Advocacy groups criticize as flawed human rights panel established by Philippine leader

Earlier this month, President Marcos announced the creation of a so-called “super body” to promote human rights.
BenarNews staff
Advocacy groups criticize as flawed human rights panel established by Philippine leader Hundreds of activists in Manila mark the 75th International Human Rights Day by demanding that the Marcos administration stop the killings and other human rights violations, Dec. 10, 2023.
Gerard Carreon/BenarNews

A new special committee set up by Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to promote human rights is fundamentally flawed in addressing policies that can lead to abuses, a coalition of domestic and international rights defenders warned Tuesday.

Although they welcomed the initiative by Marcos – the namesake son of a longtime Philippine dictator – to create this so-called “super body” committee to handle human rights issues, his administration needs to scrap problematic policies that remain in place, the groups said in a joint statement.   

“The Office of the President spins this ‘super body’ as the answer to the human rights problems in the Philippines and that the government now ‘champions’ human rights,” the group said.

“While we don’t deny the government the right to carry out initiatives to improve, promote, and uphold human rights …  we are nonetheless concerned that this ‘super body’… has fundamental problems that, we fear, will prevent it from addressing the most pressing human rights needs in the Philippines at this time: accountability and an end to the policies that resulted in human rights abuses to begin with,” it said

The group’s signatories included the Philippine chapter of Amnesty International and rights groups Karapatan and the Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), groups that have been pressing Marcos to probe alleged human rights violations committed during the drug war of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippine Presidential Communications Office did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

On May 11, the Marcos administration announced it had formed a special committee, which it touted as a “super body,” to champion human rights protection in the Philippines.

It said the committee’s duties would include efforts to probe alleged human rights violations by law enforcement agencies; ensure the effective implementation of the government’s human rights programs; and conduct a “human rights-based approach towards drug control.”

Lucas Bersamin, Marcos’ executive secretary, chairs the special committee, while justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla serves as co-chairperson. The secretaries of the interior and foreign affairs departments also sit on the committee.

The Marcos administration announced the committee’s creation as it forges international military alliances to defend the Philippines against Chinese territorial expansionism in the South China Sea. 

Since taking office in mid-2022 Marcos has rekindled relations with the United States. The president also highlighted human rights at a summit with the leaders of the U.S. and Japan in Washington last month. 

“During our meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment to a peaceful, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific. We are guided by our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality,” Marcos said after returning to Manila from the summit at the White House.


President Joe Biden and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. walk on the West Colonnade to the Oval Office following a welcome ceremony at the White House in Washington, May 1, 2023. [Carolyn Kaster/AP]

As the coalition explained it, a main flaw with the new special committee is that its implementers include agencies that perpetuate human rights problems in the Philippines, such as in the ongoing drug war. Among those, the Presidential Committee on Human Rights (PHRC), a separate committee established in 2006, serves as the secretariat for the new special committee on human rights.  

“The PHRC does not have the credibility to promote and uphold human rights, for the simple reason that – especially during the last administration – it was taking part in the vilification of rights defenders,” the groups in the coalition said. 

They also accused the justice department of having “a lackluster record of investigating and prosecuting ‘drug war’ killings.” 

They said that the interior department, which has administrative control over the country’s police force, was “ineffective in addressing the thousands of allegations of police misconduct during the past administration’s anti-drug campaign and also in the present one.”

The group instead urged Marcos to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into former President Duterte’s deadly drug war.

“Such a cooperation will show consistency in the Marcos administration’s actions and rhetoric on human rights. It should also endeavor to bring the Philippines back to the fold of the ICC,” the group said.

Currently, the ICC is investigating Duterte, 79, for crimes against humanity related to his war on drugs, which killed at least 8,000 people, according to official police figures. Rights activists say the number could be much higher.

The group of defenders also called on Marcos to “categorically end the ‘war on drugs’ by rescinding the official issuances by his predecessor that made the violent anti-drug campaign possible and persistent.” 

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his speech during the 6th Indo-Pacific Business Forum at a hotel in Taguig, Philippines, May 21, 2024. [Aaron Favila/AP]

Marcos had said earlier that his administration would carry on with the drug war but in a different way by focusing more on rehabilitating suspects. 

However, killings involving police officers have continued under his watch. Data from the Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines that tracks down drug-related killings show that 611 suspects were slain since Marcos took office in mid-2022 until April 7 of this year.

Marcos’ late father, Ferdinand E. Marcos, ruled the country with an iron fist for 14 years under martial law before being forced from office in a popular revolt in 1986. 

The elder Marcos was believed to have imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of his political critics. The Marcos family also deepened the general hardship of Filipinos by plundering billions of dollars from state coffers.

But former Sen. Leila de Lima, an arch critic of Duterte, said the younger Marcos’ move to create a human rights body was a welcome move. 

“However, the body should institutionalize feedback and consultation from the [Philippine Commission on Human Rights] and human rights NGOs so as not to become an echo chamber of government propaganda of its human rights record,” she said. 

Gerard Carreon contributed to this report from Manila, and Jeoffrey Maitem from Davao City, southern Philippines  


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