Thousands March in Philippine Capital for Human Rights Day

Basilio Sepe
Manila
2021-12-10
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Thousands March in Philippine Capital for Human Rights Day Protesters destroy a horned effigy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a rally to mark the International Human Rights Day at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, Dec. 10, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Thousands of Filipino activists marched in Metro Manila to mark International Human Rights Day on Friday, the same day journalist Maria Ressa received her Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

About 5,000 protesters shouted slogans and carried banners that criticized extrajudicial killings during President Rodrigo Duterte's five-year-old war on illegal drugs.

“We had been shedding blood and tears since Duterte stepped into office almost six years ago,” said Evangeline Hernandez, chairwoman of Hustisya, a group representing victims of extrajudicial killings.

“Instead of addressing poverty and other pressing socio-economic concerns, this bloodthirsty tyrant betrayed the nation’s trust and killed thousands of innocent people through his administration’s futile counterinsurgency program and the war on drugs,” she said.

While protesters took to streets in Metro Manila, Ressa, chief executive of the Rappler news site, appeared at the Oslo City Hall to accept the award she shares Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta. The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the winners last month.

In June 2020, Ressa and a former colleague were convicted of cyber libel and face up to six years in prison. They are free on bail pending an appeal.

Because of Rappler’s critical coverage of the drug war, Duterte has criticized Ressa, accusing her of spreading “fake news.”

Duterte’s allies in Congress also shut down ABS-CBN Corp., the country’s leading television station, last year. The two news organizations and the Philippine Daily Inquirer closely followed Duterte’s drug war.

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An activist joins a protest to mark the International Human Rights Day at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, Dec. 10, 2021. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Anti-Terror Law protested

Hernandez blasted the Duterte government’s alleged penchant for silencing critics and dissenters, including the critical press.

“He has openly sanctioned murder and blatantly disregarded human rights through his militaristic schemes and draconian measures such as the Anti-Terror Law. He is an evil, tyrannical monster,” she said during the protest.

The law signed last year was largely upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court this week, even as it rejected two provisions against lawful dissent.

Data from the human rights alliance Karapatan shows that from July 2016 to November 2021, there were 424 victims of extrajudicial killings in the country, not including Duterte’s war on drugs which has killed about 8,000 suspected addicts and dealers, according to an official police count. Rights groups, including Karapatan, estimate the number could be between 20,000 and 30,000.

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa holds up a t-shirt during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Dec. 10, 2021. [AP]
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa holds up a t-shirt during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Dec. 10, 2021. [AP]

On Friday, Karapatan congratulated Ressa for the Nobel win and stressed that it was fitting that she was recognized on Human Rights Day.

“We recognize Ressa’s role as a prominent advocate of press freedom and freedom of expression,” the group said, stressing that Ressa’s Rappler, apart from its reporting of the drug war, had been at the forefront of covering press freedom violations, threats, and attacks against journalists and rights defenders.

“Amid attempts to silence critical voices, protests and dissent, those who dare to retell the truth and assert the people’s right to information contribute to the people’s broader movement for justice and accountability, Ressa and Rappler have made such contributions,” it said.

Karapatan noted that journalists and press freedom advocates “continue to suffer the brunt of a tyrannical Duterte rule.”

The president once said journalists were not exempt from being assassinated.

On Wednesday, Jesus Malabanan, who reported for Manila Standard Today and contributed to Reuters news service, was shot and killed in the central Philippines.

Police were investigating his death and if proven it was related to his work, he would be the 22nd working journalist killed in the country since Duterte became president in 2016.

Karapatan said attacks against Filipino journalists “should stop and the perpetrators should be brought to justice.”

“Also, we continue to oppose censorship, criminalization of libel, and politically motivated legal challenges and closure, like what the Duterte administration has done to media outfits like ABS-CBN. Clearly, the fight for press freedom and freedom of expression as well as the people’s right to information is a continuing challenge,” Karapatan said.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who serves as Duterte’s chief aide, said the president had introduced programs “to reduce inequalities and advance human rights.”

Duterte had promised to “bring about improvement in our people’s welfare and standard of living and make human rights work to uplift human dignity,” Medialdea said in a statement to mark rights day.

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An activist holds a flower with a sign during the International Human Rights Day protest at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, Dec. 10, 2021. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

 

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