Tag Archives: Human Rights Watch

[From the web] Philippines Loses Staunch Rights Defender | Human Rights Watch

#HumanRights #ChitoGascon

Philippines Loses Staunch Rights Defender | Human Rights Watch

Philippines Loses Staunch Rights Defender
Chito Gascon Led Commission on Human Rights During Trying Years
By Carlos H. Conde
Senior Philippines Researcher
Human Rights Watch

The Philippines has lost a beloved human rights defender. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, known to all as “Chito,” who had chaired the governmental Commission on Human Rights since 2015, died October 9 from complications due to Covid-19, his family said. He was 57.

Friends and allies in the human rights movement mourned Gascon’s passing. “The country lost a dedicated public servant who never cowered in fear in asserting people’s rights and civil liberties,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a group advocating for the rights of political prisoners. “Amid the challenges faced by the CHR … he carried on with dignity, strength and courage,” said Jacqueline Ann de Guia, Gascon’s colleague at the commission. Even the military, often the target of commission investigations, paid its respects.

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[From the web] Opinion: Duterte is worried about the ICC. He should be. | by Carlos Conde

#HumanRights #Killings

Opinion: Duterte is worried about the ICC. He should be. | by Carlos H. Conde

Clarita Alia remains anguished, nearly 20 years after I first heard her express her grief.

“His name was Danilo Lugay,” she told me over the phone recently from Davao City, in the southern Philippines. Police killed Lugay in September 2020 during a drug raid; a news report of the killing said he had fought back and police officers shot him. Lugay, 28, was the grandchild of Alia’s sister Naneth.

Alia’s voice cracked as she described what happened — the same pained voice that I heard when I interviewed her in 2002 for a report on the killing of her sons Richard, Christopher and Bobby, all teenagers. Assailants later murdered a fourth son, Fernando, in 2007. This unimaginable family tragedy gave Alia, a vegetable vendor who lives in a slum community, the label of poster mother for the city’s bloody “war on drugs,” in which police use extrajudicial executions instead of prosecutions as a primary method of punishing criminal suspects.

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[From the web] It’s Time for the U.S. to Stop Selling Weapons to Human Rights Abusers | HRW

It’s Time for the U.S. to Stop Selling Weapons to Human Rights Abusers
Published in:The Washington Post

By Elisa Epstein
Washington Advocacy Officer
Human Rights Watch
@elisacepstein

The Biden administration notified Congress in June of a proposed sale of more than $2.5 billion in arms to the Philippines, including fighter jets and two kinds of precision missiles. The notice came less than two weeks after the International Criminal Court prosecutor sought approval to open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity related to the Philippines’ brutal “war on drugs.”

Human rights groups promptly expressed concern that the administration would reward an increasingly abusive government with such a large weapons sale, particularly given public pledges by both President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the new administration would put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

This is not the first time in the Biden administration’s short tenure that it has found itself the object of criticism following an arms sale announcement. In February, the United States approved plans to sell Egypt missiles worth $197 million. In May, news broke of an approved arms sale worth $735 million of precision-guided weapons to Israel amid its latest military offensive in Gaza, where it used large, precision-guided munitions to destroy multi-story buildings containing scores of businesses and homes on the pretext of some unproven Hamas presence at those sites. According to the United Nations, Israeli airstrikes in May killed 260 Palestinians in Gaza, at least 129 of whom were civilians, including 66 children.

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[Statement] Philippine General Should Answer for ‘Red-Tagging’ -HRW

#HumanRights #NoToRedTagging

Philippine General Should Answer for ‘Red-Tagging’
Long-Overdue Investigation of Deadly Practice

By Phil Robertson

The Armed Forces of the Philippines surprisingly announced this week that it was investigating Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. after he accused a journalist of “aiding terrorists by spreading lies.” The military’s provost marshal was tapped to lead the investigation.

The big question is whether this action is a one-off, or whether pressure against the military’s use of red-baiting tactics may finally be having an impact.

The journalist in question, Tetch Torres-Tupas of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had earlier reported on a petition before the Supreme Court that contained allegations that soldiers tortured members of an Indigenous community. Activists and fellow journalists took Parlade’s tirade as a threat to Tupas.

This is not the first time Parlade has courted controversy. As both a government spokesman for an anti-communist task force and commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, Parlade has in recent months been on a “red-tagging” spree, publicly accusing leftist activists but also journalists and celebrities of being either members or supporters of the New People’s Army communist insurgency.

Communist-baiting has long been part of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign, and over the years has been linked to many killings. The deadly practice has continued to the present. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found in a June 2020 report that “red-tagging” in the Philippines has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

The problem does not start and stop with Parlade. President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently used “red tagging” to attack leftist critics of his administration. In November, Duterte singled out Congressman Carlos Zarate as a communist. In previous public statements, other Duterte administration officials likewise “red-tagged” their critics.

“Red-tagging” constricts further the increasingly diminished democratic space in the Philippines, where activists, rights lawyers, journalists, and even ordinary Filipinos on social media are under threat. The military’s investigation into Parlade should be both thorough and impartial, and this should be the start of larger efforts to hold to account all government officials who give a wink and a nod to extrajudicial killings by their “red-tagging.”

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch
@ReapRoy

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[From the web] EU Member States Should Act on Philippines Abuses -HRW

EU Member States Should Act on Philippines Abuses
Support at UN Human Rights Council Crucial to Establish International Inquiry

Last year, European Union member states at the United Nations Human Rights Council voted decisively in support of a resolution mandating the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on grave rights abuses in the Philippines.

The report, presented in June, documented “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, crimes committed in a climate of near total impunity; the murder of at least 208 human rights defenders between 2015 and 2019, and frequent threats and intimidation, police raids, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, and shutdowns of civil society groups and media outlets.

The findings were unsurprising, confirming what has been previously documented by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and UN special experts. What has been surprising is the Human Rights Council’s reluctance to act on repeated calls for an independent international investigation into the extrajudicial killings and other abuses committed since 2016.

In a letter sent on August 27, 62 nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, reiterated their call for an independent international investigative mechanism on crimes committed in the Philippines. The groups also cautioned against giving credence to Manila’s recent creation of a panel to review more than 5,600 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country, as the panel includes the very agencies implicated in the abuses.

While the EU has repeatedly expressed concerns over serious abuses by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, it has not taken concrete action beyond the June 2019 vote. The Philippines benefit from the EU’s GSP+ scheme, which grants preferential access to the EU market conditional on the ratification and implementation of 27 international human rights, labor, and environmental treaties. Despite noting major backsliding in the country’s human rights record, the EU has so far refused to trigger the mechanisms that could lead to the suspension of the trade benefits.

The EU’s and member states’ support at the Human Rights Council will be necessary to advance prospects for justice in the Philippines. Setting up the mechanism would increase pressure on the Duterte administration to stop the abuses and cooperate meaningfully with the international community. And if the Philippine government fails to do so, it could eventually lead to the Philippines having its EU trade benefits suspended, as Cambodia’s abusive prime minister, Hun Sen, knows very well.

Read complete story @www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Philippines Uses ‘Drug War’ Tactics to Fight Covid-19 -HRW

Philippines Uses ‘Drug War’ Tactics to Fight Covid-19
Police to Go House-to-House, Rely on Neighbor Reporting

By Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch
@reaproy

The Philippine government announced this week that police will conduct house-to-house searches for people who might have been infected with the novel coronavirus and then forcibly relocate them to government-run isolation facilities. The authorities said they will look for people with symptoms of Covid-19, but worryingly will also rely on citizens to report others they believe are infected.

The move comes as the Philippines saw its biggest daily rise in Covid-19 cases, leading officials to conclude that home quarantines are not working. Officials claim the government will provide adequate facilities for those kept in isolation, such as single rooms with private toilets, and Wi-Fi connections. Nearly 59,000 people have contracted the virus in the country, with 1,614 deaths recorded as of July 15.

Sending police teams to people’s homes without warrants raises alarms because it resembles tactics used by the Duterte administration to target suspected drug users in its “war on drugs,” the ongoing anti-drug campaign in which police have brutally killed thousands of people. Moreover, police conduct in the government’s Covid-19 response so far does not inspire confidence that this campaign will respect people’s basic rights, or be an effective way to stop the spread of the virus. Since the government imposed lockdowns in various cities beginning in mid-March, police and local government officials have severely violated the rights of citizens who violated lockdown curfews and quarantine regulations.

House-to-house searches will make residents of impoverished urban communities even more vulnerable to police abuses. By urging residents to report neighbors they suspect of having Covid-19, the government is encouraging further violations. Officials have not provided public guidance to help residents determine if their neighbors have been infected.

These concerns are heightened by the Philippine government’s increasingly militaristic response to the pandemic – the Duterte administration has assigned former military generals to deal with Covid-19 and has sent police Special Forces to contain communities. Instead of expanding testing and adopting other public health measures, the administration seems intent on deploying the state security forces and “drug war” tactics that have already proven so catastrophic to Filipinos.

Source: www.hrw.org

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[Press Release] Rappler Verdict a Blow to Media Freedom, Manila Court Convicts Duterte Critic Maria Ressa for Libel -HRW

Philippines: Rappler Verdict a Blow to Media Freedom
Manila Court Convicts Duterte Critic Maria Ressa for Libel

(Manila, June 15, 2020) – The conviction of a prominent journalist for criminal libel is a devastating blow to media freedom in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 15, 2020, a Manila court issued a guilty verdict for Maria Ressa, the founder and executive editor of the news website Rappler, and a Rappler researcher, Reynaldo Santos Jr.

The verdict stemmed from one of several cases that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte instigated to stifle Rappler’s critical reporting on the government, particularly its murderous “war on drugs,” which has killed tens of thousands of people since July 2016. In addition to this case, Ressa and her colleagues face seven other cases in various courts for which she has been arrested, detained and posted bail.

“The verdict against Maria Ressa highlights the ability of the Philippines’ abusive leader to manipulate the laws to go after critical, well-respected media voices whatever the ultimate cost to the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rappler case will reverberate not just in the Philippines, but in many countries that long considered the country a robust environment for media freedom.”

In May 2012, Rappler published an article accusing then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona of impropriety for using an SUV owned by a businessman. The article predated the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which includes the crime of libel. In February 2014, Rappler corrected a typo in the story, changing “evation” to “evasion,” thus technically updating the story on the website.

The businessman, Wilfredo Keng, used this “re-publication” as a legal basis to claim the story was covered by the Cybercrime Prevent Act and filed a criminal libel case against Rappler in October 2017. Duterte’s Justice Department rushed to support the prosecution’s assertion that updating the story constituted “continuous publication,” and recommended that charges be filed against Ressa and Santos. In February 2019, the court issued arrest warrants against them.

The Duterte administration in this and other cases have demonstrated their determination to intimidate and shut down the Rappler website. Ressa and other Rappler journalists suffered a withering online campaign using what Ressa called the “weaponization of the Internet” against critical media and citizens. Duterte banned Rappler’s reporters from covering the presidential palace.

The campaign against Rappler is widely seen as retaliation for the website’s reporting on Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which has included in-depth reporting on extrajudicial killings committed by police and police-linked “death squads.” Human Rights Watch’s own reports have corroborated Rappler’s findings. In May the government shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network, which had also been critical of the Duterte administration.

The campaign against Rappler occurs in the context of worsening media freedom and freedom of expression in the Philippines. Journalists from other media groups have suffered intimidation and attacks online and offline. Recently, the government began targeting social media users who posted comments critical of the government, mainly on Facebook. The government has investigated dozens of social media users and arrested several for violating the country’s “fake news” regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The government should reverse this alarming affront to justice and quash the convictions of Rappler’s Ressa and Santos,” Robertson said. “The prosecution was not just an attack on these individual journalists but also a frontal assault on freedom of the press that is critical to protect and preserve Philippines democracy.”

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

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[Statement] HRW reaction to the violation of quarantine rules by Metro Manila police chief

HRW reaction to the violation of quarantine rules by Metro Manila police chief:

Metro Manila’s police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas should be disciplined for his flagrant violation of the Philippines’ strict quarantine and lockdown regulations. His superiors should not allow Sinas to play this double standard game, where he celebrates his birthday with friends all around like there’s no pandemic, but the ordinary people of Metro Manila face tight restrictions enforced by his officers, whose disproportionate strictness has resulted in rights abuses. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a viable policing strategy in a pandemic. By flouting these regulations, Sinas recklessly endangered his friends and subordinates at the party and damaged the moral authority of the Philippine National Police to act as a leading agency addressing the Covid-19 crisis.
Worse, once Sinas’ irresponsible behavior was revealed, he sought to deny his action and retaliated against the reporter who broke the story about the birthday party. The National Capital Region Police Office’s first action was to remove Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong from the NCRPO’s Viber message group. Such vindictive retaliation violates press freedom and the public’s right to know and should be reversed by reinstating Rappler in the Viber group.

Responding to a public health emergency means all Filipinos should cooperate with officials, but it also imposes a burden on those officials to be exemplars of the conduct they expect from the citizenry. Maj. Gen. Sinas abysmally failed that test and he should be publicly disciplined for his actions.

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

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[Press Release] Put Network Back on Air, Duterte Should Rescind ABS-CBN Shutdown; Congress Should Renew License

Philippines: Put Network Back on Air
Duterte Should Rescind ABS-CBN Shutdown; Congress Should Renew License

(Manila, May 7, 2020) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte should rescind an order to shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast television and radio network, Human Rights Watch said today. The House of Representatives, whose inaction on bills to renew the broadcaster’s license led to the closure, should promptly renew the franchise.

On May 5, 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), a government regulatory agency under the office of the president, issued a “cease and desist” order against ABS-CBN after the network’s congressional franchise expired the previous day. This came after the government’s chief lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, warned the commission against granting ABS-CBN a provisional extension to operate as some members of Congress had requested. Duterte had said in December 2019 that he would not allow the license renewal: “I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out.”

“The Philippine government shutdown of ABS-CBN reeks of a political vendetta by President Duterte, who has repeatedly threatened the network for criticizing his abusive ‘war on drugs,’” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Congress should stop ducking responsibility and reverse Duterte’s latest attempt to muzzle the press, especially when the public needs timely and accurate information more than ever.”

ABS-CBN stated that it will challenge the shutdown order in court. Although the ruling does not affect its other platforms, such as cable and online, its popular free TV and radio services stopped airing since the evening of May 5.

While the ABS-CBN 25-year congressional franchise expired on May 4, as early as 2014, members of congress already filed bills seeking its renewal. When Duterte became president in 2016, he started complaining about ABS-CBN, accusing the network of being biased against him and criticizing it for failing to air his 2016 presidential campaign advertisements. The network denied the bias charge but apologized to Duterte for its failure to air the ads and explained why.

The shutdown is only the second time ABS-CBN has gone off the air. Founded in June 1946, the network has grown into the most widely viewed broadcaster in the Philippines. Two days after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, he ordered the military to shut down the network. After the “People Power” uprising in 1986 ousted Marcos, President Corazon Aquino returned ABS-CBN to its former owners.

ABS-CBN’s coverage of the “drug war,” in which the police and their agents have extrajudicially executed thousands of alleged drug users and dealers since Duterte took office, has won praise in the Philippines and abroad.

The shutdown of ABS-CBN is the first time the Duterte government has forced a news organization to stop operating. However, it runs parallel to other attempts by the government to intimidate media outlets critical of the administration. The authorities have arrested Maria Ressa, the editor and founder of the news website Rappler, several times on baseless charges. Rappler has done groundbreaking reporting on the “war on drugs,” prompting attacks by the government and its followers on social media.

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, 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 is using a back-door method against ABS-CBN as the president’s latest way to suppress freedom of the press,” Robertson said. “Those concerned about public health messaging and the Covid-19 crisis in the Philippines should call on legislators to right this wrong, get ABS-CBN back on the air, and protect media freedom throughout the country.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/07/philippines-put-network-back-air

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[Statement] Human Rights Watch’s reaction to the increasing incidents of law enforcers and government officials mistreating Filipinos during the lockdown

Human Rights Watch’s reaction to the increasing incidents of law enforcers and government officials mistreating Filipinos during the lockdown

The Philippines government should immediately rein in out of control law enforcers and public officials committing rights abuses while they enforce Covid-19 quarantine and lockdown regulations. Even before the incident in Dasmarinas Village, Makati City, there has been an increasing number of incidents in which police and government personnel abused their powers by committing rights violations. The DILG must exercise effective oversight over its personnel, investigate all reports of abuses, and hold officers committing rights violations accountable. The lockdown and quarantine, and even the emergency powers bestowed on President Duterte, do not excuse the actions of officials to wantonly violate international human rights norms and the Philippine Constitution, which specifically protects citizens from unreasonable searches and arrests.

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

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[Press Release] Philippine Government Misusing Covid-19 Law Against Critics -HRW

Philippine Government Misusing Covid-19 Law Against Critics
Activists Charged with Sedition, ‘Fake News’
By Carlos H. Conde

Philippine authorities are increasingly using the Covid-19 pandemic and new public health restrictions as an excuse to charge political opponents and activists with criminal offenses.

The latest targets were seven activists trying to distribute food aid last week in Bulacan province, north of Manila, who were stopped by police. They now face charges of violating the emergency law on COVID-19 and incitement to commit sedition after newspapers and magazines with anti-government content were found in their vehicle. The activists, including former opposition congressman Ariel Casilao, said they had proper permits for their relief activity.

The inclusion of the charge of inciting sedition – encouraging people to act against the government — against Casilao and the others raises concerns that the Duterte administration may try to exploit the crisis to crack down more broadly on political activism and dissent. With the country on lockdown and police, military, and local government officials putting up checkpoints such as the one that stopped Casilao’s group, known activists and political opposition figures are at risk of being charged over what should be a purely public health driven campaign.

“Inciting to sedition” is also a charge that has frequently been used in the past against activists accused of being communist rebels, opening the door for the government to invoke its counter-insurgency apparatus.

In another prominent case, Edgar Labella, the mayor of Cebu City in the central Philippines, ordered the arrest on April 19 of Maria Victoria Beltran, an actress, and screenwriter, for a Facebook post the mayor deemed “fake news.” Authorities detained Beltran for two nights, unnecessarily risking exposure to COVID-19, and allegedly arrested her without a warrant and denied her access to a lawyer.

Since the passage of the COVID-19 law last month, the authorities have investigated dozens of people and arrested several for posts on social media the government claims are “fake news.” Although “fake news” is not in any Philippine jurisprudence, the COVID-19 law does criminally penalize spreading “false information” related to the pandemic.

The Duterte administration has sought to increase its authoritarian grip on the country by politicizing the COVID-19 response at the expense of controlling the escalating pandemic. The government should signal that it’s taking the health crisis seriously. It could start by dropping the charges against Casilao, his colleagues, and Beltran, and ending politically motivated investigations of people’s reading materials and social media posts.

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[Statement] HRW calls for release of Cebu writer arrested for FB post

HRW calls for release of Cebu writer arrested for FB post

Human Rights Watch views with concern the arrest of Cebu City-based writer and actor Bambi Beltran, allegedly for violating the law on “false information.” Her arrest is a case of government officials misapplying the law. Her post on Facebook — “9,000 + new cases (all from Zapatera) of COVID-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter in the whole Solar System.” – is clearly commentary that was meant to be humorous. It was based on earlier official pronouncements that the whole community of Zapatera, which has a population of more than 9,000, has been deemed “contaminated” by the COVID-19 virus. While public officials dealing with COVID-19 are expected to feel stressed, overwhelmed, even aggrieved by criticism, misusing the law to violate freedom of expression is a disproportionate and wrong response. Nothing it what Beltran said can be legitimately construed as a hindrance to Cebu City’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of arresting people for their thoughts, Cebu City officials should focus their attention on defeating COVID-19 and provide truthful, accurate information to the public. Citizens like Beltran have a right to express their opinions about what is happening; government officials should resist the temptation to act despotic in responding to those concerns.

Carlos Conde
Philippines researcher
Human Rights Watch

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[Statement] Government needs to act urgently to mitigate what could be a catastrophe inside the country’s overcrowded prisons before it’s too late -HRW

Photo from the web

Quote from HRW on the outbreak of coronavirus inside the Quezon City Jail:

Finding that the coronavirus has infected 18 inmates and personnel at the Quezon City Jail shows why it’s so critical the government actively pursues early release of detainees charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as the sick and older inmates. The government needs to act urgently to mitigate what could be a catastrophe inside the country’s overcrowded prisons before it’s too late.

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

Philippines: Reduce Crowded Jails to Stop COVID-19 | Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/06/philippines-reduce-crowded-jails-stop-covid-19

Asia: Reduce Prison Populations Facing COVID-19 | Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/06/asia-reduce-prison-populations-facing-covid-19

Injustice and misery in PH jails | Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/08/injustice-and-misery-ph-jails

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[Statement] Human Rights Watch statement on the positive response by Philippine authorities to the call for the early release of qualified inmates as part of COVID19 intervention

Human Rights Watch statement on the positive response by Philippine authorities to the call for the early release of qualified inmates as part of COVID19 intervention:

Human Rights Watch is heartened that Philippine authorities have responded to the call by several groups calling on the government to release inmates in its prisons who face low-level and non-violent charges, as well as the sick and the elderly. The move by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), to name at least two government agencies who responded positively to the call, is very encouraging. It is imperative that the BJMP, the Department of Justice, the Public Attorney’s Office, and the courts expedite this process for the welfare of the tens of thousands of Filipinos crammed in overcrowded jails and detention facilities across the country. While this should have been acted upon earlier and without prodding from families of inmates and their advocates, it is not too late to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of the coronavirus on the country’s prison population.

Carlos Conde
Researcher, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

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[Press Release] Philippines: Reduce Crowded Jails to Stop COVID-19 -HRW

Philippines: Reduce Crowded Jails to Stop COVID-19
Release Low-Level Offenders; Prioritize Older and Ill Prisoners

(Manila, April 7, 2020) – Philippine authorities, to stem the COVID-19 outbreak, should release from the country’s overcrowded jails and prison inmates who have been detained or convicted for low-level and non-violent offenses, Human Rights Watch said today. They should also consider releasing older prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions who would be at greater risk if they became infected.

The Philippines has the highest jail occupancy rate in the world, exacerbated by the Duterte government’s “war on drugs,” in which hundreds of thousands of people have been jailed since July 2016. Since March 2020, the arrests and temporary detention of thousands of people for violating curfews and quarantine regulations have further crowded police lockups and jails.

“The Philippine government should urgently reduce overcrowding in detention facilities, by releasing minor offenders and prioritizing the release of older prisoners and those with underlying health conditions at particular risk from COVID-19,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Failure to act now could result in a serious outbreak in the country’s jails and prisons, threatening the lives of prisoners whose health the authorities have a duty to protect.”

The combined population in prisons run by the Philippine Bureau of Corrections, where convicted people are incarcerated, and the jails run by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology for those on trial or pre-trial was 215,000 as of November 2019. All these facilities combined have 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. Bureau of Corrections records indicates that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was 310 percent in January.

Prisoners’ relatives and nongovernmental groups have sought, without success, to obtain the temporary release of sick and older prisoners on humanitarian grounds. One woman told Human Rights Watch that her 62-year-old father was arrested in January during a drug raid, detained at a Metro Manila jail, and is on trial for drug possession. She said he has a weakened immune system and last week had a cold and fever.

“We have written to the jail warden asking to at least transfer my father to a separate facility to allow social distancing, but we have been ignored so far,” she said. “We’re really worried because we know already there’s not enough space in jail for the inmates and now with COVID-19, naturally we’re even more worried.”

Another woman said that her partner, 43, who is detained on drug charges, is particularly vulnerable because he had tuberculosis 10 years ago and never completed the six-month therapy for the disease. He has had a cough and a high fever since March 31. “I and our three children fear for his welfare inside the [Metro Manila] jail,” she said. “He has weak lungs and I was told that several fellow inmates also have a high fever and so we’re really scared.”

A political activist, Fides Lim, told Human Rights Watch: “We have been pressing for the immediate release of prisoners with low-level offenses, the elderly, the sick, and the pregnant who are most at risk for severe disease or death if infected with the coronavirus, as well as those already due for parole, and those due for release, which was interrupted by quarantine regulations.”

In addition to the government, the Supreme Court can order a prisoner released on health and humanitarian grounds if a petition is filed with the court, said Raymund Narag, a criminal justice expert. The Supreme Court could also issue a circular that would allow judges on humanitarian grounds to reduce bail or release a detainee on their own recognizance.

COVID-19, like other infectious diseases, poses a higher risk to people who live in close proximity to one another. Congestion in the Philippine prison system and other concurrent health problems have been well documented. The chief of the hospital at the New Bilibid Prison, the country’s national penitentiary, said that about 5,200 inmates die every year from tuberculosis and other illnesses, as well as violence – about 20 percent of the prison’s total population.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, raised an alarm on March 25 about detention facilities and COVID-19 around the world, warning of “catastrophic consequences” if the prison population is neglected. Among the measures she called for are the early release of vulnerable detainees.

International guidance says the most important approach for detention centers to prevent transmission of the coronavirus is to impose “social distancing,” which is defined as allowing two meters of separation at all times among detainees and staff, including during meals and within cells. It is also critically important to isolate individuals at high risk, individuals testing positive or with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, as well as their close contacts. However, such measures are not feasible in the Philippines’ severely overcrowded prisons, reinforcing the need for authorities to immediately reduce prison populations.

Human Rights Watch, in a document on the human rights dimension of COVID-19, recommended that government agencies with authority over prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers should consider reducing their populations through appropriate supervised or early release of low-risk detainees, including those in pre-trial detention for non-violent and lesser offenses, those near the end of their sentence, and those whose continued detention is similarly unnecessary or unjustified. Inmates at high risk of suffering serious effects from the virus, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, should also be considered for similar release with regard to whether the detention facility has the capacity to protect their health, including guaranteed access to treatment, and considering factors such as the gravity of the crime and time served.

The government has a responsibility to protect and provide medical treatment for detainees who are not released. The authorities should draft comprehensive plans to prevent and respond to a COVID-19 outbreak in detention facilities that do not rely on simple lockdowns but provide measures to protect the physical and mental health of detainees. Prisons should protect inmates and staff while allowing detainees to have access to family and legal counsel.

“The Philippines faces catastrophic public health problems in its horribly overcrowded prisons and jails in the coming weeks,” Robertson said. “For humanitarian reasons and to stop COVID-19 from spreading, authorities need to get ahead of this situation by undertaking early releases and making sure the country’s detention facilities are equipped to take on the coronavirus.”

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

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

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[From the web] Philippine Authorities Go After Media, Online Critics -HRW

Philippine Authorities Go After Media, Online Critics
Misuse of COVID-19 Law as Dozens Face Probes, Backlash

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

The Philippine government is cracking down on journalists and social media users critical of the government’s COVID-19 response, threatening media freedom and the rights to free expression and access to information.

On March 24, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a COVID-19 law that provides the administration funding and grants broad emergency powers to address the coronavirus. A last-minute provision criminalizes the spreading of “false information” with up to 2 months in prison and a 1 million peso (US$19,600) fine.

National and local authorities have used COVID-19 and existing legislation against those critical of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) initiated legal action against 17 people for allegedly posting “false information” online, an offense that carries steep penalties. Police filed cases against two journalists, citing violations of the COVID-19 law and other laws. Police also brought a case against a town mayor for allegedly “causing a COVID-19 scare.”

Local government officials have taken action against critical journalists. The governor of Cebu province sent an intimidating message to the editor of a campus newspaper for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. Neighborhood leaders in Nueva Ecija province called in the editor of a campus paper to press him to apologize for publishing critical posts.

On Thursday, human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno disclosed on Twitter that the NBI had subpoenaed a Facebook user for his critical posts, citing the COVID-19 law. “This has become a concerning trend because it is easy for the government to blur the line between legitimate criticism and ‘fake news,’” Diokno told Human Rights Watch. Diokno’s decision to take on this case prompted President Duterte to publicly accuse the lawyer of encouraging people to violate lockdowns.

The national and local governments are using their authority, buttressed by a problematic provision of the law, to crack down on critics while proclaiming they are simply going after peddlers of incorrect COVID-19 information. Duterte should call on government officials to focus on measures to defeat the coronavirus and ensure that Filipinos have access to information, rather than be deprived of it.

Source: www.hrw.org

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[From the web] Philippine Children Face Abuse for Violating COVID-19 Curfew -HRW

Young People Locked in Dog Cages, Coffins, Stripped Naked
By Margaret Wurth and Carlos H. Conde

Philippine authorities have subjected children to absurdly abusive treatment for violating curfew and quarantine rules imposed to limit exposure to COVID-19.

Police and local officials in several parts of the country have mistreated people detained for violating COVID-19 regulations, including by confining them to dog cages and forcing them to sit for hours in the midday sun.

Reports shared with Human Rights Watch by child rights groups in Manila show that children are among those facing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for violating pandemic emergency measures.

In Cavite province, two children were locked in a coffin on March 26 as punishment for violating curfew. On March 20, officials in Santa Cruz town, Laguna province, locked five young people inside a dog cage. In Binondo, Manila, village officials arrested four boys and four girls on March 19 for violating curfew. They forcibly cut the hair of seven of the children while the one who resisted was stripped naked and ordered to walk home.

Even when adults are arrested it can create risks for children. As of March 30, the authorities had arrested more than 17,000 people for violations of COVID-19 emergency measures, according to Rappler. In some cases, children’s caregivers have been arrested for violating COVID-19 regulations. In Tacloban City, a mother was arrested on March 24 for allowing her children to play outdoors.

Things could get worse. On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, whose murderous “war on drugs” has killed thousands of people since 2016, said that his orders to the police and military during the pandemic were “if there is trouble, … shoot them dead.”

The Philippines already has a terrible record of criminalizing children, with members of Congress attempting to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, with some having proposed it to be lowered to 9. If enacted, this could put more and younger children behind bars in dangerous detention facilities.

Human Rights Watch has urged governments to prioritize the right to health and respect everyone’s human rights as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Locking up people for violating emergency measures such as curfews and quarantine rules may actually increase disease transmission if people are placed in close proximity to one another in detention facilities. Children should not face criminal sanctions for violating emergency measures.

Philippine authorities should focus on measures that could actually help stop the spread of COVID-19.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/03/philippine-children-face-abuse-violating-covid-19-curfew

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[From the web] Philippines: Curfew Violators Mistreated -HRW

COVID-19 Response Should Respect Detainee Rights

(Manila, March 26, 2020) – Philippine authorities should respect the basic rights of people detained for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations, Human Rights Watch said today. Police and local officials have confined those arrested to dog cages and forced them to sit in the midday sun as punishment, among other abuses.

Reports of abuse against detainees should be promptly investigated and those responsible should be appropriately disciplined or prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.

“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations, which can be done while still allowing the Philippines government to take appropriate measures to combat COVID-19,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable.”

Since President Rodrigo Duterte put the main Philippine island of Luzon on lockdown on March 16, 2020, police have arrested hundreds of people in the capital, Manila, and other parts of the country. Most of the arrests are for violating curfew but some are for violating “social distancing” and quarantine regulations. Other cities and provinces enforced their own lockdowns following Duterte’s action, effectively shutting down the country.

Local officials in Santa Cruz town, in Laguna province just south of Manila, admitted locking up five youths inside a dog cage on March 20. The officials sought to justify their action by saying the youths had violated the curfew and been verbally abusive and said that they had also been rounding up stray dogs that night.

Officials forced curfew violators in Parañaque, a city within Metro Manila, to sit in the intense midday sun after their arrest. The officials claimed they only put them there temporarily because they had no place to hold them. In Bulacan province just north of Manila, police killed a man after he allegedly avoided a checkpoint. The police claim that the man had shot at pursuing police officers.

The Department of Justice determined authorities can arrest people even if they “do not seriously resist” police action to abide by the curfew and other restrictions. The National Commission on Human Rights responded that violations “should not be automatically meted with arrest” and added that such arrests could lead to additional human rights abuses.

The Philippine government should urgently take steps to ensure further mistreatment does not occur as the authorities tighten their anti-COVID-19 measures over the coming days, Human Rights Watch. On March 24, Duterte signed a law granting him emergency powers to deal with the response to contagion. The law places the entire country under a “state of emergency” for at least three months. The law contains a provision that penalizes, yet does not define, the creation and propagation of “false information,” opening the door to potential misuse. Duterte has also announced a COVID-19 “national action plan” to be led by the military and the police.

Arresting people for curfew violations to enforce social distancing related to COVID-19 is counter-productive if police place detainees in crowded detention facilities where the virus could spread easily. For example, the government press agency reported that police in Bacolod city, on Negros, arrested 728 persons for violating the curfew between March 15-21, and detained them overnight in police lock-ups before releasing them the next day.

Human Rights Watch released a document on March 19 outlining the human rights dimensions of COVID-19. Among other recommendations, it urges governments to ensure that quarantines, lockdowns, and travel bans – including curfew – adhere to human rights norms. It urges authorities to protect people in custody and to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.

As of March 24, the Philippines recorded 552 cases of coronavirus infections and 35 deaths.

“While the Philippines government needs to protect the health and welfare of the people, any interventions must be in line with international human rights standard, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of people in custody,” Robertson said.

Read more @www.hrw.org

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

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[Statement] Human Rights Watch on “fake news” provision of Bayanihan law

Human Rights Watch statement on Section 6 (6) of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” signed by President Duterte on March 24, 2020:

Section 6 (6) of the law punishes “individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion.”

This provision of the law is overbroad and can easily be misused by Philippine authorities to crack down on online criticism of government efforts. Given the Duterte administration’s well-documented hostility towards freedom of the press and online critics, this law could be used to criminalize any online information the government dislikes. Instead of seeking to shut down online information the Duterte administration should respect the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Rather than abusing people’s free speech rights, the Duterte administration should focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.

The Philippines has international obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds. Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for protecting and promoting rights, including the right to health. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health may not put in jeopardy the right itself.

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[From the web] Dispatches: The Philippine Picture of Badjao Displacement By Carlos H. Conde

Dispatches: The Philippine Picture of Badjao Displacement
By Carlos H. Conde

Carlos_Conde_web  2013 Byba Sepitkova Human Rights WatchThe striking image of a Filipino girl – a member of the indigenous Badjao tribe – begging in the streets of Lucban, a town in Quezon province south of Manila, has gone viral in the Philippines and prompted a flood of public concern and support for her and her impoverished family. A photographer spotted the child, later identified as 13-year-old Rita Gaviola from Zamboanga City on the southern island of Mindanao. Tweets and Facebook posts and media coverage celebrated the girl’s beauty and her dream to become a teacher.

Those reports don’t mention that there are thousands of other residents of Zamboanga City, including many Badjao, who were displaced and forced into destitution following the armed confrontation between government forces and rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front in September 2013. That violence killed nearly 200 people, displaced more than 100,000 residents, and destroyed thousands of homes. The city’s ethnic minorities, including the Badjao, were particularly vulnerable to displacement and forced relocation following the fighting. The authorities, with little or no genuine consultation, forcibly moved the Badjao inland from their homes along the coast, despite their traditional occupation as fishermen. To this day, thousands of Badjao and other residents, mostly Muslims, remain homeless, living in dire conditions in evacuation sites.

The Badjao, like many of the Philippines’ indigenous peoples, are a neglected tribe. Commonly referred to as “sea gypsies” because they live and fish in coastal areas, the Badjao live in extreme poverty – often beyond the reach of state assistance due to their nomadic existence. The result is that many of them join the ranks of beggars in the Philippines’ urban centers or dive for coins thrown by boat passengers.

The public concern for Rita Gaviola is an opportunity for the new Philippine government to strengthen efforts to ensure the rights of livelihood, housing and health to the Badjao and other indigenous peoples who, too often, are denied those rights in the face of discrimination, conflict or displacement. The government should start by providing adequate resettlement based on consultation for the Badjao and the thousands of others who remain in squalid evacuation centers in Zamboanga City. The government should also help ensure the livelihood of the Badjao by relocating them to areas that allow access to the seashore so that they can work as fishermen. Perhaps then Rita Gaviola – and the thousands of Badjao like her – can finally stop begging and return home.

Read full article @www.hrw.org

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