MANILA — Some rights groups are not optimistic that the human rights situation in the country will improve under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“It does not look good,” Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said during an online forum Friday.
Olalia cited Marcos, Jr.’s inaugural speech where there was no mention of peace, justice, human rights and anti-corruption initiatives, his continued support for anti-insurgency body National Task Force to Enforce Local Communist Armed Conflict, and his statement that he will not cooperate with International Criminal Court in its probe on the Philippine drug war.
“What does that mean? So 'yung accountability, ayaw nila, whether here or outside. 'Yun pa lang. May material basis o reasonable ground to be skeptical,” he said.
He continued, “Walang commitment to basic rights eh."
"There will be no fundamental policy shifts. Tingin ko, from where I stand, on human rights, on accountability, on question of peace,” he added.
“Tingin ko may political presumption. There’s a political presumption and even a prognosis that Mr. Marcos will not promote, will not defend, will not protect human rights,” Olalia said.
Fides Lim, spokesperson for Kapatid, a support group for political prisoners, said Marcos’ unqualified support for NTF-ELCAC could lead to more arrests and more political prisoners.
Lim, whose husband former National Democratic Front consultant Vic Ladlad is currently detained on guns and ammunition possession charges, described the current human rights situation in the country as one of “dugo at dilim” or “blood and darkness,” referring to the rampant red-tagging, killing and arrests of human rights defenders and the growing number of political prisoners, which, by Karapatan’s count, has reached 802 after the Duterte regime.
UP Third World Studies Center’s Joel Ariate likened the drug war killings under the previous Duterte administration to secret marshals during Martial Law and noted the current administration’s yet unclear position on the ICC drug war probe.
He said Oplan Tokhang risks being forgotten 50 years later, just as few people now remember the secret marshals.
A Martial Law survivor, Fr. Benjamin Alforque, warned that the Philippines will become a prison cell, just as it was during the regime of Marcos’ father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
He claimed Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte did not run out of love for the country but out of self-interest.
“They are actually the guardians of a state that is captive of the ruling elite, represented and led by economic plunderers, corrupt politicians and greedy dynasties, mercenary armed forces and police and other hidden criminal private armies, death squads and guns-for-hire,” he said.
“They are the champions of the State that is fundamentally and intrinsically oppressive to the poor, promotive of injustice, suppressive of freedom and that constantly violates the rights of the little ones, the the peasant farmers and their right to the land, workers and their right to a just living wage, students and their right to education and academic freedom,” he added.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Jonathan de Santos, meanwhile, does not expect conditions for media workers to be better under the Marcos administration or that government agencies will suddenly show “magnanimity” to the media.
The Marcos campaign, which has proved to be difficult to cover for the media, has been accused of hiding coverage information and Marcos himself refusing to be interviewed by some major news outlets.
The previous administration, on the other hand, has also been known for its hostility to the media — ordering the shutdown of ABS-CBN’s broadcast operations and repeatedly trying to close news website Rappler, and the latest, the order from the National Telecommunications Commission to block access to over 20 websites, including those of independent media Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
Under the Duterte administration, red-tagging, harassment and killing of journalists also became rampant while libel and cyber libel were weaponized against journalists, De Santos added.
“Huwag tayo maghintay na gumanda ang situation…We need to keep working. If may problema sa access, we have to keep in mind na maraming istorya sa labas ng Palasyo, ng Senado,” he said.
Amid the grim outlook, Fr. Alforque said the biggest question, for now, is: "How do we arouse hope in the midst of possible despair?"
But Olalia still shared a bit of optimism.
“While it does not look good, we can make it be(come) good,” he said.
The forum was organized by Karapatan, EcuVoice, and Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH.