Filipinos Mark Intl Human Rights Day, Call for End to Drug War

Jeoffrey Maitem and Dennis Jay Santos
Cotabato and Davao, Philippines
181210-PH-march-1000.jpeg Activists mark International Human Rights Day by demonstrating in Baguio City, Philippines against alleged rights abuses committed under a drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, Dec. 10, 2018.
Karl Romano/BenarNews

Thousands of Filipinos rallied on Monday to mark International Human Rights Day as they called on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to end its drug war that has killed thousands of suspects since he took office in mid-2016.

Manila faces a crisis of protecting the lives of ordinary citizens who often are targeted by policemen and unknown vigilantes in anti-narcotics operations, said Etta Rosales, former head of the country’s human rights commission.

“Human rights are about human lives. Since the drug campaign against was implemented, thousands of lives were lost,” Rosales said.

Different data from human rights groups had placed the number of deaths at 20,000 under Duterte’s presidency, she said. The police have acknowledged that 5,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers were killed, alleging they fought with officers while resisting arrest.

Rosales’ call came as the human rights commission officially implicated two of Duterte’s military officers in the murders of seven members of the T’boli tribal community in the province of South Cotabato last year. The military has said that the men were communist rebels.

The military officers were identified as Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc and Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, who both commanded the army infantry battalions in the area where the crime took place.

Both men were “liable for human rights violations for their utter failure to exert earnest efforts in distinguishing combatants from non-combatants under the principles of distinction of International Humanitarian Law,” said Erlan Deluvio, regional head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Cabunoc denied the allegations, saying that what happened was a legitimate military operation between his men and communist guerrillas.

“I will never falter in performing my constitutional mandate of protecting the people against armed aggression of communist rebels,” the senior officer told a local radio program on Sunday.

‘Marching with us’

On Monday, Christina Palabay, secretary general of the Philippine rights group Karapatan, said its supporters and members held simultaneous protests in more than 20 cities in the country, as well cities in Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia, and Australia to mark this year’s International Human Rights Day.

“Regardless of the government’s repeated denial of violations, the evidence is overwhelming. Victims and their relatives are marching with us, demanding for justice and accountability,” she said.

“The Duterte regime has implemented a succession of anti-people policies, and it has claimed the lives of thousands of Filipinos who were stripped of their fundamental rights. This government has blazed down the track of militarism and repression. In effect, there is a growing movement determined to put an end to the attacks and resist tyranny,” Palabay said.

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it would continue to assess the alleged crimes against humanity under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

The president had earlier angrily withdrawn the Philippines from an international treaty that created the court.

Duterte is facing two complaints before the ICC. The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte had ordered the killings of criminals and opponents when he was the longtime mayor of Davao city in the south; and the second, filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.

When he assumed the presidency in 2016, Duterte carried a list containing the names of politicians, judges, police and military officers who were allegedly involved in the drug trade. Several mayors on that list have since been gunned down.

Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel contributed to this report from Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City, Philippines.


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