Civil society organizations, rights group assess Duterte government’s commitment to peace, justice, and strong institutions

July 19, 2021

July 19, 2021

As PRRD’s last SONA closes in…
Civil society organizations, rights group assess Duterte government’s commitment to peace, justice, and strong institutions

A week before President Rodrigo Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address, civil society organizations (CSOs), advocacy groups, and people’s rights organizations assessed the government’s implementation of the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) in an online forum themed People’s Review of SDG16: Asserting the People’s Right to Development and Governance amid Shrinking Democratic Spaces today, June 19, 2021.

Organized by the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) with its members and allied organizations, the forum aimed to determine what are the government programs and policies that affect the achievement of SDG 16 which ensures countries to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

The forum commenced with Liza Maza, president of WE Govern Institute, who gave an overview on SDG16’s importance in achieving a just, peaceful, and equitable society. 

“Peace, justice, and good governance are inextricably linked to development. But the Duterte government’s militaristic response to the pandemic and characteristically repressive governance has significantly hindered the achievement of peace, justice, security and inclusive institutions, setting back the fulfilment of SDG 16 targets,” Maza explained in her opening remarks. 

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay gave a comprehensive analysis on the Duterte government’s policies that are detrimental to peace, justice, and human rights. She also cited how the COVID-19 pandemic was exploited for authoritarian measures on the pretext of curbing the disease that increased cases of human rights violations even more.

“What can likewise further the level of insecurity of citizens are the use of emergency laws or policies during the COVID-19 pandemic to stifle freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly, the right to mobility and against disproportionate use of force or violence as well as civil liberties,” Palabay added.

Estrella Catarata, spokesperson of Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network or ASCENT, cited how different CSOs, non-government organizations (NGOs), and people’s organizations (POs) filled the gaps in providing social services amid the pandemic and how they are currently being impeded by the diminishing democratic spaces in the country. Members of CSOs and development organizations, according to her, were being subjected to different forms of repression such as red tagging, filing of trumped-up charges, incarceration, and were even killed.

Following this, organizations with varying advocacies and programs testified on how their work is being adversely affected by the government’s anti-democratic policies. These include legal means that subvert democratic and civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution like the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, anti-money laundering and terrorist-financing laws that are being exploited against CSOs, bills that exclude CSOs from participation, among others. The smear campaign of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict against all people-led initiatives that are deemed critical to the government adds up to their burden as well.

“The violations committed against church people and churches in the past five years of the Duterte government, go against the right to exercise freedom of religion and the exercise of ministries in furtherance of religious beliefs including development work and ministries,” narrated Mervin Toquero, Program Secretary of the Faith, Witness and Service program of the  National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

Tumindi ang pang-abuso sa mga ligal na proseso upang pakiputin ang demokratikong espasyo para sa mga mamamayan. Palasak na modus ang pag-a-apply ng serial search warrants [at] pagtanim ng gawa-gawang ebidensya ng illegal possession of firearms and explosives,” shared Atty. Josalee Deinla, spokesperson of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Rhea Padilla, Executive Director of AlterMidya, shared how critical journalism is equally subjected to different forms of repression.

“Ibang level of display of State Power talaga ang pagpapasara sa isang media outfit, and this is not just an ordinary outfit. Just like Marcos, ang inutos ni Duterte na isara ay yung pinakamalaki at pinaka-influential na broadcasting network sa bansa,” she explained, citing the dictatorial censorship of ABS-CBN as the most blatant attack on journalists. She also shared a number of rights violations committed against the alternative press ranging from arbitrary arrests to extrajudicial killings.

With the Duterte administration’s highly autocratic governance, the people are excluded in the decision-making and in the implementation of development policies and programs affecting their livelihood and welfare. The groups assert that the recognition and respect of human rights is an integral requisite towards a genuinely democratic society.

The forum was concluded by Minette Aguinsada, executive director of Leyte Center for Development, Inc. and member of CPDG board of trustees.

“NGO and PO leaders and members are targets of killings, abduction, threats, arrests, red tagging, bank account freezing. Why? Because we serve in remote, high conflict areas where there is a huge dearth in government services. We are helping the government solve poverty, and this is what we get,” she said.

Aguinsada ended her speech with high hopes in taking on the challenge of pushing for genuine democratic governance: “We can turn this bleak situation into something positive. We have the majority of the Filipino people behind us, as we defend their interests. Despite the threats, we must make a stand for our people. Power comes from the base, from the grassroots” Aguinsada stated in her closing remarks. ###

Watch the forum here.