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