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Hearing slams abuses in PH drug war

By Jennie L. Ilustre

 

WASHINGTON D.C. Human rights advocates, testifying at a congressional hearing on July 20 and submitting reports of their documented research and interviews in the Philippines, denounced alleged human rights violations allegedly committed in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war that’s resulted in the killing of over 7,000 people.

Ellecer Carlos, spokesman of the I-Defend coalition (In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement) of the Philippines, urged the U.S. Congress to: 1) Cancel President Trump’s invitation for President Rodrigo Duterte’s “state visit in October,” 2) pass S. 1055, the Philippines’ Human Rights Accountability and Counter-narcotics Act, and 3) send a fact-finding congressional mission to the Philippines.

Rep. Jim McGovern (R-Massachusetts), who chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) Hearing on the Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines which lasted for an hour and 15 minutes, said the House of Representatives would soon introduce a companion bill to S. 1055, and was looking at several legislators as sponsors. Rep. Jackie Speir (D, CA), who dropped by at the hearing, is among the likely sponsors.

Amnesty International Senior Crisis Advisor Matthew Wells and Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine distributed reports by Amnesty International and by the Human Rights Watch. Both called the Philippines’ war against illegal drug trade as “war on the poor.”

Wells and Kine echoed the other recommendations by Carlos to stop the killings attributed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the vigilante killings by paid hit men, and to address the public health issue among drug users who have surrendered to the authorities.

Ellecer Carlos, spokesman for the group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (I-Defend), left, testifies before the Lantos Commission on Capitol Hill last July 20.

The Department of State noted that although extrajudicial killings have been a major human rights concern for some time in the Philippines, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 it stated such killings increased sharply over the last year.

Pres. Duterte frequently issues public statements of death threats to drug suspects and criminals, but he has denied condoning extrajudicial killings.

Bipartisan bill

  1. 1055, the bipartisan Senate bill, authorizes $50 million to the Department of State and USAID to promote a public health approach to substance abuse and to support Filipino human rights advocates.
Rep. Jim McGovern ((R-Ma.) hearing chair, said he would join a protest rally if Philippine President Duterte comes for a state visit on President Trump’s earlier invitation.

It also seeks to assist victims of human rights violations, respond to human rights emergencies, and promote and encourage the rule of law, including the support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Philippines.

The bill was introduced on May 4 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida who was among the presidential aspirants in last November elections.

Congressman McGovern also announced that he would join a protest rally if Duterte accepts Trump’s invitation, extended last April, to visit the White House. This drew a sharp rebuke from President Duterte, who declared at a July 21 press Manila conference, “What makes that guy think I’m going to America? There will never be a time during my administration that I’ll be going to America or thereafter.”

Community reaction

About a dozen Filipino Americans who attended the hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building said they were “shocked” to hear the reports of human rights violations linked to the Philippines’ war on drugs. Many said they would mount a protest rally if and when Duterte comes for a visit.

Judy R. Francia of Arlington, Virginia later emailed friends to call their senators to sponsor S. 1055, The Philippines’ Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act.

Adjo Gonzalez, independent associate of IDShield, analyzed the issue from all sides. “With a big, deep-rooted problem like that, the root causes should be addressed. The hearing was informative, and the one about the drug war resulting in the vigilante industry of paid hired killers, one wonders, who is paying them?”

He added, “I’m not siding with any group on this issue, but looking at it from Duterte’s viewpoint, I’m sure he’s going to see this hearing as another instance of American meddling.”

Arnedo S. Valera, Chairperson of US Pinoys for Real Change in the Philippines (USPRCP), and an International Law and human rights lawyer, viewed the hearing as “an undue interference in the Philippine domestic policy of law enforcement and its existing drug campaign.” (Please see related story in this issue)

Eric Lachica, Washington D.C. Coordinator for US Filipinos for Good Governance, Inc. (USPGG) based in Arlington, Virginia, said, “I’m leading a group with I-Defend coalition spokesman Carlos in calling on Rep. Gerald Connoly (D, VA) and other lawmakers after the hearing.”

He predicted that the House companion bill of the bipartisan S. 1055, The Philippines’ Human Rights Accountability and Counter-narcotics Act, would likewise attract bipartisan sponsors.

Fil-Am supporters standing from L-R: Maurese O. Owens, Zenaida Mercado Samaniego, Diana Collas, Rosalinda Esguerra, Alice Tanoue, Cindee Jacobs, Judy Francia Reyes, Maita Aquino, Thelma Estrella, Tess Taylor and Chaplain Georgette Beltran. Seated are from left, Ellecer Carlos, Amnesty International Senior Crisis Advisor Matthew Wells and Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director. (Photo by Eric Lachica).

 

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