dissent but are, in fact, part of the problem.

The PHRC does not have the credibility to promote and uphold human rights, for the simple reason that — especially during the last administration — it was taking part in the vilification of rights defenders, with its executive director even serving as spokesperson of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) that has been leading in the red-tagging of activists and civil society groups. It undertook efforts to undermine civil society organizations and rights defenders both in the Philippines and in international forums such as the UN Human Rights Council. It functions mainly as an apologist and propagandist of the government as it tries to parry allegations of state abuses.

The DOJ has a lackluster record of investigating and prosecuting “drug war” killings, notwithstanding its role in undertaking the judicial harassment of human rights defenders, including being one of the primary drivers in using draconian counter-terrorism legislation. The DILG, which has administrative control of the Philippine National Police, has proved ineffective in addressing the thousands of allegations of police misconduct during the past administration’s anti-drug campaign and also in the present one.

The possibility is also high that the Special Committee will have as “observers” agencies such as the Anti-Terrorism Council, which is a key perpetrator in the targeting of civil society actors and activists through red-tagging and terror-tagging. We are worried that other “observers” that have a track record of undermining human rights will be included in the committee, such as the NTF-Elcac and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Both of these agencies have taken part in the harassment of activists, critics, Indigenous peoples, and environment defenders.

Instead of trumpeting the “super body” as a “champion” for human rights, the Philippine government should cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines and with UN human rights mechanisms in their recommendations on the policies and practices that have an impact on human rights. Such a cooperation will show consistency in the Marcos administration’s actions and rhetoric on human rights. It should also endeavor to bring the Philippines back to the fold of the ICC.

President Marcos also needs to categorically end the “war on drugs” by rescinding the official issuances by his predecessor that made the violent anti-drug campaign possible and persistent. (According to the University of the Philippines’ DahasPH, there are 661 deaths in drug-related violence since Marcos took office.) He should also order law enforcers to stand down and to launch a full-scale investigation into the complicity of many officers in “drug war” killings.

Likewise, Marcos needs to categorically end red-tagging as a policy in the government’s campaign against the communist insurgency, with an official issuance that explicitly denounces this and penalizes red-taggers. These actions have already been recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan. This also builds on the recent Supreme Court decision that red-tagging is a threat to life, liberty, and security. He should also order an audit of the government’s efforts to investigate the many incidents of extrajudicial killings of individuals who had been red-tagged or accused of being communist combatants.

These actions will be far more effective in ending impunity and securing accountability for serious rights abuses. Another layer of bureaucracy with a questionable mandate and composed of agencies with questionable human rights records will be useless.

Finally, international actors need to take a stronger, principled position on human rights in the Philippines, consistent with their human rights policies and obligations. The European Union should stop patting itself on the back about “open engagements” with the Marcos administration but instead work to make sure that these unresolved rights abuses are factored in the negotiations for a free trade agreement with the Philippines. The EU’s GSP+, which has been extended but will end soon, has been a failure in performing its mandate on the Philippines. The EU cannot afford to repeat the same mistake with the FTA and still proclaim its human rights commitment in the Philippines with a straight face.

Other Western governments, including the UN in the Philippines, should also stop drinking Mr. Marcos’s Kool-Aid about an “improved” human rights situation. Much needs to be done to improve the human rights crisis that we continue to see. The international community cannot look away just because President Marcos is enthralling them with his promises.

The thousands of victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines “at present and even during the dictatorship of the president’s father“ deserve better. They deserve accountability. They deserve justice. They deserve closure.

Aktionsbundnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen (AMP)

Amnesty Philippines

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Council for People’s Development and Governance

Franciscans International

IBON Foundation



Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Pahra)

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)