With Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. sworn in as the 17th President of the Republic of the Philippines, stakeholders from civil society organizations, people’s organizations, church, academe, professionals and individuals, said the new president should perform his duty to hold former president Rodrigo Duterte and his administration accountable for their grave human rights abuses against the Filipino people during their six years in office.
President Marcos, Jr. is obliged to address the deterioration in the civil and political rights (CPR) and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) situation under the Duterte watch. The previous administration’s unreformed neoliberal economic policies also further weakened the Philippine economy and worsened poverty and inequality. Former President Duterte’s militarist and misogynist leadership also bore down hard on the country’s most vulnerable sectors, stoked disunity, and discriminated against persons and groups. These deepened misery and social exclusion.
Civil society groups have been relentlessly red-tagged and vilified as “terrorists” or “terrorist supporters,” in many cases leading to arrests and incarceration on trumped-up charges or even violent attacks and extrajudicial killings. The main targets have been those most critical of the government’s human rights violations, and those pushing for substantial civil, political and socioeconomic reforms.
Former Pres. Duterte has already admitted using his influence to close down ABS-CBN, the country’s leading nationwide broadcasting network during the COVID-19 pandemic when Filipinos needed timely information. The previous administration relentlessly attacked mainstream and alternative mass media groups with constant vilification, internet-based attacks, regulatory measures and even legal cases.
Among the new President’s duties is to hold the Duterte administration accountable for its grave human rights abuses including its criminal liability for its bloody war on drugs. He earlier said that his administration will give the highest regard for human rights and speedy action is needed for this to not be mere rhetoric. For instance, in the upcoming fourth cycle of the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippines’s human rights record, the new administration can support and implement concrete recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council to help alleviate the human rights situation in the country.
Even on his own, Pres. Marcos, Jr. can ensure an enabling environment for democratic participation in governance and in development planning and implementation. He can: 1) repeal repressive laws starting with the Anti-Terrorism Law and Executive Order (EO) 70 creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC); 2) stop the red-tagging and vilification of civil society including NGOs, POs, and humanitarian and development workers as well as of any other individuals and groups merely expressing their political views; and 3) strengthen our national human rights institution, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), with a larger budget allocation for personnel and other resource requirements and improved cooperation from police and military authorities.
Urgently, the new Marcos Jr. administration should allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue its independent investigation of former Pres. Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity especially in relation to his war on drugs. The new administration should also allow independent investigations on all other human rights violations committed by the Duterte administration. It should also render immediate and substantive justice for all victims of human rights violations with adequate compensation, indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation.
Pres. Marcos Jr’s electoral victory is tainted by accusations of massive vote-buying, disinformation, and fraud. He can establish his legitimacy by acknowledging and apologizing for human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship along with settling his outstanding tax obligations and returning the family’s ill-gotten wealth in the country and those stashed abroad. He can also declare that his family will cease efforts to revise history and instead ensure its correct teaching to the youth.
He can also be serious in addressing poverty which is one of the root causes of conflict, as well as take the necessary steps to resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front toward a just, peaceful and democratic society.
These are necessary steps to make his campaign promises of fostering unity to move forward and rebuild the country real rather than mere campaign rhetoric. ###