Geneva-Paris, May 24, 2019. As President Rodrigo Duterte’sauthoritarian rule gets further strengthened after his candidates dominated theMay 13 elections for the Philippine Senate, his all-out war on human rightsdefenders is likely to intensify, theObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCTpartnership) warned today.
Upon return from an international mission to thePhilippines, the Observatory is alarmed by theongoing repression of human rights defenders and the further deterioration ofthe environment in which they operate.
As witnessed directly by the Observatory representatives, human rightsdefenders in the country, including NGO representatives, media activists, landand environmental rights defenders, trade unionists and human rights lawyers,are repeatedly subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrarydetention, threats, and killings in total impunity. President Duterte's unabated‘war on drugs, along with he continued imposition of martial law in Mindanao province and theincreased militarisation of Negros province go hand with hand with a rise inthe violence against defenders in the country.
SincePresident Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders have facedrelentless vilification and red-tagging, including through the use of fakenews, which aims to undermine and discredit their legitimate work. Ahead of the May 13 elections,Government red-tagging campaigns further increased. On April 26, 2019, several lawyers fromthe National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), journalists from Rappler,an online news outlet known for its investigative reporting and its criticismof the Duterte administration’s actions, and members of the Philippines Centerfor Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), were exposed ina so-called “associationalmatrix” as being part of a purported plot to oust Duterte. Such public attacks have directly put at risk human rights defenders, and insome cases, resulted in their actual killing. On April 22, 2019, Mr. Bernardino Patigas, a city councillorand a well-known human rights defender who called for land reform and denouncedthe militarisation of communities and ongoing human rights violations in Negrosprovince, was killed. In April 2018, his name and picture, together with thatof human rights lawyer Mr. Benjamin Ramos, who was subsequently murdered on November 6, 2018, and 60 other individuals and rightsadvocates, were included in a poster of alleged communist personalities.Following reports of Mr. Patigas’ killing, a death threat via text message froman unknown person was sent to Ms. Cristina Palabay, KARAPATAN SecretaryGeneral, and various other community leaders in Negros, insinuating that thenames included in the message were targets to be killed within the year.
The number of human rights lawyers killed during Duterte’s presidencycontinued to rise, with 38 lawyers killed since July 2016. The Observatory condemns the statement made on May 9 by the Duterte Government, tellingthe Supreme Court that human rights lawyers do not need a protection order fromthe Government and the military, arguing that “there is no extra-legal killingand enforced disappearances” among the lawyers’ ranks. Such statements directlycontribute to the perpetuation of the context of impunity for attacks againstdefenders.
“Humanrights defenders are not terrorists, criminals or enemies of the State. We callupon the authorities of the Philippines to re-open the space for civil societyand to recognise the legitimacy of human rights defenders and protect theminstead of slandering them”, the Observatory said today.
Asidefrom public attacks and impunity for killings, the Government is increasingly strivingto annihilate the work of NGOs. Notably, the 2018 Securities and ExchangeCommission (SEC) Memorandum Circular No. 15, published in November 2018,clearly aims to restrict the work of NGOs, who are now forced to disclose moreinformation about their work and funding under the guise of fighting terrorismand money laundering. Incomplete submission of this information will be deemed a failure to comply and canresult in the revocation of an NGO’s registration. NGOs may also becategorised as ‘at risk’ of money laundering or terrorist financing abuse onthe basis on an undisclosed points system. More recently, theGovernment claimed that six prominent NGOs,including the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) andKarapatan - the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights - weresupporting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and were operatingillegally as a result of the cancellation of their SEC registration. Yet, bothPAHRA and KARAPATAN secured new registration in 2010 and 2013, followingprevious revocations of their registration in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
Besides,pending amendments to the 2007 Human Security Act arealso likely to be used, if adopted, to target and silence critical voices inthe country. The amendments would notably allowarrests without a warrant or judicial oversight for up to 30 days, provideimmunity to law enforcement officials and the military for delays in bringingindividuals before judicial authorities, and expand the already vague definitionof terrorist crimes to encompass ordinary crimes.
“IfPresident Duterte is serious about his commitment to improve the livingconditions of poor people in the Philippines, he should stop targetingdefenders - the very people whostand up for human rights, development and social justice for all”, the Observatory concluded.
The Observatory carried out an international advocacyand outreach mission to Manila Metro and Iloilo in the Philippines from May 15to May 22, 2019, with the support of its local partners PAHRA and Karapatan.
Itaimed at presenting the main conclusions and recommendations of the recently-published report of the Observatory on thesituation of human rights defenders in the Philippines to local stakeholders,including human rights groups, media activists, the Commission on Human Rights(CHR), the Philippine National Police, the Department of Interior andLocal Government, as well as diplomaticrepresentatives. The mission also met withhuman rights defenders most at risk from Metro Manila and Ilocos, Iloilo, Panay, Quezon, Negros, and Mindanaoprovinces.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (theObservatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent orremedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDHare both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human RightsDefenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
For further information, please contact:
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
· FIDH:Eva Canan: + 33 6 48 05 91 57