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AMNESTY International on Monday raised red flags about the human rights record of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and expressed alarm at the public’s fascination with his notoriety for using trigger-happy solutions to crime.
The London-based nongovernment organization, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, said that of the five presidential aspirants, it had been monitoring “for the longest time” the activities of Duterte, who has emerged as a front-runner in opinion polls, particularly on persistent rumors of his links to the vigilante “Davao Death Squad.”
One of the mayor’s recent pronouncements that has particularly distressed the human rights group was when he said he intended to revive the death penalty and “to execute it on a weekly basis,” said Amnesty International Philippines (AIP) chair Ritz Lee Santos III.
“There are no formal charges in court, but based on the records of the Commission on Human Rights, which we also monitor, there are allegations of human rights violations against him,” he said.
The militant Karapatan, one of the most vocal rights groups in the Philippines, has been unusually silent on alleged vigilante killings in Davao City.
“It’s general knowledge, and we don’t agree with it. But it’s hard when there’s no documentation. We should be able to substantiate any allegations,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general. “No one is coming forward,” she told the Inquirer.
Under Duterte’s helm as mayor, congressman and vice mayor, Davao City has risen in the past two decades to become one of the world’s safest cities, but at the cost of human rights violations purportedly with the mayor’s blessing.
“It’s alarming,” said AIP campaigner Wilnor Papa.
“I understand why there’s a feeling of insecurity and feeling of desperation because of the state of crime. But there are other solutions besides ‘kill the criminal,’” he said.
Santos clarified that the group would not campaign against Duterte, and that it had no intention of supporting any of the other candidates.
“This is not specific to the person, but we want to call the people’s attention to the need for education and respect for human rights,” he said.
“They have to understand that the right to life is inviolable and should not be abused at any opportunity. People ought to be educated that human rights is nonnegotiable,” Santos said.
Beyond the group’s alarm at Duterte’s “shotgun policies,” he said, “we are more alarmed about how the public has responded, and how the public believes a firm hand is needed in addressing crime.”
“Killing should not be made part of a bigger problem,” he said.
Papa said Duterte’s alarming stance on human rights was not new to Amnesty International, which had released reports on the activities of the Davao Death Squad, a notorious group of vigilantes targeting criminals or crime suspects.
“In the course of Amnesty International’s work, we have had the opportunity to call his attention on some allegations on his pronouncements that are somehow human rights violations,” Santos said.
Challenge to candidates
On Monday, the organization issued a five-point challenge to compel the five presidential aspirants to make public commitments on human rights if elected in May 2016.
But none of the candidates sent any response to the organization’s letters, Santos said.
Amnesty International is asking the candidates to pledge the following in their first 100 days in office:
End extrajudicial executions, unlawful arrests, secret detention, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill treatment, and prevent the use of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to justify human rights violations.
Establish control and accountability over the military, the police and other state-sponsored forces, and ensure witness protection.
Ensure the safe and voluntary return of the displaced, and embed human rights protection in the peace process.
Make human rights a priority integrated across government bodies.
Ratify key treaties on human rights and international humanitarian law.
Aquino record ‘dismal’
In 2010, Amnesty International issued a similar challenge to the incoming administration of President Aquino.
But since then, the group has given a “dismal” rating to the administration’s approach to such issues as extrajudicial executions, unlawful arrests, secret detention, enforced disappearances and torture.
“President Aquino has failed to issue an executive order showing his commitment to ending enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions,” Santos said.
He said there was little progress in exacting accountability from state forces like the military and the police committing human rights transgressions.
“Not one perpetrator of torture had been punished,” he said.
Santos said the Aquino administration had also failed to review the Witness Protection Program, and to revoke Executive Order No. 546 directing the police to support the military in counterinsurgency work.
“As in our 2010 recommendations, these are still included in our five-point human rights agenda for 2016,” he said.
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In Angeles City Monday, former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is running for senator in the administration ticket, vowed to fight Duterte.
“If I have to spend the rest of my life advocating for the opposite of what Mayor Duterte stands for, I will do that even if that’s the only thing I will do,” De Lima told the Inquirer when asked for reactions to Duterte’s topping the latest nationwide survey on presidential candidates.
“We’re under a system of rule of law. We are a democratic and civilized society and it is necessary that we follow a process in going after criminals,” she said.
- With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil, Nancy C. Carvajal and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon.
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