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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Amparo

A Violation of Human Rights in the Philippines

By: Evelyn Amparo Edited By: Ashlyn Bi October 30, 2023


Following World War II, the question of what basic human rights are was raised into question because there were suddenly entire countries of displaced people and thousands of unmarked graves covering Europe. Morality is an extremely gray area, but it has been decided that at the bare minimum, there is a right and wrong way to treat human beings. Human rights, as defined by the United Nations, include the “right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, [and] the right to work and education [...]” It is notable to highlight that the United Nations also states that “everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.” These rights are defined as fundamental human rights because they should be given without question, and there is a reason for that. Despite this, due to current political climates around the world, many communities find their human rights constantly violated. A prime example of this is the violation of human rights in the Philippines.

The Philippines is a third-world country in Southeast Asia, consisting of over 7,000 islands that form an archipelago. The Philippines has a long history of colonization and imperialism, primarily in relation to Spain, the United States, and Japan. Although the Philippines is technically a democratic society, they experienced a long period of martial law where the civilian government was replaced with military rule under the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos from 1972 to 1981. During this time, Marcos ratified a new constitution based on a parliamentary system that defined him as president and prime minister of the Philippines. During this time, there were countless killings, torture, imprisonment, and disappearances. Among those arrested were church workers, human rights defenders, legal aid lawyers, labor leaders, and journalists. Maria Ressa, a journalist who often critiqued President Rodrigo Duterte, has been arrested twice and posted bail eight times. She has been falsely accused of fraud, tax evasion, and receiving money from the Central Intelligence Agency, proving that the government was truly grasping at straws in order to find any reason to arrest her and silence her opinions. The common thread connecting the arrested individuals is that they all have professions dealing with what the United Nations has defined as inalienable human rights. Silencing these people takes away their power and their humanity as a whole. Ferdinand Marcos' removal from political power occurred following the People Power Revolution in February 1986 when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue to protest against his dictatorship. Shortly following Marcos’ removal from office, Marcos and his family were exiled to Hawaii and were no longer welcome in the Philippines.

Although martial law ended nearly 40 years ago, corrupt leadership in the Philippines resulted in a contentious violation of human rights. For example, after taking office in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte began to carry out and enforce his “war on drugs”. The controversies with Duterte’s program lie not in the fact that it is anti-drug, but in that the program is anti-poor. The targeted demographics are addicts and pushers instead of those who control the drug rings in the country, revealing that the targets are people who are simply victims of the system. Although drug use technically decreased, it is more so because of the 12,000 extrajudicial killings that occurred primarily among the lower classes in urban regions. Police systems rapidly descended into corruption, with accusations labeling individuals as drug dealers or users. This led to indefensible killings under the mask of "self-defense," even when there were no apparent threats. As drug usage decreased, criminal activities and anarchy surged, exacerbating the human rights crisis. Following this, there was an increase in distrust between the government and the public, especially in impoverished groups. Their rights to “life and liberty” were taken away during the “war on drugs” as the individuals deemed as "dangerous" were immediately branded as criminals without a say. According to an interview with Reuters, a Philippine police commander “alleged that the police are given quotas of ‘surrenders’, filling them by arresting anyone on trivial violations.” This irresponsible behavior contributes to the violation of the right to liberty, taking away any semblance of free activity for the people. The “drug war” has gone through an investigation by the International Criminal Court, attempting to bring justice to the people of the Philippines who have suffered because of government negligence. Although Duterte announced his retirement from politics in October 2021, the “war on drugs” has not ended peacefully.

The 2022 Philippine Presidential Election had two extremely prominent candidates for the presidency. Leni Robredo, the vice president under Rodrigo Duterte, promised to relieve the corrupt government system and hold the government more accountable for its actions. The other prominent candidate and current president of the Philippines were Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also known as “Bongbong”. To extend his family's political legacy, Marcos selected Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, as his vice-presidential running mate. Despite the hopes for a shift in governance following the injustices of the Duterte era, Marcos emerged victorious, perpetuating the enduring political reign of the Marcos family in the Philippines. Marcos Jr., astonishingly, has more than 30 million votes, whereas Robredo had roughly 14 million in the election. However, the thought of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as president terrified the public due to his father's dictatorship. It seemed nearly inevitable that the violations of human rights by Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte would only continue through the political power of their children.

In a public statement, Marcos said he would continue Duterte’s “war against drugs,” but would shift the focus to rehabilitating drug users rather than criminalizing them. However, killings and accusations have not slowed, and rehabilitation programs are still a theorized solution over an actualized reality. The truth of the ongoing “drug war” is still questioned due to the media censorship in the Philippines. Under Duterte, many news media organizations and journalists were labeled as “communist sympathizers,” making it much more dangerous to use their freedom of speech and press in the country. Additionally, the Philippines government censored many news articles on the internet, blinding the country in some aspects to the political climate and ongoings of the rest of the world. Censorship in the media takes away the freedom of speech and the right to an opinion, furthering the long list of violations in the country. Since 1986, 11% of the 190 journalist deaths in the Philippines occurred under the Duterte administration. The journalism crisis about the ongoing “drug war” and political corruption has been explored in a fictional account of events in the novel Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay. Exploring these topics in a fictionalized scenario puts into perspective how cruel and severe violating human rights has been in the Philippines as an independent country. Assuming that Duterte’s daughter holds the same principles that he values and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continues the mission his father was persecuted for, the future of the Philippines is looking dark. It is time to shed light on the inhumane conditions for the millions of people that call the islands their homeland. Because of the massive censorship in the country, it is imperative to stay up-to-date with ongoing events in the Philippines and listen to journalists like Maria Ressa who are speaking up for the people who are otherwise voiceless in a sea of covered-up controversies.


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