15 June 2020
Responding to news that a Manila court convicted Rappler editor-in-chief Maria Ressa and former journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr of “cyber libel” over an article written in 2012, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, said:
“This verdict is a sham and should be quashed. Ressa, Santos and the Rappler team are being singled out for their critical reporting of the Duterte administration, including ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines. The accusations against them are political, the prosecution was politically-motivated, and the sentence is nothing but political.
“With this latest assault on independent media, the human rights record of the Philippines continues its free fall. It is time for the UN to urgently open an international investigation into the country’s human rights crisis, in line with the recent conclusions of the UN Human Rights office itself.
“Ressa and her team have become global icons for press freedom after President Duterte himself has repeatedly singled them out for attack, intimidation and harassment. They face a long battle ahead, with several more politically motivated charges awaiting trial.
“This guilty verdict follows the shutdown of ABS-CBN, which remains off the air – also after coming under the President’s attacks. The international community cannot remain silent in the face of this brazen vendetta against the press.”
On 15 June 2020, a Manila court convicted both Ressa and Santos of cyber libel, becoming the first journalists in the Philippines convicted of the offence. The verdict carries a penalty of imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years. It orders Ressa and Santos to pay the complainant, businessman William Keng, a total of PhP 400,000 (USD 7,950) in damages. The court allowed the two to post bail.
The case against the two stems from an investigative article by Santos, published on 29 May 2012. The article alleged that former Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona used a vehicle owned by Keng, who had suspected links to illegal drugs and human trafficking.
Seven years later, on 13 February 2019, Ressa was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation and detained overnight before being granted provisional release on bail, after the Department of Justice accused Ressa and Santos of “cyber libel” for the article. The article was published more than three months before the Cyber Libel Act was passed into law. The law should never have been applied retroactively, as the alleged offence was not a crime at the time it took place.
Ressa, Santos and Rappler’s directors collectively face several other lawsuits and investigations, including alleged tax violations and violations of the prohibition against foreign control over mass media. Rappler has been a consistent critic of President Duterte and his administration, publishing detailed investigations into some of the thousands of extrajudicial executions of poor and marginalized people committed by police and other unknown armed persons during ‘war on drugs’ operations.
On 5 May 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease-and-desist against broadcast media company ABS-CBN, ordering the company to stop operating its TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise”. ABS-CBN has produced numerous investigative reports highlighting human rights violations and attracted the ire of President Duterte for allegedly failing to run his paid political advertisements, during the 2016 elections that he won.
On June 4, a UN Human Rights Office report drew attention to “serious human rights violations” in the country. The report, among other things, “detailed ongoing threats to freedom of expression, with legal charges and prosecutions being brought against journalists and senior politicians critical of the Government, as well as actions to shut down media outlets.”
Find a copy of statement here.
5 May 2020
Responding to news that the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order effectively stopping the operations of ABS-CBN, one of the country’s largest broadcast media companies, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said:
“Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom. It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom.
“This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.
“This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies. The lessons of history should be a reminder to the government not to go down this path, press freedom must be upheld and this attack on ABS-CBN should be vigorously opposed by all who care about free speech.”
On 5 May 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease-and-desist against broadcast media company ABS-CBN, ordering the company to stop operating its TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise” on 4 May 2020. The NTC cited Republic Act 3846, or the Radio Control Law, in its order, which also gives the network 10 days to explain why the broadcast frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.
ABS-CBN has produced numerous investigative reports highlighting extrajudicial executions committed as part of the government’s so-called “war on drugs.” Similarly, news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa, who have also been critical of the anti-drug campaign in their reporting, are facing a string of lawsuits, including charges of tax evasion, cyber libel and foreign ownership.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly attacked ABS-CBN for allegedly failing to run his paid political advertisements during the 2016 elections, which he won. In a speech in December 2019, Duterte advised the network’s executives to sell the company as a way out.
Today’s order came after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the commission that they may be prosecuted if they issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN without a franchise from Congress. In February 2020, Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, asking it to revoke the existing franchise of ABS-CBN for allowing foreign investors despite constitutional prohibitions and launching a subscription service without the required government approval. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the issue, following the suspension of the court’s operations in light of the community quarantine in effect in Metro Manila in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several bills are currently pending before the Philippine Congress for the renewal of the network’s franchise, but these have not been taken up since the current Congress began its term in July 2019.
In recent weeks, the National Bureau of Investigation has summoned individuals suspected of spreading fake news related to COVID-19, but human rights groups said these included those who were merely airing their grievances online. A Cebu City-based artist was also arrested without warrant in April 2020 over a Facebook post that police considered as “fake news”. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which grants President Duterte special powers to address the pandemic, includes a provision that punishes “creating, perpetuating or spreading false information” with up to two months in prison, up to P1 million in fines, or both.
05 May 2020
Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom. It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom.
Read full statement here.
13 April 2020
“While hospitals are pleading for body bags and other emergency supplies, callous threats from authorities show a tone-deaf government that is unwilling to keep everybody safe during this global pandemic. This dangerous rhetoric must stop now.”
Read full statement here.
02 April 2020
We call on the President to immediately cease his dangerous incitement to violence against those who may be critical of the government during the COVID-19 pandemic. The local government must initiate a dialogue with residents and deliver much-needed relief, especially to the poorest communities. We also urge the concerned agencies to investigate members of the police that resorted to disproportionate violence, release San Roque residents under arrest and conduct a probe into the broader incident. The lives of those most at risk must be considered a priority, in the effort to minimize the threat of the virus.
Read full statement here.
4 March 2020
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that human rights defenders and political activists have been charged with perjury in a case initiated by a government official, especially since the charges stem from these groups’ plea for court protection against threats and harassment. The organisation calls on the government to drop the charges and cease all attacks against human rights groups and political activists.
Read full statement here.
20 February 2020
Philippine authorities should immediately release Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained for three years, and drop the politically motivated charges against her, Amnesty International, FORUM-ASIA, and Human Rights Watch said today. The mistreatment of de Lima reflects broader attacks by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte against human rights defenders, particularly women.
De Lima, who has been detained at the headquarters of the Philippine National Police since her arrest on February 24, 2017, has been one of the staunchest critics of the government’s abusive “war on drugs.” The authorities arrested her after she sought to investigate extrajudicial executions committed in the context of the anti-drug campaign.
“Every day that Senator de Lima remains detained is another day of injustice, not only against her but against all Filipinos whose rights – to life, liberty, health, and due process – have been trampled on by a violent and repressive government,” said Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International.
Read full statement here.
19 February 2020
Five activists from Tacloban City, Philippines, were arrested on 7 February 2020 over charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives following an illegal raid. The activists, along with other groups that conducted a fact-finding mission about the arrest allege multiple violations, including fabrication of evidence, committed by the security forces. We call on the Philippine Department of Justice to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate these allegations and, if proven, to drop all charges against the activists, and ensure their release. The authorities should hold those reasonably suspected to be responsible to account in fair trials.
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14 February 2020
Responding to news that arrest warrants have been issued against former Senator and drug war critic Antonio Trillanes IV, activist priest Fr. Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva and 9 others over charges of conspiracy to commit sedition, Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director, said:
“The arrest orders are just the latest wave of state-backed attacks against critics of the Duterte administration and its deadly anti-drugs campaign.
“This latest attack comes on the heels of government efforts to shut down ABS-CBN, one of the country’s largest TV networks. Clearly, this administration will go to any length to stifle peaceful and legitimate criticism, including misusing the criminal justice system.
“The government must end this relentless assault on people’s rights and freedoms. President Duterte must be reminded that the world is watching and, as his government’s abusive practices continue to be exposed, the day of reckoning is drawing near.”
On 14 February, a Quezon City court issued arrest warrants against former Senator and prominent drug war critic Antonio Trillanes IV and 10 other people for conspiracy to commit sedition. Among those ordered arrested were Fr. Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva, who has been actively assisting families of victims of extrajudicial executions under the “war on drugs” to cope with their situation.
The charges stem from a series of so-called “Bikoy videos”, released online in April 2019, detailing the supposed involvement of President Duterte, his family and his allies in the illegal drug trade. Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy, who was the narrator of all five videos, was also ordered arrested.
On 10 February, the Department of Justice indicted Trillanes and the others for violating Article 141 of the Revised Penal Code, or conspiracy to commit sedition. Other charges, such as sedition, cyber libel, and obstruction of justice, were dropped. The original complaint named over 30 politicians, members of the clergy and other individuals, including Vice President Leni Robredo and detained Senator Leila de Lima, who Amnesty International deems a prisoner of conscience. They were not included in the charges.
This is not the first time that charges have been filed against government critics, especially those opposing the Duterte administration’s brutal ‘war on drugs.’ On 10 February, the government’s chief lawyer filed a quo warranto petition seeking the closure of TV network ABS-CBN, accusing it of violating the law such as by allowing foreign ownership. Sen. de Lima is enduring her third year in prison on politically-motivated charges. News website Rappler, its executive editor Maria Ressa, its directors, and a former researcher are all facing a string of court cases.
In July 2019, the UN Human Rights Council asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, to be presented during the Council’s June 2020 sessions.
The recent coordinated set of raids by police and the army in Negros Occidental and Metro Manila and the subsequent arrest of activists represents an escalation in the ongoing crackdown against progressive and groups identified as “leftist” by the government.
On 31 October 2019 police and military forces raided the offices of political party Bayan Muna, women’s alliance Gabriela, and labour group National Federal of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. On the same day, the home of two activists belonging to Gabriela and urban poor group Kadamay was raided by police in Manila. State forces continued the raids into the early hours of the following day.
In Bacolod City police and military forces conducted separate raids on the offices of Bayan Muna, Gabriela and NFSW, and arrested over 50 people, reportedly including some minors, accusing them of participating in explosives and firearms training. The government forces claim they seized firearms but arrested activists maintain that any weapons found during the raids were planted by security forces. The raiding forces, according to government sources, used a search warrant issued by a court that had found probable cause to believe that firearms and explosives were being stored in the organizations’ offices.
The latest crackdown against government critics and political activists comes amidst a climate of almost total impunity inside the country. Amnesty International calls on the authorities to fulfil their international obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of association of peaceful groups and organisations in the Philippines, as well as their duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of activists, including their rights to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. These rights are guaranteed, among other treaties, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a state party, and by the Philippine Constitution.
Amnesty International urges the government to conduct a prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the groups’ allegations that weapons found on their premises were planted. The organisation also renews its calls to the Philippine government to investigate threats of violence against government critics, incitement to violence, as well as the violent attacks that have resulted from them; bring those responsible for such offences to justice in fair trials; and protect peaceful activists who are being accused of links to communist groups.
Read the full statement here.
Responding to news that President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed a newly promoted Bacolod City police executive to “kill everybody” because of the proliferation of illegal drugs there, Amnesty International Philippines renews call for the Philippine government to focus on probing police abuses.
Read the full statement here.
Responding to today’s resignation of Philippine National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said:
“General Albayalde’s resignation is the last blow to the credibility of the so-called ‘war on drugs’. The Philippines authorities must ensure that justice is done and that this lawless and murderous campaign ends now.
“President Duterte has said that due process of law will be afforded to Albayalde – the very rights that his government has denied to thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, who have been unlawfully killed by the police acting as judge, jury and executioner.
“This scandal shows that impunity is entrenched in the institutions supposed to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The authorities must urgently expand their probe into General Albayalde to cover the wide-ranging police abuses that continue up to this day.”
Read full statement here.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission recently added Senator Leila de Lima to the Defending Freedoms Project. Read full statement here.
Marinel Sumook Ubaldo from Samar, Philippines was 16 when she knew she had to fight to find a way to protect herself and her community from the disastrous effects of the climate crisis. She survived the deadly Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 to become a leading youth activist, dedicated to ensuring governments around the world confront the climate crisis and tackle its effects on her community, and others like them. This year’s Write for Rights (W4R), support Marinel by demanding support for climate change survivors.
Take Action Now:
2) Write a short solidarity note to Marinel (case sheet)
6) Share the W4R campaign webpage on Marinel Ubaldo to your friends and family.
September 3, 2019
Amnesty International expresses deep concern over threats against and the endangerment of two Filipino journalists, a priest, two human rights lawyers, and a government employee, including claims that they are affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines. As has happened in the past, “red-tagging” or branding individuals and organizations as “communist fronts” has become a means to endanger their lives, leaving them at risk of harassment and attacks by unknown individuals. The authorities must seriously investigate all threats against the two journalists and others who have been “red-tagged”; take proactive steps to protect the safety and other rights of journalists and others at risk; and ensure an environment that allows individuals to undertake their professions without fear of violence and other reprisals.
Read full statement here.
(From TIME.com, August 8, 2019)
“An American human rights volunteer is reportedly in critical condition after he was shot four times in the Philippines.
Brandon Lee, 37, was attacked outside his home in Ifugao province in the northern Philippines on Tuesday after he was called an “enemy of the state” on social media, reports the Guardian.
Lee suffered cardiac arrest during a surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his jaw.
Lee is a volunteer for Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), a farmers’ group that actively opposes a hydropower project and the military presence in the Cordillera region, according to the Guardian. In 2008, an IPM staff member was killed in a similar attack.
Lee and other IPM staff had were labeled “enemy of the state” in posters that were put up around the province.
Another rights group, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, where Lee also volunteers, blamed authorities for the attack.
“We hold accountable the state security forces that the Duterte administration has let loose in the Cordillera region,” the group said in a statement, according to the Guardian. The group also said that Lee had been receiving threats before the attack.”
Read the statement of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance here.
Amnesty International is deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of attacks against human rights defenders and activists in the Philippines. On 1 May, Archad Ayao, an investigator for the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, was shot dead in Cotabato City, southern Philippines, by a still unidentified gunman. On 22 April, human rights worker and local politician Bernardino Patigas was gunned down in Escalante City, Negros Occidental. Hours later, several of his colleagues — including Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay — received threatening text messages from an unknown person warning them that they are likewise targeted to be killed this year.
Read the full statement here.
Three years into the Philippine government’s “war on drugs,” extrajudicial executions at the hands of the police and their associates continue. The vast majority of those who have been targeted are poor and marginalised people. Amid constant incitement from the highest levels of government and rampant impunity, only one unlawful killing, that of a 17 year old, has resulted in the prosecution and conviction of police officers. The international community must push for an independent investigation to put an end to these crimes and provide justice and reparations for countless families and victims. Read the full report here.
On 22 April, Cristina Palabay of Philippines-based human rights alliance Karapatan received a text message from an unidentified person, sent to her personal number, warning her and several other individuals that they are targeted to be killed this year. Amid the threats against Palabay, on 30 May the Supreme Court directed the government to give access to information of Palabay and other human rights defenders in hope to protect their right to life, liberty and security. Take Action here.
Maria Ressa, human rights defender and executive editor of online news outlet Rappler, was arrested again on 29 March for allegedly violating the Philippines’ Anti-Dummy Law, which punishes Filipinos who allow their names or citizenship to be used to evade laws on the nationalization of certain rights, franchises or privileges. Ressa was released several hours later after posting bail of PhP90,000 (approx. USD1,700); this was the second time she has been arrested in a matter of weeks. Read the full report here. Take Action here.
Amnesty International remains deeply concerned by the continued detention of prisoner of conscience Senator Leila de Lima on politically motivated charges, based on unsubstantiated statements of people convicted for drug-related offenses. Amnesty International considers the targeting of Senator de Lima by the authorities as a blatant attempt to silence one of the most prominent critics of the violent ‘war on drugs’ and bar her from participating in public life. Read the report here. Take Action here.
Please contact [email protected] for more information how to help promote human rights in the philippines.
Responding to Philippine Senator Bong Go’s statement about having body bags available for “drug addicts or peddlers of fake news,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said:
Responding to orders from President Duterte to police, military officials and barangay officials to shoot ‘troublemakers’ protesting during community quarantine, reports of further arrests for breaches of quarantine and news that 21 residents of a village in Quezon City were arrested after demanding relief from the local government in light of the community quarantine, Philippine Section Director, Butch Olano, said:
Philippine authorities should immediately release Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained for three years, and drop the politically motivated charges against her, Amnesty International, FORUM-ASIA, and Human Rights Watch said today.
The Philippines Human Rights Commission has today created a beacon of hope for the victims of the climate crisis.
Amnesty International has today launched Write for Rights, the world’s biggest human rights campaign, which this year champions children’s rights and youth activists.
President Duterte’s call to revive the death penalty during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) will only worsen the country’s climate of impunity amid the government’s deadly anti-drugs campaign, Amnesty International said today.
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of school-children have been honored with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, the human rights organization announced …
Responding to the arrest warrant served to Maria Ressa at the Rappler offices today on charges of ‘cyber libel’, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director, Butch Olano, said: “Just days after …
Responding to news that the Philippine Department of Justice has recommended ‘cyber libel’ charges against Maria Ressa, the editor of news outlet Rappler, together with one of its former reporters, …
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte today attacked critics of his deadly ‘war on drugs,’ telling human rights activists: “your concern is human rights, mine is human lives” and promising the continuation …