The Constitution of the Philippines, adopted in 1987, contains an entire article on social justice and human rights, which includes the creation of an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights. The purpose of this commission is to combat human rights violations within the country and enact legislation that will protect the rights of citizens.
In 2016, the Philippines elected President Rodrigo Duterte as the leader of their country. Since his inauguration, Duterte has called for a “war on drugs” As a result, an estimated 10,000 people have been killed under the guise of pursuing justice. Police forces within the country say that only about one-thirds of those murders have been in self-defense. It is widely assumed that the other two-thirds have largely been killed by assassins in cooperation with the government, though this is vehemently rejected by the police forces within the country.
The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights is burdened with the task of investigating these extra-judicial killings. The Commission requested $34 million for their 2018 budget and was instead allotted only $20. This budget cut was approved by a vote of 119 to 32 in Congress. On September 21, 2017, the Commission’s budget was restored to $12.2 million, still less than half of the requested amount. Funding for this commission is essential to prevent Duterte’s increasing attempts to silence dissenting voices and edge closer to an authoritarian regime.
The situation seems overwhelmingly out of control and, most importantly, at odds with several provisions in the Constitution of the Philippines protecting the rights of its citizens. The decision of the Philippine lawmakers to cut the budget of the constitutionally-created Commission on Human Rights makes it clear that they do not consider it a priority to stop the extra-judicial killings which are dividing the country. One of the powers of the Commission is to “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.” Cutting the budget of a Commission designed to investigate the types of violations currently happening is indicative of the priorities of the Philippine lawmakers. These are representatives who are supposed to have the best interests of the country in mind, yet they seem reluctant to fund investigating the murders of their constituents. Given that the Constitution also includes an article on social justice and human rights stating that, “the Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity,” their highest priority in this situation should be investigating the practices which are killing thousands of their constituents. Based on their recent actions, however, it does not appear that this is the case.
Duterte’s approach to eliminating crime does not seem to be implementation of harsher laws or punishments, but rather simply eliminating the individuals that commit crimes. This approach completely bypasses the existence of a judicial system and leaves no checks on the power of the executive office in the Philippines. Critics of Duterte within the Philippines are holding out hope that a lawsuit brought in the International Criminal Court is the way to achieve justice for the thousands of deaths suffered since his inauguration. It is unclear whether this approach would be successful as Duterte has openly said that he does not care about human rights and his goal is to kill criminals. However, it is clear that something must be done by international human rights organizations to bring Duterte to justice. Standing by and observing would be inappropriate, especially for someone who has described himself as the Philippines’ Hitler.