Palace: US accusations of corruption under Duterte ‘baseless, recycled issues’

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 16 2022 03:15 PM

Human rights advocates commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution in Quezon City on February 20, 2022, days before its anniversary on February 25. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file
Human rights advocates commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution in Quezon City on February 20, 2022, days before its anniversary on February 25. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA – Malacañang on Saturday criticized the US State Department for raising issues of rampant corruption and human rights violations under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, saying these were baseless and needs validation. 

Acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar described the US agency's 2021 human rights report on the Philippines as "rehash of old and recycled issues" made by the President's "perennial detractors." 

"We consider the reports utterly devoid of bases," Andanar said in a statement. 

"The United States has once again displayed how infirmed its intelligence gathering is with its recent claim of 'credible' reports of human rights violations by the Philippine government."

The report, released on Tuesday, noted the government's clamp down on journalists and free speech, threats to activists and rights organizations, a slow justice system, and "high-level and widespread corruption" fueled by nepotism under Duterte's administration. 

"Corruption through ... personal connections, and bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders," the report read. 

The government's probe on the alleged killings during drug war operations, the US State Department said, remain "limited." The Department of Justice last October released its matrix on 52 out of hundreds of cases related to the country's war on drugs.

"There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs," it said. 

"The departmental investigation, while being conducted just for show according to many in civil society, released information pushing back against the PNP self-defense narrative."

But these issues, especially on the killings made by law enforcement authorities, have been addressed, according to Duterte's spokesman. 

Andanar urged the US agency to "validate" the reports reaching their agency. 

"Triangulate the same with all other open and institutional sources, and put to work its political officers in the US embassy in the Philippines who can then properly verify the same with the Philippine government. Engaged verification is key in all this," he said.

When Amnesty International raised similar issues in its rights report released last month, Andanar also downplayed it as a "mere false rehash." 

WHAT ELSE DID THE US REPORT SAY?

The US State Department also raised concerns on the "Bloody Sunday" killings – or the deaths of 9 activists last year in Calabarzon, which came after Duterte ordered communist insurgents killed.

While the DOJ opened an investigation on the case, the killings have yet to be resolved, it said.

"As of July, however, human rights organizations reported no significant developments in the case and the completion of one crime scene investigation related to the AO35 committee’s work," noted the report.

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Drug war operations also remained rampant between January to August 2021, as COVID-19 restrictions were partially eased in the country. Out of the 20,000 operations, 180 suspects were supposedly killed while more than 34,000 were arrested during the period, the US agency said, citing local data. 

A total of 18 minors, meanwhile, died during the anti-drug operations from January to June, it added, basing the information from a child welfare non-profit organization.

Aside from these, the US State Department also raised the killings of lawyers, the poor state of the country's major prisons, the alleged physical abuse and lack of resources in handling prisoners, and the arbitrary arrest among individuals.

"Opportunities for prisoner recreation, education, and self-improvement were rare ... Poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in detention and correctional facilities and contributed to health problems," the report said on the state of the country's prisons.

It also mentioned the attacks on ABS-CBN and Rappler, and the harassment that journalists face under the administration. 

ABS-CBN marked the first year of its shutdown in 2021. Government agencies cleared the network of any tax liabilities and labor violations. 

"Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, including from individual politicians, government authorities, and powerful private persons critical of their reporting," it said.

Duterte, who is constitutionally limited for a 6-year presidency, will step down from office in June. 

The 77-year-old leader late last month said he has fulfilled all his campaign promises, which focused on law and order, and free education. 

Duterte said he is uncertain what awaits him after his presidency, but said he no longer wants to work, that he is already fulfilled in life, and that all of his children are now established with their own political careers.