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Freedom status

Global human rights watchdog Civicus Monitor downgraded the freedom status of the Philippines from “obstructed” to “repressed” in its 2020 global report.

Such a status gives our country the second worst human rights rating by the watchdog. This means fundamental democratic freedoms such as expression, peaceful assembly and association are “severely restricted”.

Cited as reasons for the downgraded freedom status were the passage of the draconian antiterror law, escalating attacks against activists and journalists and the systemic “red tagging” of progressives.

“The Duterte government has incrementally chipped away at civic freedoms since it came to power in 2016, but this has further eroded over the last year. In 2020, when we have seen systemic intimidation, attacks and vilification of civil society and activists, an increased crackdown on press freedoms and a pervasive culture of impunity take root,” said Civicus Asia-Pacific researcher Josef Benedict.

Civicus noted the gruesome murders of activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez who were criminalized and red tagged as examples of this impunity. It likewise took exception of the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa of cyberlibel in June, as well as the closure of ABS CBN, the country’s largest broadcasting network.

The annual report that rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms across 196 countries noted continued attacks against civic freedoms in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines is not the only government in the region that has weaponized restrictive laws to criminalize and prosecute human rights defenders, journalists and critics to stifle dissent, especially in relation to their handling of the pandemic.

Although it was never perfect, at least the Philippines used to strive to be a beacon of human rights in the region. This year, it celebrated International Human Rights Day with the Philippine National Police launching a series of operations which led to the arrest of a journalist and six trade unionists over firearms and explosives charges that rights groups believe to be fabricated.

Human rights watchdogs can see how we are losing our rights and freedoms but they can only observe the decline and report which way our situation is going. In the end, it is up to our government and ultimately, Filipinos themselves, to determine the value of our human rights in this country. Whether we lose it or fight for it is up to us.*

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