By the International Federation for Human Right - FIDH

The Philippines has the unflattering reputation of being one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders. Human rights defenders in the Philippines, particularly land and environmental rights defenders, have historically been the target of extrajudicial killings and other abuses as a result of their work.

For more than a decade, United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms have expressed concern over the Philippines’ poor human rights record, and in recent years, increasing attention has been brought to the plight of human rights defenders in the country. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, the government has taken measures that have actively contributed to an increasingly hostile environment for human rights defenders.

Of particular concern is the large number of defenders who continue to be killed as a result of their work. From July 2016 to November 2018, at least 76 land and environmental rights defenders, 12 journalists, and several civil society and labour activists were killed in relation to their work. They have also been subjected to attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation. Meanwhile, members of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have been harassed and their mandate called into question. The credibility of UN experts has similarly been attacked with slandering of UN officials. In the political sphere, the Department of Justice has pursued criminal charges against a number of Duterte’s political opponents who had taken strong pro-human rights stances. In particular, Senator Leila de Lima and Senator Antonio Trillanes have both been arrested and face spurious charges.

This report documents the dramatic deterioration of the situation for human rights defenders under Duterte, which is the direct result of his administration’s disregard for human rights. The worsening situation for human rights defenders has been exacerbated by Duterte’s violent rhetoric and the ongoing ‘war on drugs,’ the continued impunity for human rights abuses under his presidency, and the imposition of martial law over the entire island of Mindanao since May 2017.

In order to support the research necessary for the preparation of this report, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (‘the Observatory’) conducted a 10-day mission to the Philippines in August 2017 to gain a comprehensive understanding of the political dynamics and the environment in which human rights defenders operate in the Philippines. Members of the mission met with representatives of civil society, government officials, and foreign diplomats in both Manila and Davao City.

This report also makes numerous recommendations to improve the situation for human rights defenders in the Philippines.