International human rights group baffled by Duterte’s ‘contradictory’ SONA

“(The SONA) was laced with confusing and sometimes contradictory messages.”

This was how an international human rights group described the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) given by President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday afternoon, July 25, at the Interim Batasang Pambansa (IBP) building.

The Human Rights Watch, based in New York City, USA, was at a loss about what exactly Duterte’s stand on the “alarming surge of police killings of suspected drug dealers and users” in the country was.

Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, believes the Duterte government should “demand a thorough investigation into the alarming surge in police killings of suspected drug dealers and users in recent weeks” and that failure to do so “symbolizes a critical failure in his obligation to defend rule of law and to protect the rights and freedoms of all Filipinos.”

“Instead of speaking out against the sharp rise in police killings of suspected drug dealers and users and the sinister increase in extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects by unknown perpetrators, Duterte implicitly voiced support for such unlawful brutality by stating that police can rightly put illegal drug suspects ‘below the ground’ if necessary,” Kine decried in his statement.

In his SONA, President Duterte reiterated his full support for cops who diligently and legally carried out the intensified anti-drugs campaign. He reasoned that if everyone kept out of anything illegal, then there would be no problems whatsoever.

However, there is growing clamor for an investigation of unwarranted killings of suspects, which allegedly have all the appearances of a summary execution.


“President Duterte must publicly recognize that respect for rule of law and fulfilling the human rights of Filipinos extends to all Filipinos, including criminal suspects and those implicated in the drug trade,” Kine added in the statement.

Some political analysts said Duterte may be taking an Asian (Singaporean) concept of what human rights is—which is seen more as rights of a community—rather than the traditional Western one—which is more individualistic. This is supposedly gleaned over by what he said in his SONA: “Human rights must work to uplift human dignity. But human rights cannot be used as a shield or excuse to destroy the country.”

Instead of calming tensions about the growing number of doubtful killings from police operations, Duterte declared: “We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financer, have surrendered, put behind bars or below the ground if they so wish.”

Human rights advocates have repeatedly stated that the country’s poor are the usual victims of Duterte’s war against narcotics.

But the President has also included this in his SONA, “My administration shall be sensitive to the State’s obligations to promote, protect, fulfill the rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable, and social justice shall be pursued, even as the rule of law shall prevail at all times.”

However, the Human Rights Watch lauded the president’s advocacies for women’s rights, reproductive health rights, urban poor needs and rights, and the rights of Muslims and the Lumads (indigenous people of Mindanao).


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