We Defend Together!
Human rights defenders in the Philippines under attack.
We defend together! This is the rallying cry of human rights defenders who gathered together to commemorate International Human Rights Day in various key cities in the Philippines last December 10.
This is in response to the worsening human rights crisis in the Philippines as the government under President Duterte continues to disregard and violate human rights that resulted in the unprecedented killings of thousands of mostly poor Filipinos. They also vowed to fight the government’s crackdown on human rights defenders who are valiantly standing up for human rights as they call for justice and accountability.
Under the Duterte government, human rights defenders have faced relentless vilification and red-tagging that have put their lives at risk, and in various cases, led to actual killings.
The President has also continued to defy and mock growing international calls for the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation into human rights violations in the country.
"There is a human rights crisis in the country. Regardless of the denials and legal acrobatics by the Duterte government, it has made its mark as a murderous regime that disregards people’s rights,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights organization and Viva Salud's partner, Karapatan.
“This government's record is besmirched with blood, with thousands killed in the sham drug war and counterinsurgency program, thousands displaced by bombings and militarization, hundreds arbitrarily detained and filed with trumped-up charges, and thousands more harassed, red-tagged, and threatened for their activism. As we commemorate the International Human Rights Day, we witness how far the country has regressed in terms of upholding, respecting, and protecting people's rights,” she added.
On top of the more than 26,000 killed in the government’s continuing drug war, Karapatan has documented 293 political killings - 167 of which are human rights defenders. At least 204 were tortured, 429 were victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 11 were forcibly disappeared, and 94,075 were threatened and harassed. It is also under Duterte that the number of political prisoners in the country has sharply risen. Having arrested 382 of the 629 political detainees in the country, the Duterte government is responsible for the unjust incarceration of more than half of political prisoners in the country.i
Palabay also cited the government’s attempt to weaponize the law against human rights defenders and its critics. Repressive policies have been implemented to justify repression and funnel state resources to silence critics.
“This government is a failure, yet instead of addressing its shortcomings, it would rather shoot the messengers and kill those who raise legitimate people’s concerns and issues," she said.
The Philippine Human Rights Commission has already set off alarm bells on the mounting complaints about government’s attempt to silence and intimidate human rights defenders through the use of the judicial system, including the filing of criminal cases based on fabricated charges of terrorism, sedition, and other crimes against the security of the state.
As we come to another year of this global observance, the Commission strongly calls for greater state accountability for all human rights violations in the Philippines and to end the impunity that further aggravates the suffering of our people. Extrajudicial killings remain to be the biggest attack on human rights in the country as the death toll continues to rise with the government's anti-people policies. The killing of journalists, activists, farmers and other human rights defenders, has become more rampant as the existing political environment is hostile to any form of dissent. The poor peasants, workers, indigenous and Moro people, women, and the youth remain to be the majority of the victims of oppression and violence. But despite the setbacks, we have to celebrate our gains and build on the small and big wins of people's movement to honor those individuals who sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.ii
“Human rights workers are operating under difficult times as they become targets of harassment and red-tagging, yet they all keep pushing back to make sure that our people can enjoy their fundamental human rights and can lead lives free from violence and repression”, said Human Rights Commission, Chairperson Jose Luis Martin Gascon.
In her speech during the rally, Palabay exhorted the people to defend their rights together and reminded them that “rights do not fall from trees, but that it must continuously be asserted, defended and fought for”.