When President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaks before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, September 21, expect that he will present the same misleading picture of human rights in the Philippines that he has been hawking to the international community since he won the election in July. Amidst mischaracterizations of the rights situation, there are several things UN member countries should keep in mind.
Marcos’s predecessor, President Rodrigo Duterte, set the human rights bar in the Philippines so low that even if Marcos does nothing, he looks like a more rights-respecting leader. And that’s exactly what he has done so far – nothing – when it comes to improving human rights in the Philippines.
Marcos has not stopped Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs,” which has led to thousands being killed by police, police agents, or unidentified assailants. In fact, instead of ordering the police and other law enforcement agents to stand down, Marcos recently vowed to continue the antidrug campaign. Unsurprisingly, his government has given no indication that accountability for police abuses is forthcoming.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has also apparently concluded that serious national investigations and prosecutions of rights violations during the “war on drugs” will not be forthcoming. After a deferral request by the Philippines Department of Justice in November 2021, the ICC suspended its investigation of drug war killings. But in June, the ICC prosecutor requested court permission to resume his office’s investigation.
Marcos has repeatedly stated that he will not cooperate with the ICC and the Philippines will not rejoin the Rome Statute that created the court.
If Marcos was serious about improving human rights in the country, he would nominate a competent and independent chairperson and commissioners to the currently vacant national Commission on Human Rights. Marcos should also drop the charges and release former Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested five years ago on bogus charges.
Meanwhile, “drug war” violence rages on, progressive activists and independent journalists remain targets for violence and threats, government disinformation is rampant, and the democratic space in the Philippines is increasingly constrained.
UN members should resist swallowing the sugarcoated banalities about human rights that Marcos can be expected to utter. The human rights situation in the Philippines remains poor, and so far, Marcos has shown no inclination to substantively change it.