Voices for justice drowned out in Philippines’ drug war Voices for justice drowned out in Philippines’ drug war
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Voices for justice drowned out in Philippines’ drug war

    NHK Jakarta Bureau Chief
    NHK Manila Bureau Chief
    Human rights activists are struggling to be heard amid the Philippines’ ongoing illicit drugs crackdown. They are also fearing for their own safety as President Rodrigo Duterte moves to quell dissent. According to official figures, about 8,600 people have been killed since 2016 in police operations targeting drug criminals and users. The real toll is suspected to be three times that.

    For 66-year-old Manila resident Llore Benedict, the drugs campaign has claimed the lives of two of her sons. She is grieving the loss of Crisanto and Juan Carlos, who were killed by police four years ago. The United Nations regards the brothers as victims of extrajudicial violence.

    The pair had used illicit drugs in the past. But they went to the local government after Duterte declared that drug users’ lives would be spared if they turned themselves in. One year later, they were shot dead while on their way to their jobs at a security company. The police told their mother they were suspects in a robbery. “I’m so sad because they were killed together,” she says.

    Llore Benedict
    Two of Llore Benedict’s sons were killed by police four years ago.

    The violence has spread beyond those involved in the drugs trade. Human rights activists are being targeted too.

    Clarizza Singson knows what it’s like to be on a hitlist. She is the secretary-general of a human rights group on the island of Negros. Singson has long supported farmers over issues such as land ownership, and she has advocated for the release of political prisoners. She's a vocal critic of Duterte's policies.

    Her photo has appeared on a poster with a message claiming that she and other human rights advocates and lawyers are members of the Communist Party's military arm. She condemns this as “red-tagging”: portraying activists as terrorists.

    The accusation means Singson fears for her life. Three other people on the poster have already been killed, including her best friend. She maintains government operatives were involved in her friend’s death. “They make the highest number of human rights violations in the Philippines,” she says. “They really want to silence people’s resistance.”

    Clarizza Singson’s photo
    A photo of Clarizza Singson has appeared on a poster claiming she is a member of the Communist Party's military arm.

    The coronavirus pandemic is making things even more difficult for Singson and her colleagues. People’s movements are restricted and monitored by police and military personnel, making it hard for activists to escape or hide.

    Singson said she's anxious about living with her family under the circumstances. “My sons are silent about it, but I know it’s also hard for them. Our life is full of uncertainties. If we go out, we don’t know if we will make it home,” she says tearfully.

    International concerns

    The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has criticized the Duterte administration for state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings. In addition to the deaths linked directly to the drugs crackdown, a report found at least 248 people, including human rights activists, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists, became victims between 2015 and 2019.

    A group in Japan is part of an international outcry. The “Stop the Attacks Campaign” is urging the government to pressure Manila to stop the extrajudicial killings. Members want Japan to suspend economic and humanitarian assistance to the Philippine military and police. They are concerned that Tokyo's support encourages the continuation of unlawful and arbitrary violence.

    The group is disappointed with a Foreign Ministry response it received that simply outlined Japan’s support for a UNHRC resolution concerning human rights abuses in the Philippines. The response also offered Japan’s support for the Duterte administration to fulfill its accountability.

    In the meantime, a culture of fear builds. According to a 2018 survey that polled 1,440 Filipinos, 78% were worried that they or someone they know could fall victim to an extrajudicial killing. Duterte's drug war continues, forcing even innocent people to fear for their lives.

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