The Philippines supposedly transitioned from authoritarian rule in 1986, but the shift remains tenuous. Freedom House – a U.S. government-funded nonprofit organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights – classifies the Philippines as “partly free,” saying “the rule of law and application of justice are haphazard and heavily favor political and economic elites.”
Human rights abuses are escalating quickly. For example, the United Nations released a damning report in June 2020 that documented tens of thousands of killings during President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The report said that police acted with “near impunity” during the campaign against illegal drugs, which led to a significant suppression of dissent, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings.
In fact, Human Rights Watch – an international non-governmental organization, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights – reports that thousands of people, including children, were killed by “death squads” during Duterte’s “war.”
To fan the flames, Duterte himself repeatedly called for violence, at one point saying, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” That’s pretty hard core.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 crisis provided Duterte a perfect excuse to significantly expand his powers and severely further curtail the rights and freedoms of Filipinos.
To that end, President Duterte introduced, and his Duterte-friendly legislature passed, an “anti-terrorism” bill that eliminated the need for legal warrants, increased surveillance on citizens, and significantly increased the power of government security forces.
We need to watch this closely. The United States should, at a minimum, support the United Nations’ call for an “independent, impartial, credible investigation into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”