Tough times ahead for human rights defenders in the Philippines

Defending human rights comes at too high a price especially when the President himself publicly displays his contempt for human rights, and had even threatened to shoot human rights defenders for criticizing his anti-people policies.

A spate of killings and attacks against human rights defenders, peasant activists, church leaders, and indigenous peoples has gloomily marked the commemoration of International Human Rights Day in the Philippines.

Elisa Badayos, a local coordinator of TWHA partner Karapatan, and a peasant activist were shot to death by suspected state security forces while investigating human rights violations in Negros Oriental in Visayas. This was followed by the killings of a Roman Catholic priest who had facilitated the release of a political prisoner and a pastor whom the military tagged as a rebel even as his family and his community had attested otherwise. Eight indigenous people belonging to the T'boli and Dulangan Manobo tribes known for protecting their ancestral lands from land grabbing in Mindanao were massacred by a group of soldiers. A leader of a fisherfolk organization was gunned down in the Visayas province of Masbate while a youth cultural worker was found dead in Davao City in Mindanao.

Also in Mindanao, the military continues to impose a food blockade on indigenous people who are staying in an evacuation center after they fled from their communities due to intense military operations. They are actively resisting the encroachment of mining operations in their ancestral lands.

Contempt for human rights

Defending human rights comes at too high a price especially when the President himself publicly displays his contempt for human rights, and had even threatened to shoot human rights defenders for criticizing his anti-people policies.

When the President and his cohorts publicly accuse human defenders of “opposing development” and being “obstacle to change”, one cannot help but wonder where this country is headed in the next few years.

In many instances, the President has threatened to crack down human rights defenders and critics on the accusation that they are conspiring to overthrow his government. He has imputed legitimate protests such as transport strikes, anti-demolition rallies, and grievances against government policies to a destabilization plot against him. For this administration, there is no distinction between dissent and destabilization attempt.

Targets of vilification and demonization

This is the human rights situation in which the Philippine partners of TWHA, Solidagro, and Kiyo consortium pursue to undertake the rights-based approach in raising the people’s capacity to claim their rights and demand accountability from the government. For this reason, they are among several progressive organizations that have become constant targets of vilification and demonization by state forces. Many of their members have been harassed, threatened, implicated and charged in ridiculous criminal cases while their program communities have been enduring intense militarization.

Only about two years into his term, Duterte administration’s human rights record is quite staggering. According to Karapatan, it has now surpassed that of the Marcos dictatorship’s (1972-1986).


  • 13,000 drug-related deaths

  • 113 politically-related extrajudicial killings

  • 22 politically-motivated frustrated extrajudicial killings

  • 256 illegal arrests and detention

  • 81 victims of torture

  • 573 victims of threat, harassment, and intimidation

  • 426,170 victims of forced evacuation

  • 364,617 victims of indiscriminate firing and bombing

Duterte’s list of fascist policies is getting longer. Still on the top of the list are his counterinsurgency program, the unrelenting drug war campaign, martial law in Mindanao, and the threat of expanding martial rule nationwide. The recent frequency of fascist attacks foreshadows what is next to come from Duterte, the dictator wanna-be,” said Karapatan in a statement.

Termination of peace talks

Duterte recently canceled the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), which has already made significant progress in forging agreements on socio-economic reforms that include free land distribution and national industrialization as key to addressing widespread poverty and inequality in the country. He afterward signed a declaration tagging the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People's Army (both entities have been represented by NDF in the peace negotiations) as terrorist groups. He threatened to arrest members of progressive organizations on the accusation that they are part of a conspiracy to commit acts of terror or rebellion.

The terrorist tagging of said revolutionary groups was then used to justify the extension of martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2018 which was overwhelmingly approved by the rubber-stamped Congress. Critics warn this could be a prelude to a nationwide declaration of military rule.


Amidst the looming authoritarian rule and the intensifying repressive campaigns against what the Duterte administration deems as its enemies, progressive organizations have vowed to continue the fight of the people to attain genuine social change and development.

On December 10, consortium partners joined tens of thousands of people who took to the streets in many parts of the country to express their indignation over the worsening human rights condition and their resistance against the looming authoritarian rule of the Duterte administration.#