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Philippines: Elections must be ‘game-changing’ moment for human rights

Upcoming elections next month should be a game-changing moment for human rights in the Philippines, Amnesty International said today, as it released an eight-point agenda urging all Presidential candidates to ensure that the protection of human rights is a core part of their plans.

Following six years in which human rights significantly deteriorated and were repeatedly attacked by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, the 9 May elections should be a moment to dramatically change course.

“The forthcoming elections are set to be some of the most important in recent history, and we hope they will help pave the way for a radically different approach to human rights,” said Erwin van der Borght, Interim Regional Director for Amnesty International.

The forthcoming elections are set to be some of the most important in recent history, and we hope they will help pave the way for a radically different approach to human rights.

Erwin van der Borght, Interim Regional Director for Amnesty International

“Over the past six years, thousands of people, overwhelmingly poor, have been killed by the police and other armed individuals as part of the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs’. On top of this, there has been almost no justice and accountability. The next government must restore respect for human rights, including the right to life and due process, by urgently abandoning this murderous policy and instead adopting an approach to drugs that puts health and human rights at the centre.”

Across the country there has been a sharp increase in human rights violations and overwhelming impunity under the Duterte administration.

“Political activists, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, lawyers and others critical of the authorities have been threatened, attacked, arbitrarily detained and killed either because they were accused of supporting the communist movement or because of their work to expose and condemn human rights violations.”

“In addition to ending these appalling attacks, the new government must tackle years of impunity, hold perpetrators of serious violations to account in fair trials and ensure long-awaited justice and reparations for thousands of victims. Human rights violations must not be swept under the rug for political expediency.”

The agenda also urges candidates to address the acute health inequities in the country that have been ongoing for decades, exposed and worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. It makes recommendations in other areas, including the rights of marginalized groups, freedom of expression, right to education, climate justice, and labour rights.

“The recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to improve long-standing concerns, including improving the public health system, the protection of workers, and quality of education for everyone in the Philippines,” said van der Borght.

“The next six years will also be crucial in ensuring that adequate measures are taken to protect human rights in the context of disaster response, to address the climate emergency, and to restore media freedom and protect freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International calls on all candidates standing for election to pledge to uphold the recommendations outlined in the agenda and address human rights explicitly in their campaigns.

“Commitment to human rights must be front and centre in political platforms so Filipinos are aware of candidates’ stance on the many issues afflicting the country before they cast their historic vote,” van der Borght said. “The next six years in the Philippines should be a new era where leaders respect and protect the human rights of all, not just the powerful few.”

Background:

The Philippines will hold its national elections on 9 May 2022, with an estimated 67 million Filipinos expected to vote for the country’s next president and vice president, as well as other national and local government leaders.

The candidates for president are former presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella; labour leader Leody de Guzman; Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso; former defence chief Norberto Gonzales; Senator Ping Lacson; businessman Faisal Mangondato; former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son of the former President who presided over 10 years of martial law; doctor and lawyer Jose Montemayor Jr; Senator Manny Pacquiao; and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Amnesty International traditionally publishes a human rights agenda for the Philippines’ next President for areas which the organization considers should be top of their new administration’s priorities should they be elected. Amnesty International previously published and shared legislative agendas on human rights to the 17th and 18th Congress under former President Benigno Aquino III and President Duterte.

In February 2022, Amnesty International Philippines launched a national campaign ‘Sagot mo ba ako?’ (Do you have my back?) with an open letter asking candidates running for the top positions to address pressing human rights issues in the country.