Philippine human rights office records fewer rights violations in 2020


Despite many local and international watchdogs calling attention to what they considered to be the Philippine’s shrinking democratic space, the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recorded only 1,445 cases of human rights violations (HRVs) in 2020.

The number is four times lower than the yearly range of 5,000-6,000 cases, the CHR said.

Most of the HRVs were complaints of police abuse in the arrest and detention of people who supposedly violated COVID-19 restrictions. But the real number is actually nebulous: unreported due to pandemic restrictions.

Even so, says Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit, “the strong-armed approach [by the government]has always been there.”

“We were indeed impacted by the virus itself, but we were impacted negatively by the response to the pandemic,” she said in an interview.

“We’ve seen many arrests and approaches that did not put the right to health front and centre. [There] were responses to COVID-19 that were counterproductive.”

When governments need to limit certain rights in times of national emergencies, the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that any measures taken must be necessary, reasonable and proportionate.

But the Duterte administration’s heavy-handed approach, Dumpit said, disenfranchised the country’s marginalized sectors more than anyone else.

For example, the total shutdown of transport from March to June greatly affected the rights of workers and those in the transport sector.

Indigenous peoples were hit by the slow disbursement of financial aid.

The often “ageist” lockdown measures of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases affected senior citizens who found themselves cut off from their medical treatment.

Police also arrested several groups that dared to protest against these measures: the Piston 6 (June 2), the Marikina 10 (May 1) and San Roque residents (April 1), all of whom were merely seeking aid from the government.

“We don’t usually think about these things in the perspective of rights, but that’s how you gauge good governance,” Dumpit said. “We have to think about how our policies affect the rights and freedoms, especially of the vulnerable.”

On the more extreme end were the ramped-up arrests of political dissidents and activists on nonbailable charges of explosives and firearms possession.

While the McCarthyite practice of Red-tagging—the labeling of critical voices as communists and state enemies to publicly vilify them—is not exactly new, Dumpit said the newly passed antiterror law gave the practice new teeth.

While the CHR and the Duterte administration have sparred on issues relating to human rights, Dumpit said 2020 also brought several fresh openings in improving the human rights situation of the country.

This included the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution for technical assistance and capacity-building to improve domestic rights measures, and the CHR’s data-sharing agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on politically motivated killings.

The latter, though, has yet to bear fruit, as the DOJ had not, so far, shared any data with the commission as it promised, Dumpit said. (Source: