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This land of people power joined the world in observing Human Rights Day yesterday as a self-confessed human rights violator – and proud of it – enjoyed frontrunner status in the 2016 presidential race.
Human rights advocates have long expressed concern over Rodrigo Duterte’s style of maintaining peace and order. But the Davao prosecutor-turned-politician has always shrugged them off. Now that he is running for president, he even appears to be taunting rights advocates. Two nights before Human Rights Day, Duterte told his supporters that to eliminate troublemakers, five criminals must be executed every week.
And if the surveys are accurate, his tough talk is winning him voters. Polite society is aghast, but Duterte is not the first “Dirty Harry” type of politician to be propelled to the national stage. Their popularity reflects a failure of the state and public frustration over the weakness of the criminal justice system.
The state has been weak not only in protecting people from criminals but also in stopping police, military and militia units from resorting to extrajudicial shortcuts to keep the public safe. Democratic Philippines has Asia’s highest rate of executions attributed to state forces, and ranks among the five worst countries in terms of impunity in killing journalists.
Apart from undermining press freedom by permanently silencing journalists, justice is also undermined through the murder of judges. The democratic process is undermined by the rampant assassination of political rivals especially during election season; the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao in November 2009 was just the worst manifestation of this.
In 1986, Filipinos toppled the Marcos dictatorship and won back democracy. Human rights violations, however, did not end with the dictatorship. One of the biggest reasons for this is the failure to bring rights violators to justice. The weakness of the justice system, which is ironically fueling public support for a self-confessed human rights violator, is one of the biggest threats to freedom in this country.
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