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Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov's Nobel Peace prize win is a victory for press freedom

Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa

Responding to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov winning the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia respectively, Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov’s Nobel Peace Prize win is a victory not only for independent, critical journalism in The Philippines and Russia, but for the fight for justice, accountability and freedom of expression all over the world. “For more than three decades, Maria Ressa has worked tirelessly as a journalist in the Philippines

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Philippines: International Criminal Court's investigation into drugs killings welcomed

Under Rodrigo Duterte's presidency, thousands of people have been killed by the police © NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Prosecutor asked to investigate crimes against humanity during Duterte’s deadly ‘war on drugs’ Thousands of mainly poor people killed by police in past five years ‘They will not escape accountability’ - Agnès Callamard Responding to the International Criminal Court’s announcement that it has opened an investigation into killings during the Philippine government’s deadly “war on drugs”, Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Amnesty International welcomes the ICC pre-trial chamber’s decision to authorise an investigation into crimes against humanity committed during

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Philippines: Duterte cannot halt ICC investigation into murderous 'war on drugs'

Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled government is obliged to cooperate with ICC “Try as they might, Duterte’s administration cannot stop the wheels of justice” - Rachel Chhoa-Howard Responding to news that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is still refusing to allow the government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it opts to launch a formal probe into his murderous ‘war on drugs’, even after the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled to the contrary, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Philippines Researcher, said: “Despite President Duterte’s stubborn

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Philippines: Human rights defender shot dead as 'cycle of bloodshed continues'

Zara Alvarez a human rights defender from the Philippines was shot dead by unknown assailants in Bacolod City last night. Her death follows a pattern of “cold blooded killings in the Philippines under the Duterte administration”, Amnesty International has warned. Alvarez was paralegal for the human rights group Karapatan and the research and advocacy officer of Negros Island Health Integrated Program. Her murder follows the recent killing of fellow activist and peace advocate Randall “Randy” Echanis in his home in Quezon City on 10 August. The names of both activists had been among the

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Philippines: Duterte's dangerous anti-terror law a new setback for human rights

Responding to news that Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte today signed the Anti-Terrorism Act into law, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said: “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists. “This administration has effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state. In the prevailing climate of impunity, a law so vague on the definition of ‘terrorism’ can only worsen attacks against human rights defenders. “The approval of this law grants the government excessive and

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FEARS OF UNFAIR TRIAL FOR ‘TACLOBAN 5’

Fears of unfair trial for "Tacloban 5"

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Community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, Mariel Domequil from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, People Surge Network Spokesperson Marissa Cabaljao, Mira Legion from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Eastern Visayas, and Karapatan National Council member Alexander Philip Abinguna were arrested on 7 February 2020 in simultaneous raids in Tacloban City.  

Legion and Cabaljao are facing bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and are now out on bail. Cumpio, Domequil and Abinguna are facing non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and are detained at a jail facility of Palo town police station. 

Domequil and Cumpio were arraigned (informed of the charges against them) on 18 February 2020. Cabaljao, Legion and Abinguna were arraigned on 2 June 2020. On 23 June 2020, the Tacloban City regional trial court denied the activists’ motion to quash what they described as a “defective” search warrant used during the raid, as well as to quash the information filed against them, reject evidence seized during the raid, and return seized items that were not included in the search warrant. The hearings continue. 

Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, human rights defenders and political activists have been increasingly subjected to repeated harassment, threats and attacks, including killings. Many of these defenders and activists belong to organizations that the government or unknown individuals have “red-tagged” or accused of being fronts for communist groups without credible evidence, an accusation that they have repeatedly denied. 

Amid the worsening human rights record of the country, the UN Human Rights Council released its report on the Philippines on 4 June 2020, stating that “human rights defenders have been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment for nearly 20 years.” It also noted the phenomenon of “red-tagging” that has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”
 

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PROTESTERS SEEKING RELIEF TO BE ARRAIGNED

Protesters seeking relief to be arraigned

Peaceful protesters
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According to the group Save San Roque Alliance, on 1 April 2020, residents of San Roque village in Quezon City gathered along a portion of EDSA – a major highway in Metro Manila – upon receiving news that relief items were to be distributed there. When the distribution didn’t happen, the residents stayed in the area to stage a protest to demand relief from the Quezon City government. 

Members of the police supposedly asked the residents to leave the area and then, according to reports from civil society organizations and the police, resorted to force to disperse the protest and arrested those who refused to leave. The Save San Roque Alliance maintains that the police violently dispersed the protesters and hit people with wooden sticks. Amnesty International spoke to one leader of the group who said that victims included a man and his child, who were in the area to collect financial aid from his company whose office was also along EDSA. 

A total of 21 protesters were detained at the headquarters of the Quezon City police. According to a group leader, relatives were prevented from talking or delivering food to them following several hours of detention. Five days later, on 6 April 2020, the 21 individuals were released after posting bail amounting to PhP 367,500 (USD 7,254) that was raised through donations. They face charges of “unlawful assembly”, “resistance to authority”, “spreading false information”, “non-cooperation in a health emergency” and “impeding road access”.

International human rights law allows for limitations on the right to peaceful assembly for the protection of public health, but restrictions need to be necessary and proportionate. In that sense, police must apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, which may be used only if other means have proven to be, or are likely to be, ineffective. Moreover, the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment is non-derogable, even at times of emergency. 

Therefore, individuals should not be imprisoned solely for breaching restrictions imposed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of fines can also have particularly adverse effects on specific groups, even if provisions are presented in neutral terms. In considering the application of fines for violating the conditions of the restrictions imposed, authorities must take into account the circumstances of groups at risk who may be disproportionately affected and consider alternatives to alleviate the disproportionate impact of fines.

The residents said they launched the protest after they did not receive any form of relief from the government. The local government of Quezon City has disputed this, and said that while relief distributions were ongoing, it will review the list of recipients to ensure no one is left out. In responding to COVID-19, the government has promised P200-billion cash aid for the poor, many of whom have lost their means of income under the lockdown. The cash aid includes provision of a monthly allowance of USD 100-158 to those in need, but the distribution has been riddled with delays and other alleged anomalies. On 19 June 2020, the government said nearly 300 local officials were being investigated for these anomalies and may face charges.
 

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Philippines: UN report on failed 'war on drugs' reveals urgent need for international investigation

Drug suspects are rounded up during an operation in Manila © © NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

‘War’ has seen thousands murdered by police as part of a widespread and systematic attack against poor communities President Duterte has explicitly encouraged police to commit extrajudicial executions and promised them immunity, while implicated police officers have received promotions Amnesty is calling for international investigation into country’s human rights abuses Investigation ‘a vital step towards addressing the near-total impunity fuelling ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines, some of which amount to crimes against humanity’ - Nicholas Bequelin Responding to a UN report

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Philippines: threat against broadcaster ABS-CBN is 'dark day for media freedom'

ABS-CBN's flagship news programme TV Patrol on air earlier this year © Getty Images

Broadcaster has aired investigative reports on extrajudicial executions during President Duterte’s notorious ‘war on drugs’ ‘It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic’ - Butch Olano Responding to news that one of the Philippines’ largest broadcast media companies - ABS-CBN - has been ordered to cease its operations in the country, Butch Olano, Amnesty International’s Philippines Director, said: “This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies. “Ordering ABS-CBN to stop

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RESIDENTS SEEKING COVID-19 RELIEF CHARGED

Residents seeking Covid-19 relief charged

San Roque 21
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According to the group Save San Roque Alliance, on 1 April 2020, residents of San Roque village in Quezon City gathered along a portion of EDSA – a major highway in Metro Manila – upon receiving news that relief items were to be distributed there. When the distribution didn’t happen, the residents stayed in the area to stage a protest to demand relief from the Quezon City government. 

Members of the police supposedly asked the residents to leave the area and then, according to reports from civil society organizations and the police, resorted to force to disperse the protest and arrested those who refused to leave. The Save San Roque Alliance maintains that the police violently dispersed the protesters and hit people with wooden sticks. Amnesty International spoke to one leader of the group who said that victims included a man and his child, who were in the area to collect financial aid from his company whose office was also along EDSA. 

A total of 21 protesters were detained at the headquarters of the Quezon City police. According to a group leader, relatives were prevented from talking or delivering food to them following several hours of detention. Five days later, on 6 April 2020, the 21 individuals were released after posting bail amounting to PhP 367,500 (USD 7,254) that was raised through donations. They face charges of “unlawful assembly”, “resistance to authority”, “spreading false information”, “non-cooperation in a health emergency” and “impeding road access”.

International human rights law allows for limitations on the right to peaceful assembly for the protection of public health, but restrictions need to be necessary and proportionate. In that sense, police must apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, which may be used only if other means have proven to be, or are likely to be, ineffective. Moreover, the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment is non-derogable, even at times of emergency. 

Given the elevated risks of transmission of COVID-19 in certain prisons and other places of detention, enforcement of prison sentences is likely to further compound the public health problems caused by the pandemic and would fail to meet the test of necessity and proportionality. Therefore, individuals should not be imprisoned solely for breaching restrictions imposed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of fines can also have particularly adverse effects on specific groups, even if provisions are presented in neutral terms. In considering the application of fines for violating the conditions of the restrictions imposed, authorities must take into account the circumstances of groups at risk who may be disproportionately affected and consider alternatives to alleviate the disproportionate impact of fines.

The residents said they launched the protest after they did not receive any form of relief from the government. The local government of Quezon City has disputed this, and said that while relief distributions were ongoing, it will review the list of recipients to ensure no one is left out. In responding to COVID-19, the government has promised P200-billion cash aid for the poor, many of whom have lost their means of income under the lockdown. The cash aid includes provision of a monthly allowance of USD 100-158 to those in need. On 6 April 2020, the government said it will need more funds in order to fulfil its cash aid pledged to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
 

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