UN Calls on Marcos Jr. to end “War on People”

21 July 2023

The United Nations (UN) called to halt the so-called “war on people” and appealed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s government to support policies firmly anchored in human rights, hence replacing punishment initiated by his predecessor to fight drug abuse.

In July 2022, President Marcos Jr. was sworn in as the president of the Philippines, however, he did not end the “war on drugs,” says Human Rights Watch. 

“President Marcos keeps telling foreign leaders that he’s ready to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines, but this is not going to happen so long as the police kill suspected drug users with impunity,” explained Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Marcos has a golden opportunity to prove that he is serious about human rights by ordering the end of the ‘drug war,’” he added.

Nevertheless, Marcos Jr. condemned the bloody attempt his predecessor adopted to control the illegal use of drugs, stating, “there were abuses by certain elements of government” in the “war on drugs” campaign. 

Drug War Massacres

The Philippines’ bloody “War on Drugs” has begun within a few weeks under the government of Rodrigo Duterte, the former president of the Philippines. Shortly after Duterte took office on 30 June 2016, he launched a campaign to stamp out drug criminality. 

At the beginning of the war on drugs, Duterte declared that there were 3 million “drug addicts” taking Methamphetamine, or “Shabu”, in the Philippines. During a recorded address, he expressed his concern over drugs, stating, “[i]f you destroy my country distributing 5.1 billion pesos worth of shabu … I will kill you.”

According to government data, more than 6,000 killings have occurred of individuals allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade but the number might be a lot higher. 

At least 8,663 deaths have been recorded in 2020 alone, a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted.

The so-called “war on drugs” campaign in the Philippines, is taking the country “back to the dark ages” warn young Filipinos. “They are slaughtering us like animals,” claimed a witness, too scared to mention his name. 

At the peak of these killings, citizens were being killed on the streets at night, inside their homes, nevertheless, they are drug addicts, consumers or dealers. The country’s Catholic Church has called the killings a “reign of terror.”

From 1 July 2022 to 20 June 2023, at least 342 drug-related killings were recorded, out of this total, an estimated 115 were killed in “anti-drug operations” carried out by the state agent, according to the Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center.

Accountability or Show?

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has been the front-line force in the war against drugs. In a move to stop the killings, President Marcos Jr. asked 300 National Police officers to resign as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to combat corruption linked to the illegal drug trade. 

While good on paper, Carlos Conde, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division says the Marcos cabinet is sending “mixed signals” on accountability. The mass resignation is “for show” Conde says as a panel will evaluate each officer’s involvement individually. 

On 12 May the Philippines’ court also dismissed two drug cases filed against Leila De Lima, a Philippine former senator and one of the most vocal critics of the war on drugs. She spent six years in detention without due process. A third case is still pending. 

Expressing their thoughts on De Lima’s detention, Human rights activists condemned her arrest pointing out that she has been jailed without any convictions. Furthermore, Amnesty International reiterates its call for the case of De Lima, including the “immediate and unconditional” release of the former Senator, urging President Marcos Jr. to drop all charges against her. 

Following this alarming matter, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International, stated, “De Lima should never have spent a day in prison, but instead, she’s languished there for six years. The government must urgently give her the freedom and justice she deserves after such an appalling ordeal.”

Despite a recent court dismissal of the case, Lima will remain in custody and has filed seeking a third drug case.

In contrast with these instances stands President Marcos Jr.’s response to Duterte’s case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. President Marcos has refused to rejoin the ICC while they investigate the assassinations and other suspected crimes against humanity allegedly committed during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Rome Statute in March 2019, but according to the ICC, it still has jurisdiction to investigate possible crimes during the period that the Philippines was a member. 

Previously, the ICC temporarily the case against Duterte after the government said it would conduct its own investigation, but in January 2023 the court ruled that the government’s investigation was not adequate. 

On 18 July, the ICC dismissed the appeal and said it would “resume the investigation”. The Philippines has no more options to appeal, added ICC Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. 

President Marcos Jr. said the country will “disengage” from communicating with the ICC and according to justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla the Philippine government will not execute ICC arrest warrants.

Article by Fatima Abuzar.
Editing by Anrike Visser.

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