In June 2016, the Philippines inaugurated a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose 20-year tenure as Mayor of Davao City included more than 1,000 documented instances of extrajudicial killings and disappearances associated with his “Davao Death Squad.” In December 2016, Duterte admitted to personally committing at least three murders when he was mayor, which led some of his critics in the Philippine Senate to call for his impeachment.
Since his election, Duterte’s war on drugs has had devastating consequences: more than 7,000 people have been killed by police and vigilantes; 53,000 have been arrested; and more than 1.1 million have “surrendered” to authorities in order to avoid being killed.
Duterte and his so-called drug war have been roundly criticized by the international community, condemned by the UN and international human rights groups, and could serve as grounds for a future investigation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In a February 2017 report, Amnesty International concluded that the killings may amount to crimes against humanity.
Despite claiming that he would end the war on drugs after three-to-six months in office, Duterte recently pledged to continue the illegal campaign of extrajudicial killings through the end of his presidency in 2022.
Against this backdrop, UUSC’s consultant on-the-ground in the Philippines organized a meeting of UUSC’s partners to discuss the impact on and responsibilities of human rights groups in the Philippines under Duterte. Many of our partners, initially reluctant to speak out against extrajudicial killings (in part for fear of their safety), soon expressed an interest in expanding the scope of their work to include human rights education and trainings.
Since then, UUSC has funded projects by two of our existing partners, the National Association of Social Work Educators, Inc. (NASWEI) and Visayas Primary Health Care Services (VPHCS), to document instances of EJKs and provide human rights trainings to community leaders, respectively. UUSC is also supporting IBON, an international human rights organization based in the Philippines, in human rights documentation, training, and education programs across the Philippines.
In addition, three of UUSC’s partners – the Philippine Association of Community Resiliency Model Skills Trainers (PhilACTS), Lihok Pilipina, and NASWEI – have utilized the innovative techniques that were a central pillar of UUSC’s post-Typhoon Yolanda strategy to build trauma resiliency in communities affected by the drug war. UUSC’s partners have now trained civil-society organizations, government officials, social workers, police, and family members impacted by the drug war in these trauma-resiliency techniques.
Most notably, PhilACTS (an organization formed in 2014 as part of a UUSC grant) has facilitated three training activities in the city of Davao (President Duterte’s hometown and where he once served as mayor) in 2017, two of which were requested and organized by the Ateneo de Davao University and the Davao City Anti-Drug Abuse Council (CADAC), as part of their joint community-based drug rehabilitation program. Participants included the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, members of the religious sector, the Local Government of Davao City, including the CADAC, and various higher education institutions. Ateneo de Davao University and the Davao CADAC have also requested additional CRM training activities, including a training of CRM trainers and one designed specifically for the police force.
The level of interest and engagement on these trainings across various sectors is an encouragement and testament to the amazing work our partners are doing. Recently, UUSC staff member, Michael Kourabas, traveled to the Philippines to visit our partners and see the work on the ground. Stay tuned for an update on his time there!