Hundreds of protesters marched in Manila June 12 against "anti-terrorism" legislation that critics fear will give Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sweeping powers to crush dissent. This was the latest in a series of demonstrations held under the campaign #JunkTerrorBilllNow. The bill, already approved by Congress and expected to be signed by Duterte, would create a council of presidential appointees empowered to order warrantless arrests of those deemed to be "terrorists." It also allows for weeks of detention without charge. (AFP, Anadolu) The Philippine Department of Justice is to issue a formal review of the bill, and opponents are demanding that it recommend a veto. In a letter addressed to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, human rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that the Anti-Terrorism Bill "will inevitably and ultimately infringe on the people’s exercise of basic rights and fundamental freedoms." (Karapatan, Bulatlat)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)
Named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders, the Philippines has become an even deadlier place for activists in 2019, with 46 recorded deaths so far this year, according to the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a local NGO. The same organization recorded 28 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, tallied 30 such killings in the Philippines that year and designated the country the most dangerous in the world for defenders based on sheer number of deaths.
More than a decade after 58 people were killed in the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 on Dec. 19 found Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan guilty of overseeing the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre at Maguindanao. They were sentenced to reclusión perpetua (40 years without parole). The pair were convicted on 57 counts of murder in the attack on a convoy that included journalists covering an opposition figure running for the governorship of Maguindanao province. Police said 58 people were killed in the massacre, but the body of the 58th victim was never found. Their father, then-incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was arrested in connection with the case and died in prison while awaiting trial in 2015. The court sentenced a further 15 suspects, including several more Ampatuan family members and police officials, to between six and 10 years in prison as accessories to the crime.
Last week we were treated to the perverse spectacle of the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China's "re-education camps." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (whose hypocrisy on this matter we have noted before) on July 18 called China's treatment of the Uighurs the "stain of the century," and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. (Reuters) At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. (SCMP)
Both UN human rights experts and Amnesty International are accusing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" in his "war on drugs," and calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate. The statement from the rights experts, issued by the UN Office on Human Rights last month, noted the "staggering number" of unlawful killings in the context of the "drug war." Then, on July 8, Amnesty issued its report, "'They Just Kill': Ongoing Extrajudicial Executions and Other Violations in the Philippines' 'war on drugs'." The report charges that rights violations in the Philippines have "reached the threshold of crimes against humanity." It called the supposed anti-drug campaign a "government-orchestrated attack against poor people." On July 11, the UN Human Rights Council approved an Iceland-drafted resolution calling on High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to launch a "comprehensive" investigation into the situation in the Philippines. Duterte responded by threatening to break diploamtic relations with Iceland.
Twin explosions have left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed a few seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government, The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). More than 1.5 million ARMM residents voted "yes" to BOL ratification, while some 199,000 voted "no." Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu—by a vote of some 163,500 to 137,630.