The recent listing of more than 600 human rights and environmental activists as “terrorists” by the Philippine government is a further and very worrying development in the human rights crisis that has developed under the regime of President Duterte. Given the lawlessness in the country, such a list puts those included in grave peril of physical violence and other forms of harm.

Following President Duterte’s inauguration in July 2016, a program was implemented using violence to resolve problems created, or worsened, by policies adapted to neo-liberal globalization that resulted in increasing inequality, widespread poverty, corporate land grabbing and mining destructive of the environment. That violence was aimed at the people’s leaders and activists, including many of those now listed as “terrorists”, as a way of breaking the resistance to the neo-liberal agenda.

The centrepiece of the program, the “war on drugs” has seen the killing of many thousands of “suspects”, almost all from poor communities.  It has been accompanied by nearly total impunity, and largely without investigation of the killings. It is clear that this slaughter has been encouraged by the President’s denunciation of human rights, e.g. “with regard to drugs, you can forget about human rights” and “criminals have no rights”. This was recently admitted by a spokesperson of the Philippine National Police.

The human rights abuses are not limited to the war on the poor, as the drug war is more correctly understood. They are widespread across many sectors. Activists resisting government policies are silenced by methods clearly intended to violate their rights. Thus peasants, indigenous people, trade unionists, environmental defenders have been killed or detained on trumped up charges. Their supporters face the same hazards. For both lawyers and journalists the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Critics of the government’s policies, including a Senator, have been imprisoned, impeached to stand trial in the case of the Chief Justice, harassed and threatened in the case of a number of media outlets, and a number dropped from the government because of their pro-people and pro-environment policies.

According to detailed evidence presented to the 7th Mindanao Human Rights Summit, held in February at Davao City, Mindanao has been the scene of vast human rights violations, which have continued under Martial Law. The indigenous people have suffered greatly through paramilitary killings and intimidation, and military threats and harassment. Even their schools have been threatened by the President with closure, even bombing. with bombing

The destruction of Marawi City by artillery and aerial bombing, forcing more than 400,000 people to evacuate, raised many questions about the government’s motives and the necessity of such devastation. The questions remain unanswered. Bombing has not been limited to Marawi, as a number of communities in Mindanao and other provinces in northern islands have suffered from such tactics

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has previously had the opportunity to consider human rights abuses under earlier Philippine governments, and to make recommendations for positive reform. We are dismayed that the situation appears to have deteriorated under the current administration. We recognize the stated intention of the government to try to bring positive change to the country. However, we believe the country will not be well served by the aggressive “law-and-order” policies that have resulted in large scale human rights abuse and the undermining of the rule of law.

We join with other organizations in calling for the restoration and respect for the rule of law, and the honouring of its human rights obligations. One significant step the government could take to demonstrate such commitment would be to reconsider the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. If the government believes it has a clear record of lawful behaviour in the war on drugs it should put forward its best case and thereby gain the respect of the international community.

The PPT expresses its solidarity with the many people and organisations in the Philippines who are committed to actively defending their people, their rights and their environment.

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