On Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit the Philippines, the first visit by an Australian prime minister in 20 years. Albanese has said the trip will focus on defense, security, development, and education. But such discussions can’t be fruitful without seriously discussing human rights. Human Rights Watch wrote to Albanese, urging him to raise a number of human rights concerns with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The “war on drugs” that Marcos inherited from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, continues, with almost 400 killings of suspects since taking office. Widespread impunity for these killings and those under Duterte persists. The lack of domestic accountability has prompted the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed during the “drug war,” as well as earlier killings by then Mayor Duterte’s so-called Davao Death Squad.
Albanese should press Marcos to end this brutal policy and urge the Philippine government to cooperate fully with the ICC investigation.
Meanwhile, the leading public critic of the “drug war,” former senator Leila de Lima, has been held in police custody for over seven years on politically motivated charges. Attacks against leftist political activists remain rampant, and just this week, armed men in Central Luzon abducted two young environmental activists. They are feared to have been forcibly disappeared.
The Marcos administration has increased the dangerous and even deadly “red-tagging” of activists it deems to be supporting communist New People’s Army insurgents. Officials – including Marcos’ vice president, Sara Duterte, the former president’s daughter – have red-tagged journalists, social media users, and teachers, who can subsequently face harassment, intimidation, and assault.
Albanese should use his visit to publicly and privately urge Marcos to abandon red-tagging and to uphold freedom of speech. He should make clear the need to drop politically motivated charges against human rights defenders.
The Australian government should recognize that it would be a mistake to deepen defense and security ties with the Philippines while ignoring human rights concerns. A security partner that routinely violates basic human rights will ultimately provide little safety and security for anyone.