Tag Archives: HRW

[From the web] Philippines: Prison Deaths Unreported Amid Pandemic Reduce Prisoner Populations to Address Severe Health Concerns -HRW

Philippines: Prison Deaths Unreported Amid Pandemic
Reduce Prisoner Populations to Address Severe Health Concerns

(Manila, April 29, 2020) – The Philippine government has not fully reported prison deaths, raising concerns that Covid-19 is spreading more quickly and widely in the country’s detention facilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should investigate prison deaths and take urgent measures to better protect prisoners, including by reducing prison populations to allow for social distancing and other prevention measures.

Five inmates interviewed separately told Human Rights Watch recently that since March 25, 2020, at least seven inmates have died in the Quezon City Jail and one in the Cavite Provincial Jail. Human Rights Watch could not determine whether the deaths were Covid-19 related because of the absence of testing in the facilities and the government’s failure to report them. A criminal justice expert and a nongovernmental monitoring group believe more deaths have occurred in the country’s prisons and jails than the government has disclosed publicly.

“Unreported deaths of inmates show the urgent need for the Duterte government to be transparent about the spread of Covid-19 inside the country’s overcrowded prisons,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should get serious about the terrible situation in its prisons and jails and accurately report on prison deaths and illness.”

The Philippine government has reported that only two inmates have died from Covid-19 – one at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City and the other at the Quezon City Jail, both in Metro Manila. The Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology publicly stated that nearly 250 inmates in various prisons and jails have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Several inmates at the Quezon City Jail told Human Rights Watch by telephone that possible Covid-19 cases at the facility appear to be increasing. “We have at least one death a week since the outbreak, which is higher than usual,” said an inmate with duties as a “medical aide” inside the overcrowded jail. Another medical aide and other inmates corroborated this account.

An inmate in the Cavite Provincial Jail told Human Rights Watch that a Nigerian man in his 40s died during the first week of April. He said the man later was found to have had Covid-19. A medical staff member in the warden’s office confirmed the death but provided no other details except that the warden “has already reported it to the governor and the DILG,” the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

The inmate said four prisoners carried the body out of the jail with little protective medical equipment, a common practice for medical aides. Medical aides fill in for some roles of nurses and doctors inside the jail, such as taking temperatures. These duties have increased as the virus outbreak has stretched the already inadequate number of medical personnel, and because staff considers them safe to mingle with the general prison population.

“We had a mask on and a pair of gloves but that’s it,” a medical aide at the Quezon City Jail said about taking the body to a waiting ambulance for transfer to a morgue. Another detainee said that while the nurses at the Quezon City Jail wore proper protective gear, medical aides only received a face mask and gloves.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people transferring bodies of those who have died from suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should use protective equipment, including a gown, gloves, face shield, and goggles, or other facial protection.

The inmate said social distancing was impossible inside the jail, prisoners lacked nutritious food, and that only about a quarter of the prisoners were wearing face masks.

“Inmates painted a harrowing picture of health conditions inside the overcrowded jails,” Robertson said. “Failing to give adequate protection to the inmates ordered to help prison medical staff is cruel beyond belief.”

The inmate said that, based on the number of detainees at the Quezon City Jail who have been moved to an isolation ward outside the facility and changes in jail personnel, as many as 20 detainees and 19 jail staff are believed to have been infected as of April 23.

“We pity the old detainees especially because we don’t know where to isolate them,” the inmate said. “Many of them have a hard time breathing, some have a fever.” A detainee over 60 years old said, “The prisoners here are pitiful. There’s practically no space for us to sleep properly. Even the plaza outside our cells is occupied. They don’t care about us.”

All the detainees interviewed said their cell leaders handed down explicit instructions not to disclose detainee deaths to relatives, the public, or the media.

The Philippines has the most congested penal system in the world, with a total jail population of more than 215,000 as of November 2019 occupying space intended for a maximum capacity of 40,000. The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that the 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity in March 2020. Bureau of Corrections records indicates that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was 310 percent in January.

Human Rights Watch and Philippine human rights groups concerned about outbreaks of Covid-19 in the country’s prisons and jails have urged the government to release prisoners who face charges for low-level, non-violent crimes, including older people and those with underlying medical conditions. The Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed by sick and older prisoners, directed lower courts to expedite such releases. However, the solicitor general, Jose Calida, blocked the petition stating, “While it is true that some of the detention and reformatory facilities in the country are highly congested, unfortunately, congestion in prison facilities is not among the grounds to release inmates.”

“The Philippines is facing a real catastrophe if nothing is done to improve the dire health and overcrowding situation in its jails,” Robertson said. “The government needs to release vulnerable prisoners immediately and ensure that the medical needs of the remaining detainees are met.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/29/philippines-prison-deaths-unreported-amid-pandemic

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Coronavirus, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/tag/coronavirus

For a Q&A on the Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/human-rights-dimensions-covid-19-response

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[From the web] Philippines Uses Humiliation as COVID Curfew Punishment- LGBT People Ordered to Dance and Kiss on Video -HRW

Philippines Uses Humiliation as COVID Curfew Punishment
LGBT People Ordered to Dance and Kiss on Video

By Ryan Thoreson
Researcher, LGBT
Human Rights Watch

The spread of COVID-19 has given Philippines law enforcement broad discretion to enforce public health measures. When discrimination is added to the mix, that unfettered power can be particularly demeaning and dehumanizing for vulnerable groups.

On April 5, volunteers in the village of Pandacaqui, in Pampanga province stopped and detained three LGBT people outside after curfew, two of whom explained they were running an errand for their grandmother. A village official accused them of looking for illicit sex and, as punishment, publicly humiliated them by ordering them to kiss, dance, and do push-ups on live video broadcast on social media. They were identified by name and the videos of their punishment went viral, adding to their embarrassment.

The incident illustrates the danger of unrestrained law enforcement power under the guise of public health. Other individuals who violated curfew in Pandacaqui were also subject to a range of punishments broadcast on social media. Where curfews exist as a means of slowing the spread of the virus, they should be enforced in a professional, measured manner that does not jeopardize people’s rights and dignity.

Respect for human rights is crucial as measures to contain COVID-19 continue in the coming weeks. The Philippines has recorded over 3,700 cases of COVID-19, and President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the country’s lockdown to April 30. A COVID-19 law that went into effect on March 24 grants the administration broad powers to address the coronavirus, which has contributed to violations of human rights, including the right to life, freedom of expression, access to information, and children’s rights.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which has administrative control over officials in villages like Pandacaqui, should investigate incidents in which village officials and police mistreat violators of curfew and quarantine regulations. It should hold to account those responsible for these abuses.

Efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are essential, but should not be used as an excuse to demean vulnerable groups. The humiliation of LGBT people and others in the Philippines demonstrates the need for oversight and accountability to ensure that officials across the country respect people’s rights and dignity during the current crisis.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/08/philippines-uses-humiliation-covid-curfew-punishment

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[Statement] HRW reaction to petition by Solicitor General Calida asking the Philippine Supreme Court to issue a gag order on ABS-CBN case

HRW reaction to the petition by Solicitor General Calida asking the Philippine Supreme Court to issue a gag order on ABS-CBN case:

“This is ridiculous, a clear case of adding insult to injury. First, the government petitions to end the ABS-CBN franchise and now it is proposing to silence all critics with an absurd gag order on specious grounds. Why are President Duterte and the Philippine government so scared of independent opinions and a free press? Let’s hope the Supreme Court upholds the principle of freedom of expression and rules against the Solicitor-General’s request.”

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch
@reaproy

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[From the web] Duterte Seeks to Shut Network, Case Against ABS-CBN Attacks Media Freedom -HRW

The Philippine Congress should reject President Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent misuse of regulatory powers against the country’s largest broadcast network, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 10, 2020, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to nullify the franchise of ABS-CBN, which has long faced Duterte’s ire for criticizing his “war on drugs” and other policies.

Congress is authorized to renew the licenses of broadcasting companies, but the House of Representatives has yet to act on nearly a dozen renewal bills already filed. The administration’s legal action could prevent Congress from extending the 25-year-old network’s permit, which expires on March 30.

“Philippine legislators have a responsibility to uphold media freedom and resist administration efforts to pressure news outlets to toe the government’s line,” said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “President Duterte’s administration should cease its politically motivated legal actions against the network.”

Duterte has publicly attacked ABS-CBN, accusing it of “swindling” him by not airing his advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign, a charge the network has denied. He has also urged the media company to “just sell” its assets, vowing that he would make sure its franchise would not be renewed. Duterte and his allies have accused the network of being sympathetic to the political opposition. Its owners, the Lopez family, are longtime political opponents of the former Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Administration officials have also complained about the network’s critical coverage of the “drug war.”

The suit filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government’s chief lawyer, called a quo warranto petition, seeks to nullify ABS-CBN’s original franchise, contending that the network has engaged in “abusive practices” that violate its franchise. Calida also alleged that ABS-CBN allowed foreigners to invest in the company, in violation of Philippine Constitution.

ABS-CBN said in a statement that it “complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations.” It called the petition an attempt to shut down its operations.

The Philippines’ license renewal process allows congress to put inappropriate pressure on broadcast networks, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors government compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Philippines is a party, has stated that governments “must avoid imposing onerous licensing conditions … on the broadcast media. The criteria for the application of such conditions and license fees should be reasonable and objective, clear, transparent, nondiscriminatory and otherwise in compliance with the Covenant.”

The Duterte administration’s apparent efforts to intimidate and control ABS-CBN mimic its actions against the news website Rappler, Human Rights Watch said. Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa, are facing numerous court cases as a result of their critical coverage of the “drug war.” Rappler and ABS-CBN have documented many of the thousands of killings by the police and their agents in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. The Philippine Daily Inquirer has also faced attacks from Duterte because of its “drug war” reporting and commentary.

“The administration’s attempt to cancel ABS-CBN’s franchise or deny its extension is not just an attack on a single network, but an all-out assault on media freedom,” Conde said. “Complaints against broadcasters should be addressed in the proper forum, such as the National Telecommunications Commission.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/11/philippines-duterte-seeks-shut-network

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[Statement] HRW reaction to quo warranto case filed by the Philippine government against ABS-CBN

The quo warranto case filed by the Solicitor General today against ABS-CBN, the country’s largest and most influential network, has all the indications of political harassment. This is clearly an attempt by the Duterte government to intimidate or control ABS-CBN, which has aired and published critical reporting on the government, including its deadly “war on drugs.”

With the network’s legislative franchise renewal pending before Congress, this case applies undue pressure on legislators who could be forced to toe the Duterte government’s line against the media company. Already, some legislators have stated that this cause could jeopardize the franchise renewal, which ends March 30. President Duterte has not made secret his displeasure toward ABS-CBN and has expressed his intention to shut it down.

This case by the government’s chief lawyer underscores Duterte’s determination to shutter the network, in the same manner that he has gone after the news website Rappler for its critical reportage of the “war on drugs.” Filipinos and advocates of press freedom should reject this move and assert their right to a free press.

Carlos Conde
Researcher, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

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[Off the shelf] No Letup in ‘Drug War’ Killings, Upsurge in Attacks on Activists, Environmentalists -HRW

The Philippine government’s murderous “war on drugs” remained the Philippines’ gravest human rights concern in 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2020. Security forces were also implicated in often deadly attacks on activists.

“President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign remains as brutal as when it started, with drug suspects being killed regularly across the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Four years into the ‘drug war,’ the need for international mechanisms to provide accountability is as great as ever.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

Duterte’s appointment in November of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Drugs (ICAD) raised hopes that drug campaign violence would be tempered. But Duterte fired Robredo, an opponent of the anti-drug campaign, just days later.

In July, the Philippine National Police reported that its forces had killed more than 5,500 people during drug raids. Local rights groups, as well as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, contending that the number could be more than 27,000. Except for three police officers involved in a highly publicized killing in August 2017, no one has been convicted in any “drug war” killings. Duterte continued to defend the drug war and promised to protect law enforcement officers who killed drug suspects in these raids.

In December 2019, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that its forces had killed 5,552 people during drug raids from July 1, 2016, to November 30, 2019. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had yet to conclude its preliminary examination into “drug war” killings, which it began in February 2018. A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on the Philippines adopted in July 2019 directs the UN human rights office to issue a report in June 2020.

There was an upsurge in 2019 in often deadly attacks against left-wing activists, including peasant leaders, environmentalists, tribal leaders, and religious figures who were deemed to be linked to the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Violence was particularly high on the island of Negros, where alleged state security forces killed peasants, their leaders, environmentalists, religious leaders, and their community supporters.

Left-wing, politically active groups faced police raids that resulted in arbitrary arrests and detention. Groups alleged that police planted weapons and other “evidence” to justify the raids and arrests. The government and military frequently labeled these groups and individuals as communist rebels or sympathizers, a practice commonly known as “red-tagging.” Some journalists also faced similar political attacks.

As with the anti-drug campaign, the Duterte administration has done little to investigate and prosecute those responsible for politically motivated attacks against activists. Duterte has instead seemingly encouraged such attacks, for instance, in August calling on the military to “implement a more severe measure” against the insurgency.

“There are sadly no signs that President Duterte is going to end ‘drug war’ killings or act to stop attacks on activists,” Robertson said. “That makes it all the more important for international institutions like the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council to do what they can to hold Duterte and other senior officials to account for their abuses.”

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020

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[From the web] Masterminds Guilty in Philippines Massacre -HRW

But Many Acquitted, Remain at Large in 2009 Maguindanao Killings
By Carlos H. Conde
Philippines Researcher
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

When I heard the verdict handed down in the Maguindanao Massacre case today, I was ecstatic. As a former journalist, I’ve waited 10 long years for a court to convict the perpetrators of the country’s worst case of political violence, in which 58 people, 32 of them journalists, were killed execution-style.

The masterminds of this horrific crime – Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan Jr. – were sentenced to life in prison without parole. But out of more than 107 who stood trial, only 28 people were convicted for murder, receiving 40-year prison terms, minus 10 for time served. Another 15 people were found guilty as accessory to the murders. The court acquitted 55 defendants of all charges. Then there are the 80 suspects that police have failed to arrest.

So this was justice, if only partially, and may not fully comfort victims’ relatives. I’m especially reminded of Reynaldo Momay, the 58th victim, whose case the court did not include because his body was never found. I wrote about him and his family when I was still reporting for the New York Times, and the bitterness I felt then only worsened after the court shunted aside his fate.

But in today’s Philippines, this verdict is a victory nonetheless – a rare triumph of accountability in a country notorious for impunity and where politicians and warlords can get away with anything, including murder.

The challenge now is to finish this quest for justice, starting with the arrest of the 80 suspects who remain at large. Both victims’ families and witnesses remain in danger as long as these suspects are free.

Then there’s the question of whether another Maguindanao Massacre could happen again. I’m afraid that so long as the national government ignores or even coddles local ruling families with “private armies,” future Maguindanaos are inevitable. Until the military and police can be trusted to dismantle politicians’ illegal forces, instead of participating in them, those who try to exercise their basic rights, whether as opposition candidates, journalists or ordinary citizens, will be at risk.

So I fear these convictions will not upend my country’s dysfunctional political culture. But today, at least, was a day for justice.

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[From the web] Duterte Threatens to Shut Down TV Network -HRW

Closing ABS-CBN Would Degrade Philippines Press Freedom

By Carlos H. Conde
Researcher, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

President Rodrigo Duterte ramped up his attack on the Philippine media, vowing to block the renewal of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest and most influential broadcast network. “Your franchise will end next year,” the president said on Tuesday. “If you are expecting it to be renewed, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out.”

This is Duterte’s third such threat against ABS-CBN. He accused the network of unfair reporting, as well as of allegedly taking his advertising money in the 2016 elections but then failing to run his political ads. He earlier threatened to file charges against the media company for allegedly defrauding him. The company has denied the allegations of unfair or biased reporting.

Under Philippine law, broadcasters must secure congressional franchises in order to operate. ABS-CBN’s franchise, issued in 1995, will expire in March 2020. Duterte has exploited this impending renewal to threaten the network, accusing it of slanting its reporting against him and favoring politicians identified with the political opposition. The Lopez family, which controls the network, is known for its activist past, having fought against the Marcos dictatorship. It paid dearly for that opposition when Ferdinand Marcos shut the network down during martial law in 1972. Duterte has politically allied himself with the Marcos family, which has been trying to rehabilitate its long-tattered image of abuse and corruption.

But perhaps the real reason for these threats is ABS-CBN’s critical reporting of Duterte, particularly his murderous “war on drugs.” The network has aired and published award-winning reports on the extrajudicial killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users by the police. Apart from ABS-CBN, the government has also targeted Rappler, the online media company that earned Duterte’s ire for its thorough documentation of the “drug war” killings and other abuses.

Duterte is misusing the government’s regulatory powers to settle a score with ABS-CBN. These actions are part of a broader crackdown on media outlets and civil society groups that dare criticize him. Philippine congress members should resist the president’s effort to shut down ABS-CBN. Appeasing a vindictive president who is hell-bent on frustrating accountability for his policies will have far-reaching implications for media freedom, human rights, and democracy in the Philippines.

Read more @ https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

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[Statement] On Duterte’s firing of VP Leni Robredo -HRW

Vice President Robredo barely warmed her seat before President Duterte fired her as co-chairperson of the Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. Was his offer of involving her in finding solutions to the situation of drugs in the Philippines ever really serious? He didn’t even give Robredo the chance to show what she could do to make the campaign against drugs effective and, most important, non-violent and rights-respecting. By firing her on such ludicrous grounds, Duterte reveals he was never even remotely sincere and exposes his game to appoint her as a total sham. Robredo does a great service to the Filipino people and her country by continuing her strong criticism of the rights-abusing “drug war” and demanding accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes against human rights.

Carlos Conde
Asia researcher
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

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[From the web] Bloody Sunday in the Philippines 3 Daylight Killings Highlight Rampant Impunity -HRW

By Carlos H. Conde
Philippines researcher
Human Rights Watch

Three people – an activist church worker, a provincial politician, and a businessman – were killed in separate attacks in the Philippines on Sunday by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles.

The media reported that on July 7, gunmen shot dead Salvador Romano, 42, in Negros Oriental, a central province long wracked by killings over land rights. Romano was attacked as he left a church of the Philippine Independent Church, where he worked as a youth advisor. He formerly volunteered for the human rights group Karapatan, whose members have long been victims of extrajudicial killings.

Earlier that morning, Wenefredo Olofernes, 52, a well-known member of the Dinagat provincial legislature, was fatally shot once in the head by gunmen while riding his motorcycle home in Surigao City. Assassinations of politicians are common in the Philippines.

The media also reported the killing that day of Arnel Agustin, a businessman from Cagayan province, north of Manila. Gunmen on a motorbike killed him and wounded his wife in their pickup truck.

The three killings are unrelated, but share the modus operandi of killers commonly referred to in the Philippines as “riding in tandem”: two people riding a motorbike, wearing ski masks or balaclavas, and using a .45 caliber pistol (at least in the shootings of Romano and Agustin). According to the police, about four people are killed this way in the Philippines every day.

These three cases highlight the breakdown in law and order in the Philippines. Guns for hire – whether paid hitmen or local government-linked “death squads” – operate knowing that the risk of arrest, let alone successful prosecution, is miniscule. It’s no surprise that many of the hired guns are police officers. And as killings in the government’s “war on drugs” have expanded and come under increased global scrutiny, the police have outsourced many “drug war” killings.

“Riding-in-tandem” killings, and the government’s failure to stop them, are a daily reminder of the need for greater international monitoring. The United Nations Human Rights Council is poised to adopt a resolution on the human rights crisis in the Philippines. It may not end the carnage but will put the government on notice that it needs to.

Read more @www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Three-Year-Old Girl Latest Philippines ‘Drug War’ Victim UN Human Rights Council Should Adopt Resolution to Stop Carnage -HRW

By Carlos H. Conde

On Sunday, a 3-year-old girl became the latest casualty of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which has killed thousands over the past three years. Myka Ulpina died after being shot during a police raid targeting her father, Renato Dolofrina, in Rizal province, near Manila, media reports said. Police claimed that Dolofrina used the child as a “shield” during the operation.

Police accounts of drug raids are not reliable because the officers enforcing the “drug war” have been shown to manufacture evidence such as planting weapons and drugs to justify killings. Deceit has become the hallmark of this brutal campaign in which the authorities admit 6,600 people have been killed – other estimates suggest as many as 27,000 – because all of them, according to authorities, fought back, ignoring case after case in which witnesses say suspects were executed.

Most of those killed in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, including the children like Myka, lived in impoverished urban areas. The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, was among those that condemned the July 2018 death of Skyler Abatayo, 4, and that of Danica May Garcia, 5, in August 2016.

Then there are the children who themselves were targeted and killed, the most notorious case being that of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, who was shown in surveillance footage being dragged away by police and was later found dead in a pigsty. Kian’s murder resulted in the only conviction so far of police officers implicated in a “drug war” killing. Child rights groups in the Philippines have told Human Rights Watch that more than 100 children have died since the campaign began in June 2016.

The “drug war” has also damaged countless Filipino children who continue to grapple with the psychological, emotional, social, and economic impact of the killings of their loved ones, who were often their family’s breadwinner. A web feature Human Rights Watch published last week underscored the devastation this campaign has unleashed on children.

The deaths of Myka and other children, as well as the thousands of adults, should prod the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the Iceland-initiated resolution that urges the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the “drug war” killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines. The resolution on the table is a modest first step, but if passed and implemented it can make significant inroads towards stopping the carnage in the Philippines.

Read more @www.hrw.org

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[Statement] Action by the UN’s premier human rights body is crucial to stem the violence ensure accountability -HRW

HRW reaction to UN HRC opening statement on Philippines

In her opening statement today at the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the “drug war” killings in the Philippines and supported the call by Special Rapporteurs for action by the Human Rights Council. States at the Human Rights Council should urgently follow through and support the resolution initiated by Iceland, putting Philippines on the council’s agenda. The killings continue in the Philippines on a daily basis and action by the UN’s premier human rights body is crucial to stem the violence ensure accountability.

 

Laila Matar
Deputy Director for United Nations
in Geneva at Human Rights Watch

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[From the web] Spate of Killings of Leftist Activists Investigations Needed Into 4 Deaths Over 48 Hours -HRW

(New York, June 18, 2019) – The Philippine government should promptly and impartially investigate the recent spate of killings of leftist activists, Human Rights Watch said today. From June 15 to 17, 2019, unidentified gunmen fatally shot four members of leftist organizations. A labor organizer was also killed on June 2.

During the upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, scheduled to begin on June 24 in Geneva, UN member states should ensure an international investigation into the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, including the thousands of unlawful killings under the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s murderous “war on drugs,” the killing of activists, and other serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.

“The recent killings underscore that attacks on leftist activists is a serious human rights problem in the Philippines that has never gone away,” said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Philippine authorities should fully investigate these killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

On June 17, unidentified gunmen shot dead Neptali Morada in Naga City, Camarines Sur province on Luzon island. Morada, 40, was affiliated with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (or Bayan), an alliance of left-wing organization and was a former staff member of a local politician. A day earlier, gunmen on motorbikes shot Nonoy Palma, 57, a member of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), in Bukidnon province on the southern island of Mindanao.

On June 15, gunmen killed Ryan Hubilla, 22, and Nelly Bagasala, 69, volunteers for the human rights group Karapatan in Sorsogon province on the southern tip of Luzon. On June 2, a gunman on a motorbike fatally shot Dennis Sequena, a labor organizer from Partido Manggagawa (Workers’ Party), as he met with workers in Cavite province, near Manila. Local groups confirmed for Human Rights Watch a number of details about the attacks.

In previous years, Human Rights Watch has documented the killing of numerous leftist activists, peasant leaders, and labor organizers. Many of these killings occurred in the context of the Philippine government’s 50-year-old armed conflict with a communist insurgency. Leaders of indigenous peoples, religious workers, and environmentalists have also been targeted.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have linked many of these killings to members of the military, police, or security force-backed militias. Very few of the killings of activists over the years have been seriously investigated, and hardly any have resulted in convictions. Often, the military and police accuse the victims of being either members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines or its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Government officials have recently accused leftist groups that operate openly and legally of being communists, a label that can place their members at grave risk. Journalists and lawyers’ groups critical of the Duterte administration have also been subjected to this “red-tagging.”

The “drug war” killings in the Philippines – which have continued unabated with near zero accountability – require a long overdue international investigation, and the attacks on leftist activists and other serious human rights abuses, including attacks against human rights defenders and civil society, should also be urgently scrutinized, Human Rights Watch said. On June 18, Philippine authorities said more than 6,600 people have been killed in the past three years during what they call legitimate police operations against drug suspects. However, nongovernmental groups, as well as the National Commission on Human Rights, estimated that the death toll is several times higher.

“UN member states should not let another session of the Human Rights Council go by without adopting measures that will put serious human rights violations in the Philippines under scrutiny,” Conde said. “It’s clear that Duterte’s administration will not credibly investigate abuses in the ‘drug war’ and against activists on their own.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/18/philippines-spate-killings-leftist-activists

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[From the web] Philippines ‘Drug War’ Top Cop Elected to Senate -HRW

International Criminal Court Should Investigate Ex-Police Chief

Many pundits have interpreted the recently concluded midterm elections in the Philippines as an endorsement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Duterte’s favored candidates dominated the Senate, House, and local elections, prompting foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. to pronounce, “he [Duterte] and the war just won” and the “war goes on.”

However one views the election results, it won’t change the fact that victorious candidates implicated in “drug war” crimes shouldn’t receive a get-out-of-jail-free card. Newly elected senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa was Duterte’s police chief when the “drug war” began after Duterte took office in June 2016. Dela Rosa presided over a Philippine National Police that routinely shot and killed drug suspects, claiming without proof they resisted arrest. Investigations by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and the media found numerous instances in which the police planted weapons and drugs on victims to cover-up the killings.

The police say that over three years they killed about 5,300 drug suspects who fought back, an unverified claim that also ignores the role of police-backed vigilantes responsible for many more “drug war” killings. The governmental Commission on Human Rights estimates that more than 27,000 have died in the “drug war” – a number that grows daily as killings extend from Metro Manila to other urban areas.

Dela Rosa was as vociferous in carrying out and defending the “drug war” brutality as Duterte was in justifying it. “If many believe that the number of drug addicts has gone down,” he told reporters during his senate campaign, “then somehow we are successful.”

Dela Rosa may still have a date with justice. The Duterte government has shown it won’t carry out necessary investigations, but the International Criminal Court (ICC) could. Although the Philippines has officially withdrawn from the ICC, the court, which is conducting a preliminary examination into killings during the anti-drug campaign, can still investigate alleged crimes against humanity that occurred while Dela Rosa was police chief, and any other crimes “occurring in the future in the context of the same situation.” Now that Dela Rosa is a policymaker, there is renewed urgency in bringing all those responsible for “drug war” crimes to justice.

By Carlos H. Conde
Researcher, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

Read more @www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Outspoken Senator Arbitrarily Detained Two Years, Drop Politically Motivated Charges against Leila de Lima -HRW

Outspoken Senator Arbitrarily Detained Two Years
Drop Politically Motivated Charges against Leila de Lima

The Philippine government should drop the politically-motivated charges against Senator Leila de Lima, a prominent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive “war on drugs,” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and FORUM-ASIA said today. De Lima has been arbitrarily detained inside the headquarters of the Philippine National Police since February 24, 2017, in violation of her constitutional rights as a sitting senator and in contravention of international human rights law.

The arbitrary detention and mistreatment of de Lima is emblematic of the deteriorating situation for all human rights defenders in the Philippines, the organizations said.

“Senator de Lima’s two years in custody show the lengths the Duterte administration will go to stifle dissent and threaten human rights defenders who demand accountability for violations,” said John Samuel, executive director of FORUM-ASIA. “The government’s fabricated charges against her only reflect how compromised its institutions have become under the present administration.”

De Lima was the first politician to be targeted by Duterte’s administration after he became president in June 2016. However, de Lima has faced Duterte’s ire since 2009 when, as chairperson of the national Commission on Human Rights, she launched an investigation into extrajudicial executions by the so-called “Davao death squad” in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than two decades.

In August 2016, de Lima, as chairperson of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, started an investigation into the killings that began immediately after Duterte took office. Duterte and his allies in the executive and legislative branches responded with a year-long smear campaign against de Lima, in Duterte’s words, to “destroy her publicly.” Legislators blocked the committee’s investigation and instead started an inquiry into her alleged romantic affairs – even threatening to make public a purported sex video of hers – and her alleged links with people convicted and imprisoned for drug-related offences.

The authorities used her alleged links to imprisoned drug offenders, which rest mainly on the testimonies of these convicted individuals, to justify her arrest and detention in February 2017.

“Senator de Lima is a brave champion of human rights, detained solely for her criticism of the Duterte administration,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East and South East Asia and the Pacific Regional Director. “As one of the only leaders bold enough to oppose Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’ she has faced prolonged arbitrary detention. This is a blatant attempt to silence her courageous voice as she continues to speak out against widespread human rights violations, including thousands of extrajudicial executions of mostly poor and marginalized people.”

The authorities have mistreated de Lima and further violated her human rights whilst in detention. She has been held practically in isolation in Camp Crame, the police headquarters, and rarely allowed visitors. Delegations from foreign governments have been prevented from seeing her or have had a difficult time doing so. She has been denied the use of electronic devices and has only been able to continue to issue press releases and public updates criticizing the “war on drugs” by writing them in longhand.

During trips to court for pretrial hearings, police escorts have attempted to prevent her from speaking to journalists, for instance coughing loudly in unison so that no one could hear what she was saying. On numerous occasions, as videos and photos show, her police escorts have physically obstructed her from speaking.

The pattern of abuse against de Lima is consistent with the administration’s campaign to target and harass critics both in the Philippines and abroad. Those who have spoken out against the “war on drugs” – among them United Nations and European Union officials – have been disparaged and harassed by social media trolls and the government media, often by the president himself. Journalists, most notably Maria Ressa of the news and commentary website Rappler, have been charged with criminal defamation and other politically motivated offenses to intimidate and silence them. Some foreigners have been arrested and deported simply for peacefully expressing their views.

The Duterte administration has rejected numerous calls from various independent organizations, among them the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to release de Lima. It has rejected attempts by United Nations human rights experts to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial executions committed in the context of the “war on drugs” and has threatened the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor after a preliminary examination into extrajudicial executions was launched.

“De Lima’s prolonged detention is the culmination of President Duterte’s long demonization campaign against a critical sitting senator,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These preposterous charges against her should immediately be dropped and the senator released.”

Source: www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Politically Motivated Arrest of Philippine Journalist Criminal Libel Case is Latest Attack on Maria Ressa, Rappler -HRW

Politically Motivated Arrest of Philippine Journalist
Criminal Libel Case is Latest Attack on Maria Ressa, Rappler

On Wednesday, Philippine National Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Maria Ressa, the founding editor of news website Rappler, in the latest assault on media freedom by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The arrest follows a libel case filed against Ressa under the cybercrimes law for a story the website published in 2012.

Rappler called the arrest “baseless” and vowed to “continue to do our jobs as journalists.” Rappler’s award-winning and critical coverage of the administration of Duterte, particularly its murderous “war on drugs,” has again put it in the crosshairs of the government.

The arrest was just the latest in a string of politically motivated cases filed against Ressa and Rappler. Last year, the Department of Justice brought five cases of alleged tax evasion against Ressa. She posted bail after arrest warrants were issued. Earlier, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the website’s registration, alleging that foreigners had illegally invested in the company, a charge Rappler denied.

The cases against Ressa and Rappler appear designed not only to intimidate the website, but to eventually shut it down.

The administration, its social media trolls, and government propagandists have launched repeated attacks against Rappler and its staffers, at one point banning one of its reporters, Pia Ranada, from covering the presidential premises.

Ressa’s persecution is part of a broader campaign by the Duterte administration to harass and silence critics not only in the media, but in the legislature, the judiciary, civil society, and the Roman Catholic Church. Senator Leila de Lima, a former Justice Secretary, chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, and a fierce Duterte critic, was arrested almost two years ago on fabricated charges.

The Duterte administration’s attacks on such a globally prominent news outlet demand a global response. Governments concerned about the thousands killed in the “drug war” and the media’s ability to report on this and other abuses need to publicly demand Ressa’s release and the dropping of all charges.

For more HRW reporting on Maria Ressa and Rappler, visit: www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Philippines: Crackdown Against Critics Intensifies -HRW

Philippines: Crackdown Against Critics Intensifies
‘Drug War’ Killings Continue; Attacks on Activists, Journalists Rise

(New York, January 17, 2019) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration heightened its repression in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

The government’s murderous “war on drugs” expanded to cities outside Manila. Attacks escalated against activists, journalists, and critics of the government. Donor governments should intensify pressure on Duterte to end targeted killings and to drop politically motivated criminal cases.

“President Duterte has used the killing of thousands of largely poor drug suspects as a tool to bolster his popularity,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “He’s also targeting anyone who might undermine that popularity, from outspoken senators to journalists documenting his abuses.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The extrajudicial killings of drug suspects expanded to urban areas outside the capital in 2018. Nationwide, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said, nearly 5,000 drug suspects were killed between July 2016 and November 2018 during anti-drug operations, although domestic rights groups assert that police and alleged police agents killed thousands more.

The administration stepped up its attacks against “drug war” critics, including activist groups, the Catholic church, opposition politicians, and the media. In December the authorities brought politically motivated charges for tax evasion against the critical news website Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa.

Duterte targeted the Catholic church, which has criticized the “drug war,” accusing bishops of corruption and labeling most Filipino priests homosexuals. In December, he urged the public to kill “useless bishops” because “all they do is criticize” the government.

The government vilified activist groups, calling them communists, and terrorists. In March, the foreign affairs secretary accused human rights groups of being “unwitting tools” of drug syndicates. In November, gunmen killed a rights lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, in Negros Occidental. Ramos represented the families of victims of a recent massacre of peasants in the province. There were violent attacks against human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, environmentalists, indigenous group members, peasants, and farmers.

Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s most prominent critic, has remained in jail since her arrest in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges. Another senator, Antonio Trillanes IV, was also threatened with arrest in September for criticizing Duterte. In May, acting on a petition by the government, the Supreme Court ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her criticism of the “drug war” and other policies of the Duterte administration.

There were two rare triumphs of accountability in the Philippines in 2018. One was the conviction in September of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and two others for the 2006 kidnapping and illegal detention of two student activists. In November, three police officers were convicted for the August 2017 “drug war” murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

“President Duterte has provided no indication of any letup in his murderous drug war,” Adams said. “Foreign donors should support efforts by Philippine institutions, groups and the media who are pressing the government to stop the killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

To read Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2019 chapter on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/philippines

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

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[Statement] DOJ’s indictment of Rappler and its founder, Maria Ressa for tax evasion and failure to file tax returns a desperate attempt to shut down one of the critical voices in Philippine journalism -HRW

DOJ’s indictment of Rappler and its founder, Maria Ressa for tax evasion and failure to file tax returns a desperate attempt to shut down one of the critical voices in Philippine journalism -HRW

The move by the Philippine Department of Justice to indict Rappler and its editor and founder, Maria Ressa, for tax evasion and failure to file tax returns is clearly a desperate attempt by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to shut down one of the critical voices in Philippine journalism. Rappler has been in the cross-hairs of the administration from Day One because of its unrelenting and exceptional coverage of corruption and malfeasance in government, particularly the “drug war.” Prior to the indictment, Rappler was subjected to a barrage of harassment and intimidation by the administration, starting with Duterte himself. This includes threats on social media and blocking the news website’s reporter from covering the presidential palace. This case against Rappler is a clear assault on press freedom in the Philippines and part of the Duterte government’s attempt to evade scrutiny and accountability.

Brad Adams
Asia director, Human Rights Watch

Below are some background materials on the Rappler case:

Rappler: Tax case clear harassment, has no legal basis https://www.rappler.com/about-rappler/about-us/216342-statement-doj-resolution-tax-evasion-case-harassment-no-legal-basis

Philippine Government Targets ‘Rappler’ for Closure | Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/15/philippine-government-targets-rappler-closure

SEC move vs Rappler a ‘politicized attack’ – HRW https://www.rappler.com/nation/193765-human-rights-watch-sec-statement

HRW: Barring access to Malacañang can lead to ‘broader assault’ on media https://www.rappler.com/nation/196544-human-rights-watch-access-malacanang-lead-broader-assault-media

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[From the web] Another Rights Lawyer Murdered in the Philippines Killing Highlights Land Conflict in Negros -by Carlos H. Conde

Another Rights Lawyer Murdered in the Philippines
Killing Highlights Land Conflict in Negros
By Carlos H. Conde
Researcher, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
@condeHRW

By most accounts, Benjamin Ramos died doing exactly what he had always done as a human rights lawyer: helping his clients free of charge. On the evening of November 6, Ramos was taking a break from assisting a client when gunmen on a motorcycle shot him three times. Ramos was 56 years old.

Ramos’s murder in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental is shocking but, sadly, not surprising in a country where impunity for extrajudicial killings and other serious rights violations, including “drug war” murders, prevails.

Lawyers like Ramos who represent the most marginalized people in the Philippines have themselves also been victims of abuse. For his work, authorities vilified Ramos as a communist and harassed his colleagues. According to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which he helped establish, Ramos was the 34th lawyer to have been murdered since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

Ramos’s murder also underscores the persistence of injustice in Negros, where landlessness has bred decades-old agrarian conflict. Ramos was representing families of victims of last month’s Sagay Massacre, when nine activists were gunned down after joining a protest on a sugarcane plantation. These protests, known as “bungkalan,” have often resulted in violence in Negros and elsewhere, as peasants and farmers occupy contested property and are met with resistance from landowners. Three decades since the Philippines’ “People Power” uprising spurred demands for change, agrarian reform remains an unfulfilled promise.

The National Federation of Sugar Workers has reported that 172 farmers, peasants and land rights activists – 45 in Negros alone – have been killed during Duterte’s two years in office. Only about 15 cases have been filed in court and none have resulted in a conviction, according to the Philippine human rights group Karapatan.

Attacks against farmers and peasants – and those who represent them – highlight the deadly consequences of land injustice in the Philippines and the government’s continued failure to address a long-simmering issue.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/08/another-rights-lawyer-murdered-philippines

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[Press Release] Independently Probe Police ‘Hitmen’ Top Official Admits Law Enforcement Role in Killings -HRW

Philippines: Independently Probe Police ‘Hitmen’
Top Official Admits Law Enforcement Role in Killings

(Manila, November 6, 2018) – The Philippine government should create an independent commission to investigate the role of police officers in the killings of drug suspects, Human Rights Watch said today. A top law enforcement official recently admitted that police officers working for drug syndicates were responsible for many of the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the past two years.

Chief Superintendent Debold Dinas, chief of the Philippine National Police for the Central Visayas region, stated in an interview on October 31, 2018, that some of the hitmen responsible for these killings were “most likely… retired military or police officers or there are active police officers.” He made the admission following a series of killings in Cebu City and elsewhere in the central Philippines that bore similarities to the “drug war” murders that began after President Rodrigo Duterte took office in July 2016.

“The admission by a senior police official that police officers are working as hitmen for drug syndicates is yet more evidence of Philippine government complicity in ‘drug war’ killings,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the total failure of the police to stop these abuses, it’s clear that any serious investigation of the police role in the war on drugs needs full independence.”

Any proposed commission of inquiry should be completely independent from the Philippine National Police and the Office of the President. Its members should include investigators from the Commission on Human Rights and representatives of nongovernmental organizations with recognized expertise.

Human Rights Watch investigations into several “drug war” killings revealed the pervasive involvement of police officers who routinely falsified evidence by planting weapons and illegal drugs on suspects’ bodies. Human Rights Watch found that whether or not the unidentified assailants were police officers or agents of the police, the similarity of tactics used in the killings showed planning and coordination by the police and local civilian officials.

Reuters and other media organizations have also published investigative pieces that implicated police officers in “drug war” killings. Philippine officials have repeatedly denied the claims by Human Rights Watch and others, but the admission by Dinas of police complicity bolsters the need for an independent investigation. Duterte has regularly called for the killing of alleged drug dealers and users.

In February, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, announced that the court would conduct a “preliminary examination” into killings linked to the “war on drugs.” Bensouda said the ICC’s initial inquiry was based on allegations of “thousands” of deaths, many of which were linked to “extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”

Despite the calls for accountability, not one police officer or government official has been convicted for any of these killings. Instead, the Duterte administration has attacked critics of the drug war. The government jailed an outspoken senator, Leila de Lima, on spurious charges; falsely accused human rights groups of links to the drug trade; threatened journalists who report critically on the “drug war”; and, most recently, deported a long-time foreign resident for denouncing the government’s anti-drug campaign.

“Chief Superintendent Dinas suggestion that the police hitmen are rogue officers doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Adams said. “Duterte has made it clear over and over again that he wants drug dealers and users killed so there is no reason to think these are rogue operations. It’s time for an independent commission to be created to officially identify those responsible and begin the process of accountability for mass murder.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

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