Intensifying human rights violations mark Duterte’s first year

Duterte should immediately stop the killings and withdraw repressive State policies which perpetrate violations and constrict any certainty of punishment for the violators. Ultimately, he must address the deteriorating human rights and people's rights situation in the country - Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights

One year ago, the progressive social movement welcomed the election to the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte with guarded optimism.


It accepted enthusiastically Duterte’s promises of change like the resumption of peace talks with the National Democratic Front and Moro (Muslim population) revolutionary groups, ending of the contractualization of labor, independent foreign policy, the appointment of progressives in the cabinet and stopping of destructive mining, among others. But it is also keenly aware that Duterte, who has repeatedly insisted that he is a leftist, comes from the same fold of traditional politicians who have controlled the country for decades. His cabinet is populated by military generals and opportunist bureaucrats; his socioeconomic policies are a mere continuation of the neoliberal policies of previous administrations.


Now, one year into Duterte’s presidency, the progressive social movement has keenly observed how Duterte has reneged on his promises, and how his actions betray his autocratic and rightist tendencies. One glaring example is the booting out of the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who initiated a sweeping change in the said agency and cracked down destructive mining to the consternation of big mining companies, replacing her with yet another military general.


Human rights calamity

Duterte’s first year of office has, in the words of Human Rights Watch, "triggered a human rights calamity" as he unabashedly shows his contempt and mockery of human rights worsening the already gloomy climate of impunity in the country. His war on drugs continues to target impoverished urban communities (more than 9,000 victims and counting), but sparing the rich and the big-time drug lords.


His counterinsurgency program, on the other hand, targets activists and members of progressive organizations, peasants and indigenous peoples protecting their lands from land grabbers and destructive “development projects” such as mining.


His declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao region has resulted in grave humanitarian crisis as thousands of people were forced to evacuate from Marawi City where government troops continue to battle the recalcitrant ISIS-inspired local terrorist groups.


In a media forum, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that the “Filipino people were promised change, and yet the situation they endure is far from the kind of development that is needed.”


A year into the Duterte administration, we are faced with greater challenges. Fascist attacks on people’s rights brought about by increasingly militarist policies of President Duterte, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the United States government have plagued the country, violating the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ own laws and signed peace agreements, as well as international human rights instruments,” Karapatan said in a statement.


In the first year of President Duterte, Karapatan has recorded 68 victims of extrajudicial killings (politically-related killings), 4 enforced disappearances, 52 victims of torture, 842 illegal arrests, 416,005 victims of forced evacuations and 42,894 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation, among others.


Most dangerous country for environmental defenders

In relation to Karapatan’s report, the London-based Global Witness has once again named the Philippines as the most dangerous country in Asia for environmental defenders with 28 activists killed in 2016 (third in the world, next to Brazil and Colombia).


According to Kalikasan-People’s Network for Environment, Duterte's first year has the bloodiest annual rate of killings since 2001 with 17 environmental activists killed. In its report, Kalikasan cited that 47 percent of the killings were mining related, 41 percent involved suspected state armed forces and 65 percent of the killings occurred in Mindanao where most of the big mining operations are located.


Martial Law worsens military atrocities

Human rights advocates and environmental activists have raised concern that martial law will give more grounds - or worse, a blanket protection from Duterte - for the military and paramilitary groups to attack communities defending their lands from big businesses such as mining companies and plantations.


True enough, just recently, several Lumad (indigenous people in Mindanao) communities in Lianga, Surigao del Sur were forced to evacuate due to the ongoing military operations in the area. These highly-organized communities have been known to have continuously stood up against land grabbing and big mining operations making their place, the coal and gold-rich Andap Valley, one of the few areas in the region that remain free of big mining operations and business plantations.


What prompted their hurried evacuation was the sighting of bomber planes circling over their communities bringing to the residents’ minds the massive military aerial strikes in Marawi City that razed the place to the ground and the possible recurrence of military abuses.


Among those who evacuated are students of the Lumad school and Solidagro partner, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). The students and the residents had just returned home recently from more than a year of staying in an evacuation center in Tandag City, more than 50 km away from their village, after witnessing the brutal killings of Alcadev’s executive director and two Lumad leaders by a paramilitary group that has known to be supported by the military in terrorizing Lumad schools and communities.


It is imperative that the Filipino people continue to challenge Duterte and engage him regarding the direction of his administration, to expose militarists in the Duterte administration seeking to maintain the repressive and oppressive status quo, and educate and unite the broader public to catalyze genuine change and meaningful, substantial reforms", said Karapatan.


"We should continue to press for the respect, promotion, and protection of people's rights and forward the struggle for just and lasting peace."#