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Genocide Watch: The Philippines

By Fiona Niebart

September 2021

Photo credit: Dondi Tawatao/Reuters 2017.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government is committing crimes against humanity and politicide in the Philippines through a state-sponsored mass murder campaign that Duterte portrays as a “War on Drugs.” Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, police officers engage in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests of dissenters, and suppression of media freedom.

President Duterte’s “War on Drugs,” which began in 2016, targets impoverished civilians, drug addicts, and activists opposed to Duterte's “war,” including human rights groups, journalists, and media outlets. Encouraged by Duterte, police and unidentified gunmen have committed thousands of killings. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates the death toll at 8,663, but domestic human rights groups believe the real number could be triple that. Police are never prosecuted for these murders.

The “War on Drugs” worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown as police killed fifty percent more people between April and July 2020 than they did in the previous four months. Police brutally enforced government-imposed lockdowns. Poor communities, human rights activists, and those who oppose the Duterte regime have been victims of physical and digital attacks. They are targeted by the military, national security agencies, and the police, who use social media to convey threats.

On June 14, 2021, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested that the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber approve her investigation into the “drug war” crimes committed in the Philippines. The temporal scope of the investigation would cover the period between the Philippines’ induction into the ICC in 2011 and its subsequent withdrawal in 2019. Prosecutor Bensouda’s investigation is a step toward holding Duterte accountable for his crimes against humanity.

On July 3, 2020, President Duterte signed the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,” creating a president-appointed anti-terrorism council authorized to designate individuals and groups as “terrorists” or members of a “terrorist organization.” It authorizes detention of suspects without charge for up to 24 days. The law permits 90 days of warrantless surveillance. Those convicted of "terrorism" may be sentenced to punishments that include life imprisonment without parole. Under the Act, Duterte’s administration can legally target critics of his regime by labeling them "terrorists."

Genocide Watch recognizes the situation in the Philippines as Stage 8: Persecution. Mass murder of thousands of civilians in the "War on Drugs" has amounted to politicide, placing the Philippines at Stage 9: Extermination.

Genocide Watch recommends:

  • The Philippine government should repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

  • The UN Human Rights Council should name an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the "War on Drugs" and abuses of human rights under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

  • The International Criminal Court should investigate crimes against humanity committed by Duterte and agents of the government of the Philippines.

Philippines Country Report 2021
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