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Philippines’ Marcos Addresses Australian Parliament Amid Abuses

Strategic Partnership Should Be Founded on Respect for Rights

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., at Malacañang palace in Manila, September 8, 2023. © 2023 Earvin Perias/AP Photo

Australian lawmakers attending Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s address before a joint sitting of parliament in Canberra on Wednesday should take his human rights rhetoric with a grain of salt.

Australian-Philippine relations have improved since President Marcos took office in 2022, replacing Rodrigo Duterte, whose abusive “war on drugs” killed thousands and amounted to crimes against humanity. In September, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Manila and signed an agreement establishing a strategic partnership between the two countries.

But human rights violations in the Philippines remain rampant. Drug-related killings implicating the police have continued under Marcos, if at a lower rate. The government refuses to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the “war on drugs.” Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of activists and human rights defenders persist. Government officials and the security forces continue the dangerous practice of "red-tagging," publicly branding leftist activists and politicians as members or supporters of the communist insurgency, putting them at higher risk of abuse.

Australia’s Labor government should be especially concerned by the rising harassment and violence against labor leaders and union organizers in the Philippines. Albanese should urge Marcos to act to stop these abuses and thoroughly investigate recent killings.

In September, police shot and killed labor leader Jude Thaddeus Fernandez at his home in the town of Binangonan in Rizal province. The officers claim Fernandez “fought back” while being served with a search warrant, without explaining why his home was being searched or why he resisted. Fernandez’s colleagues told Human Rights Watch they believe police were using the commonly used defense of nanlaban (fighting back) to justify killing him.

Marcos’s visit to Australia is an important opportunity for Australia’s leaders to address well-documented human rights abuses in the Philippines. Ignoring them will only embolden Marcos and the prevailing culture of impunity. The people of the Philippines deserve more than warm words and empty rhetoric when it comes to respecting and upholding their human rights.

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