There are deliberate efforts to harass and muzzle opposition lawmakers in the Philippines through trumped-up criminal charges, threats and intimidation, a report of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights stressed.
The 40-page report released Tuesday pointed out that those lawmakers who have opposed the brutal campaign against illegal drugs and other key government policies are the ones facing retribution from President Rodrigo Duterte and his men.
“One key facet of this trend: the systematic harassment of opposition lawmakers and attempts to silence opponents in the bicameral Congress,” the APHR report said.
It added: “During its almost three years in office, the Duterte administration has used a range of tactics toward this end, including trumped-criminal charges, the manipulation of democratic processes, and open threats and aggressive rhetoric.”
APHR stressed that lawmakers must be free to exercise their mandates without fear of reprisals.
“The concerted efforts by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to silence opponents in Congress are not only affecting efforts to curb human rights abuses but is also threatening to do lasting damage to democratic institutions in the Philippines,” it said.
APHR is a regional group of lawmakers “committed to promoting human rights, democracy and justice in Southeast Asia.”
‘Politically-motivated’ charges vs lawmakers
The APHR report documented how at least eight senators and House of Representatives members—Sens. Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV, Risa Hontiveros, and Reps. France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list), Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers party-list), Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list), Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) and Teddy Baguilat (Ifugao)—have faced “politically-motivated” criminal charges since Duterte took office in 2016.
All except Trillanes are members of the APHR.
De Lima, who has been detained since February 2017, is accused of having a hand in the proliferation of illegal drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as justice secretary. She has repeatedly denied all allegations against her.
Trillanes is currently facing a revived rebellion case, a string of inciting to sedition cases and a libel charge.
Hontiveros, another staunch critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, is currently facing charges of kidnapping, wiretapping and obstruction of justice—all linked to her role in sheltering witnesses to the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos at the hands of Caloocan police.
She told APHR that the cases against her are “purely filed to harass.”
“Normally you would trust justice to take its course, but under this administration there is still a fear they could lead to conviction,” Hontiveros was quoted as saying in the report.
ACT Teachers party-list’s Tinio and Anakpawis party-list’s Casilao were sued for “child abuse” after attending a demonstration against martial law in Mindanao along with Lumad youth. Castro, another ACT Teachers party-list lawmaker, has also faced “child abuse” charges for her role in providing aid to indigenous communities.
Zarate, meanwhile, was charged with “conducting a rally without a permit” under Section 13(a) of the Public Assembly Act of 1985, and with “direct assault with physical injury” and “resistance and disobedience” to a person in authority under the Revised Penal Code for participating in a demonstration against the visit of US President Donald Trump. All charges against him and his co-accused were dismissed last year.
Aside from using trumped-up criminal charges, public threats and harassment, online disinformation to discredit critics and manipulation of democratic processes are also the other tools used by Duterte administration to sideline the opposition, APHR noted.
“APHR urges the Philippine government to immediately end all attacks on opposition lawmakers and to drop all politically motivated criminal cases documented in this report. The government must build an inclusive state where there is space for opposition members to make their voices heard and to exercise their democratic mandate,” the group of regional lawmakers said.