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Philippine clergy, advocates say human rights dying under Duterte

President Duterte warned public that war on drugs would become ‘more chilling’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his State of the Nation address July 23 at the House of Representatives in Manila. Religious leaders and activists say human rights are dying under Duterte’s rule.
Photo Credits: Czar Dancel | Reuters
MANILIA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned the public during his third State of the Nation address July 23 that his two-year war on drugs would become even “more chilling” in the coming days.

Earlier that day, a group of human rights advocates attended Mass before taking to the streets of Manila armed with banners and placards calling for an end to extrajudicial killings, rallying for “democracy, justice, and freedom,” and demanding Duterte step down from office.

During the Mass, the bishop who delivered the homily reminded parishioners that about 23,000 people have been slain as part of Duterte’s brutal campaign against narcotics pushers and users, ucanews.com reported.

Some didn’t need reminding; they already had lost family members to what critics view as a campaign of state-sanctioned murder, with many suspects gunned down before being able to defend themselves in court.

Nanet Castillo is a case in point. Her son was killed during the first wave of the war on drugs in 2016.

“We continue to seek and wait for justice to be served,” she said.

Father Gilbert Villena, a member of Rise Up, a group formed by the relatives of people killed by security forces, said it was time to demand that Duterte fulfill his promises of “change for the greater good.”

Human rights groups have described the past two years as the “worst years for human rights” in the Philippines since the declaration of martial law in September 1972.

Karapatan, a local group of rights activists, described the country as being in a state of crisis under Duterte.

Cristina Palabay, one of the group’s members, said the body count from drug-related killings at the hands of security forces already has surpassed the number of deaths recorded during the martial law years of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International Philippines said the country has become a “far more dangerous place” because of the impunity and lack of accountability police officers enjoy in carrying out Duterte’s mandate.

The president has “created a culture where anyone can kill or be killed,” said Jose Noel Olano, Amnesty’s director of operations in the Philippines.

He also took issue with Duterte’s “shortsightedness in accepting criticism” and “resistance to recommendations” on policy, claiming his actions have helped create an environment where people’s human rights are being trampled upon on a daily basis.

Lawyer Harry Roque, a presidential spokesman, said such claims were unfounded as the anti-narcotics drive has been conducted legitimately.

He blamed the killings on suspects who “violently resisted” arrest and said Duterte “does not and will never condone extralegal killings.”

The Promotion of Church Peoples Response, an ecumenical group, offered a different opinion, saying the current administration has been characterized by a “culture of fear, death, impunity and un-peace.”

The Rev. Mary Grace Masegman, a Protestant minister, said Duterte “has not accomplished anything except demonstrating his gross incompetence and inability to rightly govern the nation.”

Even members of the Catholic Church are being persecuted, she said.

In December, Father Marcelito Paez was gunned down in Nueva Ejica province after facilitating the release of a political prisoner.

Since January, four foreign religious missionaries, including Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian who is Philippine superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, have been arrested, detained, deported or threatened with deportation after they were accused of participating in political activities opposing the state.

Catholic priests and Protestant ministers also have become more vocal in taking issue about threats, harassment and surveillance conducted against them by the apparatus of the state.

On July 16, at least 1,600 tribal people from 15 communities in the towns of Lianga and San Agustin in the southern Philippines fled their homes because of military operations, the rights group Karaptan stated.

One of the hardest hit areas is Mindanao, where martial law was declared at the onset of a five-month armed conflict in the city of Marawi that began on May 23, 2017, the rights group stated.

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