PH Human Rights Situation 2023: More of the same

By Penz Baterna

Killings, unwarranted arrests, enforced disappearances, and threats to and the ‘

trolling of critics have all persisted in the two years of the Marcos administration.

And despite his words, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not done anything to stop the

agencies involved in the violation of human rights.  

PRESIDENT FERDINAND Marcos Jr. took office in 2022 with a promise to uphold human rights in the country — a departure from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, whose term was marred with human rights abuses and his expressed hostility against critics. Unlike Duterte, Marcos was non-confrontational and made clear he was not out to get back at anyone. While he did not hold regular briefings for members of press, he was quick to acknowledge that a critical press is part of the political turf, even at the level of chief executive. 

Eighteen months into the new administration, the situation has shown troubling signs. The same problems have emerged, enabled by the policies set during the previous administration. 

The war on drugs has recorded several deaths under the new administration. The creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) through Executive Order No. 70 in 2018, provided mechanisms for empowered government officials to red-tag or link critical groups and individuals to the Communist Party of the Philippines — New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) even without basis. Furthermore, the new Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 allowed the military to undertake surveillance and warrantless arrests and detention of suspected “terrorists.”

Killings, unwarranted arrests, enforced disappearances, and threats to and the trolling of critics have all persisted in the two years of the Marcos administration. And despite his words, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not done anything to stop the agencies involved in the violation of human rights.  

CMFR recorded human rights abuses in reports, including a range of attacks and threats against journalists, human rights defenders, and civilians, including minors. It has also noted “lawfare” or the weaponization of laws to curtail freedom of expression.

Police killings: The murder of “Jemboy” 

Police violence has proceeded undeterred by the president’s announcement of observing more closely the requirements of human rights. The cases reveal recklessness on the part of law-enforcement agents. The carelessness of police conduct indicates a dangerous mindset, that puts the value of police operations above the protection of citizen lives. The targeted suspects have rights that the police must uphold. Without this fundamental principle, police will be less careful, and people and citizens are right to be very afraid of the police.

On August 2, Navotas City police shot and killed Jerhode “Jemboy” Baltazar, 17. The killing occurred during a raid to apprehend a suspect in a shooting incident in Barangay NBBS Kaunlaran, Navotas. Police mistook Baltazar for the target of t their target.

Six cops tagged in the killing were relieved from their posts. (See: “Another Kian: Police killing of Navotas teen prompts scrutiny)

On September 2, exactly a month after Balatazar was murdered, the supposed target of the raid, 20-year-old Daniel Gaudia Soria was killed by an unidentified assailant in Malabon City. There have been no reports of police involvement in the case. 

On August 20, John Francis Ompad, 15, was shot outside his house in Navotas by police in plainclothes and a civilian companion. According to the police, they flagged Ompad’s older brother who refused to stop and continued toward his home, later throwing his helmet to his pursuers. This provoked the cop to shoot at the older Ompad’s direction. John Francis went outside to check on the commotion and was hit in his abdomen.

The following case is so shameless sordid, demonstrating the abuse of police conducts.

Police tortured a 16-year-old boy in Davao Occidental after the teenager went to a local station to report physical abuse inflicted by his father. Instead of assisting, three police on duty brought the minor in a dark room and poured sinamak (vinegar with chili) on his private parts. They also threatened the victim to keep mum about the incident.

Unlawful arrest and detention of activists 

Members of activist groups went missing after being “abducted” by military forces. Several of them would surface days later as “rebel returnees” and were presented in a press conference by a provincial ELCAC.  

  • On January 10, Cebu-based development workers and labor rights advocates Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were abducted after disembarking at the City’s Pier 6. A video posted online and taken by a concerned citizen, showed them being forced into a car parked right by the docking area. Gumanao and Dayoha said that the abductors introduced themselves as police officers and no help was provided despite the presence of port authorities, including the Philippine Coast Guard, in the area. After five days of psychological torture, they were rescued on January 16. (See: “Human Rights under Marcos: Duterte’s Successor continues legacy of violations and abuse”)
  • On May 18, farmer rights advocate Patricia Nicole Cierva and environmentalist Michael Cedric Casano were taken by soldiers in Cagayan province. The two surfaced on June 2, 21 days later, with the military claiming that they were among the rebels who recently surrendered to the government.
  • On September 2, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro were reported missing but resurfaced days after under the custody of the military. The NTF-ELCAC presented Tamano and Castro in a press conference on September 19 to clarify that they were members of the NPA who voluntarily surrendered to authorities. The activists, in the same press conference, insisted that they were not NPA members and that they were “abducted.” (See: “Pressed at a presser: NTF-ELCAC caught off guard by activists in own presscon”) 

 Political violence

The attack that killed nine people in Negros Oriental remains the most prominent case of political violence. On March 4, armed men broke into the compound of Governor Roel Degamo where he was holding a meeting. Degamo and eight others died with seventeen others injured. (See: “Degamo coverage: A case for reform of the election law”) 

Nine suspects were arrested who pointed at former Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr. and Marvin Miranda, a military reservist, as masterminds. The suspects later recanted their statements. Eight of the nine suspects were arraigned on November 29. 

Alleged mastermind, Teves has yet to return to the country. He left for the United States for a medical emergency in March while still holding his seat in the House. He was  expelled by the House for disorderly behavior and violation of the code of conduct in August. Teves was last spotted in Timor Leste.

Barangay and SK elections 

The landscape above must also include electoral violence experienced in the October exercise of the vote for chairpersons and members of the barangay council, the government units at the level of grassroots. 

From January 1 to September 20, CMFR picked up at least 59 separate attacks reported on different news platforms. The 59 attacks left 63 victims, 28 of whom were barangay chairpersons. Of the 63, only 12 survived.  (See: “Media ignore the pattern of Political violence”) (Also See: “Bloody comeback: Violence intensified in barangay, youth polls 2023”)

Despite these cases, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the PNP describe the conduct of these events as “generally peaceful.” Such an orientation serves to cover up or “normalize” the high incidence of political violence which in reality diminishes the democratic exercise and lays bare the nature of Philippine democracy.  Endemic violence raises the tolerance for human rights violations by the state.

Marcos’ drug war

Administration officials claim that the war on illegal drugs under the Marcos administration has been “bloodless.” But the number of drug-related killings says otherwise.

Based on the data from Dahas, by the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center, 331 people were killed in 2023 in relation to the drug war. 

The number is a juxtaposition of Marcos’ promise to shift the focus of the campaign to rehabilitation. The lack of a more concrete and effective rehabilitation program to address the drug problem demonstrates Marcos Jr.’s lack of attention which allows Duterte’s bloody campaign to operate as de facto policy. 

Marcos has been nonchalant about the previous administration’s abuses in its anti-drug campaign. In several occasions, he insisted on his position against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of the Duterte’s drug war. 

On a November 24 interview following an event in Taguig, Marcos reiterated that the country has a working justice system and stressed that the Philippine law enforcement is “highly capable” of conducting a probe on the previous administration’s war on drugs. In the same interview he said that his administration is still thinking about rejoining the ICC’s Rome Statute after Duterte’s withdrawal in 2018.

2023 data of attacks and threats against journalists 

Two journalists killed

The number is a juxtaposition of Marcos’ promise to shift the focus of the campaign to rehabilitation. The lack of a more concrete and effective rehabilitation program to address the drug problem demonstrates Marcos Jr.’s lack of attention which allows Duterte’s bloody campaign to operate as de facto policy. 

Marcos has been nonchalant about the previous administration’s abuses in its anti-drug campaign. In several occasions, he insisted on his position against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of the Duterte’s drug war. 

On a November 24 interview following an event in Taguig, Marcos reiterated that the country has a working justice system and stressed that the Philippine law enforcement is “highly capable” of conducting a probe on the previous administration’s war on drugs. In the same interview he said that his administration is still thinking about rejoining the ICC’s Rome Statute after Duterte’s withdrawal in 2018.

2023 data of attacks and threats against journalists 

Two journalists killed

On May 31, broadcaster Cresenciano “Cris” Bundoquin was killed by motorcycle-riding men in Calapan City, Northern Mindoro. One of the suspects was killed during a pursuit operation. The other suspect turned himself to the police.  There are no updates on the case as of press time. (See: “Radio broadcaster shot dead in Oriental Mindoro; third under Marcos watch”) 

On November 5, broadcaster Juan Jumalon was killed by still unidentified suspects who barged into his home studio in Calamba, Misamis Occidental while he was on air for his morning infotainment program. The incident was recorded on a Facebook livestream which was immediately deleted by his broadcast station. (See: “Misamis Occidental broadcaster gunned down while on air”)

CMFR has classified the first case as work-related. A member of the family however told the media that the motive may have been due to a property issue. 

So far, CMFR’s count includes three journalists killed in the line of duty under the Marcos administration, making the total 179 since 1986. 

Other attacks and threats against journalists and media workers  

Aside from the killings, CMFR also recorded 29 other threats and attacks — the highest involved intimidation which included red tagging and surveillance. 

More of the same

Not much has changed in the eighteen months of President Marcos. The echoes of the Duterte regime resound as the threats of human rights violations remain a challenge for the nation. And, Marcos’ non-confrontational approach can only worsen the already dire state of human rights in the country. MT