PH Human Rights Situation 2022

By Penz Baterna

News treatment should evolve to make HR interesting and draw more audiences. But ultimately, HR should be the core of every news report and every news agenda.

FORMER PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term was permeated with serious human rights (HR) violations — from the bloody war on drugs, blatant attacks against media and other critics, and speech inciting violence. Duterte challenged democratic institutions and ended his term on June 30, leaving the country’s HR situation in a dire state. President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., took over with a promise to uphold human rights in the country. But in his six months in office, the human rights situation has barely changed. HR ranked among the lowest of the new administration’s priorities.

Marcos Jr.’s Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, reiterated his commitment to HR when the Philippines went through its scheduled Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in October and November 2022. Remulla painted a rosy picture; HR were protected and thriving. 

He claimed that the HR situation in the country had improved.  Remulla also said that the country accepted and was addressing 200 of the 297 recommendations made during the UPR, except those which were “culturally reprehensible.”  A scan of the Philippine report showed that among these recommendations were legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage. 

Tracking media reports on HR atrocities shows up the falsehood of Remulla’s claims. From January 1 to December 31, CMFR picked up cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, weaponization of laws to stifle freedom of expression, and killings by the police and military, among others.

Media reported some of these incidents with criticism of the government’s policies. Most reports cited contradictory claims; with more favor given to the government’s narrative.

Threats and Attacks Against Media

From January 1 to December 31, 2022, CMFR recorded five journalists who were killed in the line of work. Three from January 1 to June 29, under former President Rodrigo Duterte; two were killed from June 30 to December 31, under President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

On October 3, journalist Percy Lapid was killed by motorcycle-riding men in Paranaque. Lapid’s murder was a case of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction after investigations revealed that inmates in the National Bilibid Prison plotted his killing as ordered by the Corrections chief. (See: “The Percy Lapid Case: ‘On the Job’s’ Macabre Premise Realized) Cases were immediately filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections Chief Gerald Batnag and other people involved in the killing of the journalist.

Remulla hyped the prompt response of the government on this case at the UPR to dispel the culture of impunity in the country. The Justice Secretary, however, did not acknowledge that many other cases of journalist killings since 1986 had not even reached the courts. (See: “PH Impunity and Government’s Denial: Unnecessary response to the killing of journalists and other HRVs”)

Aside from the killings, CMFR also recorded other threats and attacks that included intimidation, online threats, libel charges, and website attacks.

After Lapid’s murder, several media reported being visited in their news organizations or in their homes by police, some in plain-clothes. The National Capital Region Police Office admitted that they ordered these visits to check the journalists’ security. Media workers were alarmed by these announced visits. The police later apologized and stopped these security checks.

Red-tagging and Arrests

Earlier in 2017 following the collapse of the government peace talks with the National Democratic Front, Duterte proclaimed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist groups. Then Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea instructed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue charges against communist rebels, encouraging more red-tagging (the act of linking someone to the CPP-NPA) of activists, human rights defenders, and members of the media.   

The creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) through Executive Order No. 70 in 2018, allowed the red-tagging specifically in social media, to provoke fear. 

The association with communism makes someone vulnerable to attacks not only from the police and the military but also from anti-communist vigilante groups and paramilitaries. 

Several of those red-tagged had been arrested by the police and were subjected to trumped up charges. In other cases, red-tagged subjects became victims of violence or executed. 

In 2022, cases included: 

  • Gary Campos, a Lumad teacher, was arrested on July 17 in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur days after he was red-tagged.
  • Athea Beatrice Papa, a high school student taking the science strand, was denied re-enrolment in the Higher School of University of Makati on July 15 after being accused of recruiting students into terrorist groups.
  • Teacher and cartoonist Benharl Capote Kahil was killed by an unidentified suspect in Sultan Kudarat on November 5. Khalil had been red-tagged for his sharp political cartoons.

In September 2022, Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 junked the DOJ’s petition to declare the CPP-NPA as “terrorist groups.” NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy immediately claimed that Malagar was “lawyering” for the CPP-NPA and her husband was a part of the rebel group. The Supreme Court (SC) in October, issued a show cause order against Badoy.

Killings by uniformed officers

On February 24, 2022, Chad Booc, a volunteer teacher in an alternative school and four other persons were killed in Purok-8, Barangay Andap, in the municipality of New Bataan. The military claimed the victims died in an “armed encounter” between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA, but their families and friends said otherwise.

On July 2, 2022 Amierkhan Mangacop, a 19-year-old student was shot by non-uniformed personnel of Police Regional Office (PRO) outside the Lugar Cafe and Bar in Davao City.

War on drugs

Duterte’s drug war recorded 6,235 persons killed during anti-drug operations based on police numbers from July 1, 2016 to February 8, 2022. Human rights advocates cite 13,000 including extrajudicial killings still under investigation. But only 12 police officers were indicted for only one case — the August 17 murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos which was recorded by a close-circuit TV camera. Duterte’s bloody policy is currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Marcos vowed policy shifts on his predecessor’s drug war to focus more on rehabilitation. Despite this, the killings still continue — both in legitimate police operations and extrajudicial.

In a press briefing, PNP Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said that the number of drug suspects killed during police operations was “very minimal.” He was referring to 46 fatalities. 

According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), there had been at least 90 drug-related killings from June 30 to September 30.

The Dahas Project of the Third World Studies Center in the University of the Philippines Diliman recorded 175 drug-related killings in the country during Marcos’ first few months as President, or between 12 noon of June 30 and December 31, 2022.

Media and human rights

Several media reports presented the perspective of victims and their struggles. The media also referred to HR groups as sources including HRW and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Some reports also explored data to contextualize several policies related to HR. But the general coverage of individual cases relied heavily on police reports and blotters as well as other government sources. 

Media focused on prominent cases. The student who was denied re-enrollment after being accused as an NPA recruiter was reported only in Bulatlat, an alternative media news organization. The lack of media attention to cases makes these policies more dangerous as law enforcement agents implement the program without fear of being checked or watched. 

In a forum on Reporting on Human Rights conducted by CMFR in November 2022, media participants had pointed out several issues that affect the coverage of HR in the country. These include:

  1. Threats of government action for going against the official narrative
  2. Lack of sources especially of witnesses to counter or support existing narratives
  3. Lack of audience in the age of new media
  4. Reporters lack of understanding and appreciation of HR
  5. Filipino’s waning interest in news about HR which also stemmed from the lack of understanding and appreciation of HR

News treatment should evolve to make HR interesting and draw more audiences. But ultimately, HR should be the core of every news report and every news agenda. Every issue — political, social, economic, crime, or development — is rooted in the rights of human beings, individually and as a community. Media must move away from covering the violations as case studies or crime reports. 

The state’s position on human rights should concern every citizen, as it affects everyone. Government’s protection of human rights determines the manner in which police and military deal with civilians, directing the men and women in uniform to recognize equal rights and benefits for all. 

Media can turn the coverage of HR on its head and make the public the subject of inquiry, reporting on their views, their perspectives, their concerns or lack of awareness of human rights.