Malacañang on Tuesday debunked an Amnesty International (AI) report on the government’s anti-drug campaign as “false and rehashed” allegations against President Duterte.
Acting Presidential Spokesperson and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the AI continues to rely on the President’s critics, using baseless information not vetted by Philippine government authorities.
In its report, the AI charged that “lack of accountability continued to facilitate unlawful killings and other human rights violations” under Duterte’s drug war.
“The reports of AI are never vetted with the Philippine government to authenticate their information, which is why it includes false narratives on the government’s war against illegal drugs,” Andanar said in a statement.
“We consider the Amnesty International Report 2021-2022 as simply a cut-and-paste collection of recycled issues and arguments used by perennial detractors and critics of the Duterte administration,” Andanar said.
“The absence of such vetting relegates AI’s report to a mere false rehash. And that especially includes its false narratives on the current government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign and issues surrounding Maria Ressa and Senator Leila de Lima, all of which have been previously answered,” Andanar added.
The Palace official deplored that the AI described the government’s pandemic response as a “mishandling,” saying it is far from the truth because all regions in the country were presented in minimal risk case classification.
Andanar pointed out that the Philippines has been elected to a fifth term in the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying it was a recognition of the government’s “faithful adherence to promoting, protecting, and fulfilling the human rights of the Filipino people.”
He urged the AI to meet with the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat to ensure that pressing issues in the country were “properly discussed and resolved.”
“In keeping with our commitment to remain open to multi stakeholder engagements, we ask AI to sit down with the government to clarify whatever concerns them, valid issues or otherwise,” Andanar said.
The AI claimed that Duterte “continued to incite violence against people suspected of using or selling illegal drugs.”
The group also said Duterte in his State of the Nation Address in Jul 2021, even called on Congress to “legislate free legal assistance for members of the security forces accused of unlawful killings.”
The AI adverted to an order by the International Criminal Court in the Hague’ to probe the drug war deaths, but the inquiry was suspended at the request of the Philippine government to enable domestic courts to resolve the issues first.
“In October, the Department of Justice released partial information from its review of just 52 of the thousands of cases involving killings by police during anti-drug operations. Although the review was woefully inadequate and failed to meet international standards, its limited findings contradicted police claims that lethal force had been justified, and confirmed violations documented by local and international human rights groups,” the AI report stated.
Aside from the drug war deaths, AI cited the cases of human rights defenders, political activists, and politicians subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment, as well as indigenous people being the target of attacks by the authorities and unknown assailants.
The NGO also mentioned to the slew of cases filed against journalist and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize awardee Maria Ressa. While two charges of cyber libel against her were dismissed, she still faced other charges for which she could imprisoned for 60 years if found guilty.
AI also noted the linking of organizations and individuals to communist groups, an effort known as “red-tagging”, which led to killings and harassment of human rights workers.
One such incident was the massacre of nine people and the arrest of six others on March 7, 2021. The incident was referred to as “Bloody Sunday.”
“Environmental activists and urban poor community leaders were among those arrested and killed. Allegations by the security forces that firearms and explosives were seized during the raids, and that those killed were resisting arrest, were denied by the groups involved,” AI
“In a speech given two days before the raids, the Chief Executive said he had ordered the police and military to ‘kill’ communist rebels.
In December, the Department of Justice recommended the filing of murder charges against 17 law enforcers for the death of labor leader Emmanuel Asuncion during the raids,” AI added.
The AI also argued that while the Supreme Court struck down two portions of the Anti-Terrorism Law in December 2021, the law already proved to be flawed and open to abuse as shown in the case of the Olongapo City court dismissing charges against two members of the Indigenous Aeta community in July 2021 due to a case of mistaken identity.
AI also cited the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, whose one of three drug-related charges was dismissed by the court last year, as a prisoner of conscience.
Litany of alleged human rights violations
The AI said indigenous people were not spared. It lamented that a Cordillera police chief issued a shoot-to-kill order to against Windel Bolinget, a prominent Indigenous peoples’ rights advocate. The murder charge filed against Bolinget was dismissed in July 2021.
The AI also said unknown assailants shot dead Julie Catamin, the chief of Roosevelt village in Tapaz municipality, Capiz province, last February 2021.
Catamin was a witness in a case relating to a police raid in December 2020 in which community leaders from the Tumandok Indigenous people were arrested and others killed.
In February 2021, AI said that security forces raided a school in Cebu City in which students from Indigenous communities displaced by armed conflict were living.
Seven people, including students, teachers, and a community elder, were arrested without warrants and charged with kidnapping and human trafficking. They were detained for three months before the charges were dismissed.
The Duterte government’s COVID-19 response was also included in the AI report, with the human rights group noting that the already inadequate healthcare system lacked sufficient hospital beds and health workers to treat COVID-19 patients.
In addition, AI said that while the government began a COVID-19 vaccination program in March, there were concerns about slow implementation, uneven geographical distribution, and discriminatory access to vaccines.
“In August 2021, a report by the independent statutory body, the Commission on Audit, revealed deficiencies in the Department of Health’s handling of funds allocated to the COVID-19 response, including irregularities in the transfer of funds between government departments,” AI said. With GMANEWS