Leading rights advocates stand up to Duterte

CANBERRA—The past two weeks, from the proclamation of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president-elect to this writing, were marred by acrimonious warnings about his dictatorial tendencies.

Close on the heels of the strong condemnation by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of Duterte’s apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Loretta Ann Rosales, former chair of the  Commission on Human Rights (CHR), raised the issue of the rise of death squad killings. In a message to the Inquirer, she said the incoming Duterte administration should be  reminded that it should refrain from making policies and pronouncements antagonistic to democracy.


She denounced Duterte for announcing “an explosive anticrime campaign that includes the summary killing of criminal suspects, especially drug dealers,” and for warning the incoming Congress “not to make the mistake” of  investigating his law enforcement measures.

“It is an old adage that has been said over and over again: A government that rules in a climate of fear does not make the place safer for its citizens.  It only makes the citizens weaker before the government,” Rosales said.


Duterte, a former government prosecutor, has also vowed to restore the death penalty, with hanging as a preferred method.

Rosales, a survivor of human rights abuses during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, lamented the “creeping censorship,” noting that so few poliltical leaders seemed willing to challenge Duterte’s views on human rights and free speech.  “We experienced this in 14 years of dictatorial rule under Marcos where citizens were cowed into timidity and fear. We learned to liberate ourselves from fear and timidity when we gradually understood the meaning of four basic rights the way our forefathers did, and… we were able to overcome the dictatorship,” she said.

She also noted that Duterte’s promise to eradicate crime was welcome, but his lack of tolerance for reminders about the observance of rights was alarming.

“While the entire nation fully supports a relentless drive against crime, illegal drugs and corruption, the incoming administration expresses little tolerance, or none at all, for those who remind him that the rule of law, including the human rights law, must govern policies in the pursuit of criminals while due process must prevail in dealing with those arrested,” she said.

“The daily news of bust operations arresting suspected drug users and drug lords by an energized Philippine National Police is an encouraging sign that there is much resolve in the drive to eradicate crime. But to keep silent in the face of summary killings without the benefit of investigation is to abdicate responsibility as law enforcers, making a mockery of the rule of law and civilized government,” she stressed, adding that this was the reason why it was so important  to make the human rights issue known to the public and to air the side of the CHR against the current attitude of arrogance and condenscension drawn from the might of the popular vote.

She was referring to the statements of her successor, CHR Jose Luis Martin Gascon, one of the few officials who dared to stand up to Duterte, earning him a stinging rebuke from the President-elect. In May, in response to a CHR report finding the President-elect liable for violations of the Magna Carta for Women for his outrageous remark about the gang rape and murder of an Australian missionary during a prison riot in Davao City in 1989, Duterte called Gascon an “idiot.”

At a CHR event last week, Gascon  spoke about the promises and threats made by the incoming Duterte administration, vowing to respond only to events and facts instead of speculations and rumors.  If the events and facts suggest there’s repression rather than promotion of human rights, the CHR is prepared to stand firm in the defense of  the rights of all people, the CHR chief said, pointing out that his role was only that of a referee. “As referee, our job is to call out if the line has been crossed. Let’s not take offense. If there are abuses, we will say ‘this goes against the Constitution.’ All leaders of the nation, from the president to the barangay tanod, have the responsibility to act according to the Constitution.”


Rosales said that Independence Day, which was celebrated on June 12, should remind Duterte and his people of their moral obligation to respect human dignity. These principles, she said are now enshrined in eight of nine human rights treaties the Philippines has ratified, which oblige as well the country to comply with international human rights standards and norms.

Apparently, Duterte is not impressed with these norms. He has derided human rights as a western concept that does not apply to the Philippines. He has been linked to death squads that, allegedly, have killed more than 1,000 criminal suspects in Davao City. He has denied any role in the killings, and no charges have been brought against him. But during the campaign, he vowed to kill tens of thousands of criminals and dump their bodies—not in Davao Gulf—but in Manila Bay, where the fish would grow fat from feeding on the corpses.

Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.

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TAGS: Ban Ki-moon, Commission on Human Rights, extrajudicial killings, human rights, Rodrigo Duterte, United Nations
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