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Southeast Asian MPs call on President Marcos to prioritize human rights and strengthen democracy in the Philippines

30/06/2022

Southeast Asian MPs call on President Marcos to prioritize human rights and strengthen democracy in the Philippines

JAKARTA – As President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is due to be sworn into office today in the Philippines, lawmakers from Southeast Asia urge him to respect human rights and restore rule of law and democracy after their erosion during the term of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte. 

After the polls, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) stated that the election of Marcos as President and Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, as Vice-President did not bode well for the restoration of rule of law and respect for human rights in the country. The Marcos family has never acknowledged the atrocities committed during the dictatorship of their patriarch, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who was ousted from power by a massive popular uprising in 1986.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of human rights violations since his tenure as Mayor in Davao City, and after being elected President, thousands of Filipinos were killed in his infamous ‘war on drugs’. The International Criminal Court has started a preliminary investigation against Duterte for possible crimes against humanity brought about by his drug war.

Meanwhile, in the latest blow to media freedom, the news site Rappler has been ordered to be shut down by the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on 28 June 2022. Rappler’s founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Maria Ressa, is one of the staunchest critics of President Duterte’s war on drugs. The recent order is yet another assault on press freedom with the closure of the country’s largest broadcast television network ABS-CBN in 2020, and the Philippines being one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. 

“We hope to be proven wrong and that President Marcos Jr. will put an end to this climate of impunity and chart a different course of action that upholds human rights, press freedom,and the rule of law in the Philippines. In a region beset with challenges and undergoing an authoritarian turn it is high time that the Philippines re-emerges as the leader on democracy and human rights that it once was,” said Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament from Malaysia and APHR Chairperson.

As first steps to show his commitment to human rights, the new President should appoint qualified, credible, and independent members of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) through a transparent and consultative process, and order the immediate release of the unjustly jailed Senator Leila de Lima, said APHR.

The CHR is an independent body mandated under the 1987 Philippine Constitution to investigate human rights violations in the country. The President appoints its members for a fixed term of seven years. The current appointees ended their term last May 2022.

Senator Leila de Lima was arrested in February 2017, shortly after she had launched a Senate investigation on the extrajudicial killings committed as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and has been unjustly detained for more than five years on politically motivated charges.

One of the three charges against De Lima has been dismissed for lack of evidence, while several key witnesses of the prosecution have retracted their testimonies stating that they were coerced to testify and threatened by the Police and high-level government officials to falsely implicate her. It is clear that the charges were fabricated, and there is no basis for her detention, so she should be immediately and unconditionally released, said APHR.

“We believe that democratic institutions in the Philippines need to be strengthened and respect for human rights restored, and that should be the priority of the new administration. We will be closely monitoring the policies of President Marcos, and we are ready to work with civil society and human rights organizations in the Philippines to hold him and his government accountable,” said Santiago.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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