The US House's Lantos Human Rights Commission examined the murderous war against the poor being waged by Philippine police and military under its current president, Rodrigo Duterte, under the guise of a war on drugs. We hear from Ellecer Carlos with the Philippine NGO iDEFEND, Matthew Wells with Amnesty International, and Phelim Kine with Human Rights Watch.
Century of Lies
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 10:59
CENTURY OF LIES
JULY 23, 2017
DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.
DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.
On July 20, a commission of the US Congress held a hearing on human rights abuses and killings being perpetrated by the Philippine government under the guise of a so-called “drug war.”
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was established by the US House of Representatives in 2008. The Commission is charged with promoting, defending, and advocating for international human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights charters and treaties. The Commission undertakes public education activities, provides expert human rights advice, and encourages members of Congress to actively engage in human rights matters.
The Commission is chaired by two members of the House, one from both major parties, who are appointed by the Speaker of the House and by the Minority Leader. In this Congress, the co-chairs are Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Representative Randy Hultgren, Republican from Illinois. Representative McGovern opened the hearing. We'll listen to him, and then Representative Hultgren, they'll introduce the hearing and also introduce the witnesses.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES P. MCGOVERN: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on the human rights consequences of the war on drugs in the Philippines. I would like to extend a special welcome to our witnesses, one of whom has joined us from the Philippines. We greatly appreciate your presence today, and we thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with us.
Over the last year, there have been many reports by human rights and news organizations describing a major increase in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, to the tune of more than 7,000 killings between July 2016 and the end of July 2017, according to Philippine National Police statistics.
Often, these reports have been accompanied by photos, some gruesome, some unspeakably sad, like those on display here today. The killings are attributed to the anti-drug policies of the government of President Duterte.
We should be clear what an extrajudicial killing or execution is. It is the purposeful killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding, no arrest, no charges, no warrant, no trial, no judge, no jury, simply murder. It is a violation of the most fundamental of human rights, as stated in Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
The problem of extrajudicial executions is not new under President Duterte. The Philippines is one of the countries in the world where this has been a major concern for a long time. But the explosion of killings over the last year, and the president's own statements inciting and justifying them as part of his promise to eradicate the drug problem, have rightly drawn attention and indignation.
For the United States, these killings strain bilateral relations. Yes, the Philippines is a treaty ally and the largest recipient of US assistance in east Asia. And yes, the US and the Philippines have a security relationship. But let me be clear: The United States Government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring.
The Congress has acted in the past, in FY2015, the FMF funding to the Philippines Army was conditioned because of concerns with extrajudicial killings by the military and impunity for those responsible. Last fall, in light of Mister Duterte's war on drugs, the US Government suspended counter-narcotics training to the Philippine National Police, both in general and to particular units, out of concern over human rights violations.
If the Filipino Government is truly concerned about illicit drugs, then alternatives to killing people in cold blood are readily available.
For example, there are multi-stakeholder community based prevention programs like those accompanied by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, with US Government funding. There is legislation pending in the Philippine Senate that would require the country to address drug-related issues using a public health framework, and to design evidence based policies and programs. I would like to note that the current US drug policy domestically also uses a public health framework [sic].
As we will hear today, nongovernmental groups in the Philippines also support a public health approach along with strict accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses that have occurred.
Certainly, there are approaches to drug interdiction that in principle are consistent with the rule of law. So what is going on in the Philippines is not necessary in any sense of the word. Many countries in southeast Asia and in other parts of the world have adopted different approaches to the problem of illicit drug use. No other country, I repeat that, no other country comes to mind where people are assassinated in the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing.
A couple of months ago in May, the Philippine Government and the National Police began releasing quote "revised numbers" of those killed in the drug war between July 2016 and March of 2017. Basically, the number of those killed has gone down, and the number of cases quote "under investigation" has gone up. But, when the way a problem is measured suddenly changes mid-course, it raises doubts about the quality and truthfulness of what's being reported.
One way to clarify the truth would be for the Duterte Government to allow credible independent investigations into the killings. The government could start by accepting the request of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings for a country visit, pending since last October, and do so without imposing unreasonable conditions. That would be a good faith step forward.
Let me say that we recognize that drug related killings are not the only human rights issues in the Philippines. The State Department's 2016 human rights report offers a long list of other problems, including harassment and threats against human rights defenders, the killings of journalists, human trafficking, and more. And there is a badly managed conflict in Mindanao.
All of these problems are worthy of attention. One thing they have in common is the failure of the judicial system to provide recourse for abuses. So, President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights. And I think it is important for members of Congress, in a bipartisan way, to make our concerns known, and make them known loudly and clearly.
And I certainly believe very strongly that a man with the human rights record of President Duterte should not be invited to the White House. And if he comes, I will lead the protest, because, again, I mean, we ought to be on the side of advocating for human rights, not explaining them away.
I want to close by noting that today we have received a statement from a survivor of an attempted extrajudicial killing, Efren C. Morillo. Mister Morillo is the lead petitioner before the Philippine Supreme Court, and the first legal challenge to President Duterte's war on drugs. The statement describes Mister Morillo's experience. He witnessed the killing of several friends and was wounded himself, and will be -- and this statement will be entered into the record in full. The case is a test of the Philippine judicial system, and we will follow its progress with interest.
At this point I'd like to yield to the co-chair, Congressman Randy Hultgren.
REPRESENTATIVE RANDY HULTGREN: I want to thank Co-Chairman McGovern for his work on this and so many other issues. Good morning, and welcome to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission's hearing on the human rights consequences of the war on drugs in the Philippines.
I too want to thank our witnesses for taking time to share their expertise with us, and furthermore for dedicating their lives to ensuring the preservation of human rights around the world.
According to the country report on human rights practices for 2016 by the Department of State, there has been a significant increase in the number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines over the past year. And while extrajudicial killings are not new to the Philippines, the recent increase has been referred to as an appalling epidemic by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Under President Duterte, the Philippines Government launched its Operation Open Barrel campaign in 2016 as an alleged war on drugs. To date, police have killed seven thousand alleged drug dealers and users without bringing charges and without trial. The Philippines is a valuable ally to the United States and is the largest recipient of the United States' assistance in east Asia. For these reasons, it's paramount that human rights violations are not an unintended consequence of the war on drugs.
Human rights are fundamental. Every person is born with dignity. As such, they should be afforded the protection and due process of the law. It's our obligation to not only advocate for, but to defend those human rights, which include freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, or persecution as stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I look forward to learning more from the panel and to hearing the experts' policy recommendations for ways that the Commission and Congress can maintain bilateral cooperation with our ally without jeopardizing human rights in the Philippines.
So thank you all for being here, thank you for your work, I look forward to learning more and figuring out what we can do together. With that, I yield back.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES MCGOVERN: Thank you very much for your statement, and before I introduce the panel I would like to formally submit all the witnesses' testimony into the record. I also submit the following items to the record:
A letter from the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, DC, and a publication prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, entitled "The Real Numbers. I would like to also submit Philippine Senate Bill Number 1313, laying out a public health rights based approach for helping people who use drugs.
As well, I would like to insert in the record the Lancet-commissioned study titled "Public Health and International Drug Policy," published in March of 2016. I'd also like to submit the UN Office of Drug Control and the World Health Organization's discussion paper entitled "Principles of Drug Dependence Treatment" dated March 2008. I'd like to also submit the"Joint Statement on Compulsory Drug Detention and Rehabilitation Centers," issued by a number of UN entities in March of 2012; the statement from the Institute for Policy Studies, prepared by Sanho Tree, a fellow and director of the IPS Drug Policy Project; the statement from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America on their collaborative prevention work in the Philippines; and a statement from the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines on the general human rights situation in the country.
Additional statements may be forthcoming. Now I'd like to turn to our witnesses.
Ellecer Carlos is a spokesperson of the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement, and the Campaigns and Advocacy Officer of the Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, and he has been a human rights advocate for some time, and we appreciate his courage and we appreciate him being here.
Matthew Wells is the senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International, where he undertakes human rights investigations in situations of armed conflict and major crisis. He has been, he was the co-researcher and co-author of Amnesty's January 2017 report on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Phelim Kine -- did I get that right? All right. I'm Irish, I should be able to do it, right? I mean -- is the deputy director in Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. Kine worked as a journalist for more than a decade in China, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Taiwan prior to joining Human Rights Watch in 2007. He's written extensively and spoken publicly on human rights issues including military impunity, media freedom, transitional justice, corruption, and extrajudicial killings. And so, he's an adjunct professor at the Roosevelt House Human Rights Program at Hunter College in New York City, and we are happy to have all of you here.
DOUG MCVAY: That was Representative James McGovern and Representative Randy Hultgren, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives. They were introducing a hearing to investigate the murders and other human rights abuses being committed in the Philippines by police and military as well as officially sanctioned death squads, under the orders of the Philippine dictator, President Rodrigo Duterte. #BoycottThePhilippines #DumpDuterte
You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of DrugWarFacts.org.
Now let's get back to that hearing. Members of Congress heard from Ellecer Carlos, spokesperson for iDefend, a Philippine NGO; from Matthew Wells, a senior crisis advisor with Amnesty International, and from Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. Let's hear what these experts had to say.
ELLECER CARLOS: Thank you so much. Warm greetings of solidarity to all. On behalf of iDEFEND, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the good members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and most especially the honorable Representatives McGovern and Hultgren, for their support to the human rights protection of the Filipino people.
The concern, involvement, and solidarity by people around the world is very crucial and important for us during these very challenging times. I would also like to thank and acknowledge the tireless efforts of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance. They have been persistently creating awareness about the human rights crisis in the Philippines.
iDEFEND is the largest human rights formation in the Philippines. We're made up of over 70 organizations, grassroots movements, peoples' organizations, groups for environmental protection, groups from basic sectors like women, labor, human rights NGOs, and over 40 recognized community leaders of the Philippines.
We established ourselves last year in preparation for engaging the incoming administration to put in place a human rights based framework to governance. Confronted by the surge of killings, we were forced to focus on the emerging human rights crisis. We document cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, and situations during which people are effected by repressive policies under the war on drugs.
We also provide direct service to families of victims of extrajudicial killings and legal support to those determined to pursue justice. We are involved in organizing and education work to help broaden the circles of disapproval to the killings and the derogation of due process, and to help effected communities establish practical defense systems against vigilantes and police operations.
We are also at the forefront of countering the two priority legislations of President Duterte: the reinstatement of capital punishment, and the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from fifteen to nine.
Having iDEFEND formations nationwide, our daily documentation and monitoring work at the very effected communities confirm without a shadow of a doubt that President Duterte and other high officials of the land, having had defined a particular section of Philippine society worthy of elimination, have effectively put in place a de facto social cleansing policy, whereby police and vigilantes are not only encouraged, but rewarded and forced to permit extrajudicial killings.
Part of the design of this permission structure for mass murder is limiting the killings to the most vulnerable and impoverished sections of Philippine society, the unseen and the unheard. We affirm the view that the human lives cost of this war on drugs, which has already claimed more victims than most genocidal campaigns in southeast Asia's recent history, constitutes crimes against humanity.
December 2016 figures show that 6,000 have become widows or widowers, 18,000 sons or daughters fatherless or motherless, or have become orphaned altogether, many of whom have witnessed the killings. And we have 12,000 parents who have lost sons or daughters and at least 32 documented children killed, and these are just the documented ones.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, a reputable institution, made that indepth analysis of the recent government promoted statistics here, and their findings revealed blatant inconsistencies and the deliberate attempt to conceal the magnitude of the killings, as well as the manipulation of the figures of drug abuse incidence in the Philippines. I can share a bit about this unusual slipping and sliding of values related to the what has been officially submitted, "The Real Numbers," PH, later.
Cases we handle point to strong links between the police and the vigilante killings. This police vigilantism arrangement allows President Duterte and other officials to disclaim legally any involvement, but nonetheless in the public's eye, still claim these as accomplishments by the state. This kill society's undesired program is this administration's signature and defining policy, and it's the only one fully articulated and seriously implemented.
The daily killings and the President's kill rhetoric, both having dire lasting effects, have made human life cheap in the Philippines, and it's dehumanizing everyone in Philippine society. Our collective sociopathy and desensitization worsens as days go by. Our young are learning the wrong values. We threaten to transfigure the mindsets of our entire policing establishment, transforming even the most decent and law-abiding police officer into butchers.
We threaten to throw out the window the decades of human rights education work by human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights. It has become more difficult for human rights groups and the CHR to work constructively with various government agencies as we did before, due to this President's aversion to human rights.
The routine disregard for due process and institutionalized impunity under this alternative justice dispensation system has endangered everybody in Philippine society. The social cost of this drug war cannot be overstated. This war against the poor has led to the worsening of the other gravest human rights violations. We note the trend rise of enforced disappearances of drug suspects, subsequently surfacing dead, with signs of having been heavily tortured, so you now have three of the gravest forms of human rights violations in single cases.
The President's build up and politicization of the drug issue and exploitation of a distorted patriotism has already spurred pockets of well organized extremist nationalist groups, locally and in various countries around the world, in places with Filipino migrant populations. This co-exists with a well-financed propaganda machinery that is effective in spreading fake news, lies, and half-truths at the local level and international level.
A nationwide grassroots drug and crime surveillance structure, Masa Masid, has also been put in place, drawing in further citizen's involvement in the drug war. Given that the two other branches of government have become co-opted, too, and subservient to the President, it is now civil society and a handful of courageous legislators providing critical opposition.
We note that not only state violence is clearly on the rise, but intolerance to criticism and opposition as well. To borrow the words of one of iDEFEND's public figures, President Duterte has shown that he can get away with killing thousands, curtailing civil and political guarantees, and establishing one man rule, will be a mopping up operation.
We have time and again reminded President Duterte that this violent hardline approach never works, and that he must address the root cause by investing in a life of dignity for all, prioritize radical reforms in the criminal justice system, including an overhaul of the national drug policy, as Senate Bill 1313 was mentioned, by institutionalizing a compassionate, sustainable, evidence based human rights and health centered approach to the drug issue.
Today, government's rehabilitation rhetoric is just to provide a humane face to this violent war on drugs. Viewing human rights as obstacles, the president has consciously and openly distorted its values, ideals, and principles, in effect degraded public trust in and vilifying human rights defenders and the Commission on Human Rights.
He has openly threatened human rights defenders, stating that he might just direct his solution toward them, including them in the harvesting and even beheading them. Some of us have been placed on watch and persons of interest lists. He has also attacked the media and lawyers who represent families of victims of extrajudicial killings whenever he sees necessary.
We now have two wars in the Philippines: the war on drugs and the war on terrorism, both being framed to be linked as one problem, narcoterrorism.
With respect to holding perpetrators to account and breaking impunity, we note the absence of working accountability mechanisms, and this includes disciplinary mechanisms for the police which are accessible to regular citizens. We now have an operable witness protection program, under the Department of Justice, its current secretary being a staunch apologist and defender of President Duterte.
The only chance for the most impoverished to seek justice and protection are human rights organizations, faith based organizations, and the Commission on Human Rights. Documentation work, crucial for case build up, and eventual litigation, is becoming more difficult due to families' and witnesses' fear for reprisals, as well as the risk involved for human rights workers on the ground doing such work.
Groups are faced with having to establish and maintain sanctuaries and witness protection programs. Most families of victims of extrajudicial killings being dislodged physically from their daily routines, find it difficult to sustain their perseverance and courage. Most of them eventually lose their conviction to pursue justice for their loved ones due to despair.
President Duterte has rolled back the gains in human rights and democracy won by the Filipino people over the past 30 years, and we do hope the United States can help resolve this situation.
MATTHEW WELLS: It was a year ago that President Duterte took office, promising to fatten the fish of Manila Bay with the bodies of alleged criminals, particularly people who use or sell drugs. His rhetoric quickly became all too real. In the first seven months the Philippine National Police acknowledged thousands of deaths of alleged drug offenders either during formal police operations or by vigilante style killers.
Those statistics are being manipulated today, as an effort to hide this so-called drug war's enormous human toll, in large part because of the condemnation that came as a result of the tireless work by journalists and activists in the Philippines, like my fellow panelist from iDEFEND.
Despite this obfuscation, three things are clear. The killings continue, the police remain above the law, and all of this is at minimum encouraged by the highest levels of the Philippine government.
I've been part of a team at Amnesty that investigated the abuses of the so-called drug war. We released a report earlier this year titled "If You Are Poor, You Are Killed." I'll focus my remarks on three specific aspects of our findings that I believe are particularly concerning, as well as on what we think US Congress can do.
First, there has been an economy of murder created by the war on drugs, with the police at the center. Our investigation found that police officers have received significant under the table payments for what they call encounters in which alleged drug offenders are killed. A police officer in a drugs unit confirmed this practice in an interview with us, describing being paid on a scale depending on whether the target was a person who allegedly used or sold drugs.
Killings carried out by unknown armed persons or vigilante style killers are likewise often rooted in this economy of murder. We interviewed several paid killers who said their boss, the person who gives them their hit list, is an active duty police officer. Since President Duterte took office, the paid killers told us, there has been an endless demand for their work.
A recent investigation by Reuters likewise uncovered payments for killings carried out by the police. These payments suggest a level of organization and planning within the police and the government more generally. Amnesty International believes there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that authorities at the highest levels of the government have in effect issued a license to kill.
What makes this economy of murder even more disgusting is that the targets are overwhelmingly from the poorest segments of Philippine society, which is why many families we interviewed refer to it as a war on the poor.
PHELIM KINE: The Philippines government and President Duterte say that they are targeting drug lords, that they are ending the drug trade in the Philippines. In fact, and they base that assertion on flawed or outright fabricated statistics about the nature of the drug problem in the Philippines, in fact, what they are doing is they have launched a war against the poor, as my colleague has said.
The victims overwhelmingly are some of the poorest, most marginalized, most vulnerable citizens of the Philippines. They include people like this person, Althea Barbon, who was killed on August 31, while riding on the back of her father's motorcycle to buy popcorn. Her father was a -- on a drug watch list, and she was gunned down with her father, and guess what? To the Philippines government and President Duterte, this is what they call collateral damage.
There are many, many more of these child victims, and they constitute the at least 7,000 victims of this quote unquote "war on drugs."
DOUG MCVAY: You just heard Phelim Kine from Human Rights Watch, he was preceded by Ellecer Carlos from the Philippine NGO iDEFEND, and by Matthew Wells with Amnesty International. They were speaking before a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Capitol Hill on July 20. Again folks, remember, until the people of the Philippines can finally get rid of their corrupt, murderous president, #DumpDuterte, until then, the rest of the world needs to just stop supporting the Philippines, #BoycottThePhilippines.
And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, I've been your host Doug McVay. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are also available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.
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We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!
For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.