Chito Gascon, Chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, addresses the 9th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the fragility of human rights and democracy:
“The Philippine case is a case of how quickly institutions such as rule of law, human rights, the separation of powers, can be quickly undermined if we do not continue to draw the line.”
“Wherever we find an attack on human rights, we must speak up against this because an attack on human rights is itself an attack on democracy. An assault on the lowest, most vulnerable person in our society hits to the core of our humanity.”
Commenting on Duterte’s presidency of the Philippines:
“There is no let-up in this anti-drug, anti-crime campaign or war on drugs of the Duterte administration. And what it represents is an unprecedented number of killings not seen since the authoritarian period.”
“1,000 people are killed each month in an effort that undermines the constitutional guarantees of due process, presumption of innocence and rule of law.”
“The Department of Justice of our country has yet to file a single case in court against any of the perpetrators and if this programme continues, we are greatly afraid that the violence will spread and not only criminals will be subject to attack but even those who are in opposition to this current policy.”
First of all, good morning to everyone, our dear friends the organisers of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Watch, Ambassador Moses, Hillel – and I am grateful to the Liberal International Human Rights Committee for the invitation to come here to join you this morning at this important gathering; a platform where human rights activists, champions and defenders of human rights come together to speak about their stories. I am humbled by being here with all of them and I am grateful to Antonietta for her testimony about Venezuela. I am with you in your call for freedom for your father and for all political prisoners in Venezuela.
I come here to speak about what’s happening in my country, the Philippines. The Philippines will be commemorating in a few days, on the 25th of February, the 31st anniversary of its People Power Revolution against dictatorship. So, 31 years ago we toppled a brutal dictator and ushered in democratic institutions. However, the Philippine case is a case of how quickly institutions such as rule of law, human rights, the separation of powers, can be quickly undermined if we do not continue to draw the line.
Last year, in popular elections, the Filipino people elected President Rodrigo Duterte to be the new president, and he assumed office in June of 2016, barely 7 months now into office, and in the course of that time, 7 months, as part of what he perceived to be a clear mandate from those who had voted for him, he undertook a relentless strong-arm campaign against crime and drugs – and it has resulted today in close to 7,500 deaths as a result of this effort.
⅔ of these 7,000+ deaths were committed by unknown perpetrators – it is suspected that they have been killed by vigilante groups – and ⅓, almost 2,000, have been killed at the hands of law enforcement, the police, in what they claim, in every single case, to be a self-defence case. Our local term for it is “nanlaban”, ‘they fought back’.
So, this programme is continuing to this day and there is no let-up in this anti-drug, anti-crime campaign or war on drugs of the Duterte administration. And what it represents is an unprecedented number of killings not seen since the authoritarian period. 1,000 people are killed each month in an effort that undermines the constitutional guarantees of due process, presumption of innocence and rule of law.
This is why I come here today in this forum to share with you this incident, in particular, because the Department of Justice of our country has yet to file a single case in court against any of the perpetrators and if this programme continues, we are greatly afraid that the violence will spread and not only criminals will be subject to attack but even those who are in opposition to this current policy.
Over the weekend just passed, the staunchest opponent of this policy, Senator Leila de Lima, who was formerly Chair of the body which I currently head – The Commission on Human Rights – and a former Minister of Justice, and currently in opposition in the Senate, has been charged by the Department of Justice and they are now waiting on the possibility of a warrant of arrest to be issued to charge her for alleged involvement in drugs. But, the evidence that has been presented is actually inconsequential and we view this to be essentially a political harassment.
So, what is happening now is a movement away from the violence directed at criminals alone to possibly violence directed at the political opposition to President Duterte.
There are, of course, other efforts that are being undertaken in my country beyond this current spate of killings in the course of the drug war. This involved the re-imposition of the death penalty as well as the reduction of the minimum age of criminal liability from currently 15 to a proposal of 9 years old. So, this ‘triple whammy’ of sorts, of killings in the streets, re-imposition of the death penalty and the reduction of the criminal age to 9 years old constitute part of an essentially strong man tactic that is being pursued by the current administration.
Human rights groups are speaking out against this, the Church is beginning to speak up for the right to life, and this session is about standing up against oppression and upholding human rights, and that is what we must do wherever we find human rights violations, wherever we find an attack on human rights, we must speak up against this because an attack on human rights is itself an attack on democracy, an assault on the lowest, most vulnerable person in our society hits to the core of our humanity and it is important for us to clearly draw the line and to speak up against human rights violations wherever we find them.
The final message I’d like to ask all of us to do is to ensure that we push back, ‘find the courage’ as Antonietta referred to earlier, to push back against all of these assaults on human rights.
We must draw courage from the women who march in the streets for 30 days across D.C., New York and San Francisco as a push back against misogyny and an affirmation of their dignity; we must push back like the lawyers like Jared and others who rushed to airports when the borders were closed to offer free legal services so that refugees and people that were banned to travel into the United States might be able to enter; we must push back such as what the indigenous people and First Nations are doing in defence of their land and ancestral domain against intrusion; we must push back such as what journalists are doing all over the world to look for truth regardless of the consequences, even when they’re told that they are enemies of the state; we must push back like what children in Palestine are doing, setting up barricades in defence of their homes being bulldozed.
There are so many issues that we have been listening to today, and all of these issues across different countries are about protecting and defending democracy by upholding human rights. So, I ask all of us here, grateful for your interest, to continue to look at all of these issues and please do look at the struggle that we are facing in the Philippines, defending the line of democracy and human rights against the current assaults on it.
Thank you very much.
9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, February 20, 2017