This file photo taken on 30 January 2017 shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) talking to then Philippine National Police (PNP) director general Ronald Dela Rosa (R) during a press conference at the Malacanang palace in Manila. Noel CELIS / POOL / AFP

What happened?

On 15 September, a pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised the court’s Office of the Prosecutor to open an official investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Philippines between 2011 and 2019 as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs”, as well as atrocities around Davao, in the southern island of Mindanao, when he was the city’s vice mayor.

Following a three-year “preliminary examination” of the alleged crimes, the prosecutor sought permission in June to proceed with a more formal investigation, arguing that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation”, adding that the killings can be viewed “neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation”.…  Seguir leyendo »

The flag of the newly created Bangsamoro autonomous region. Credit Wikipedia Commons

Two years into the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the peace process that put an end to decades of war in the Southern Philippines may be running into a rough patch.

Leading the interim government, the former rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are making headway in building up the new entity’s institutions and passing key legislation ahead of the new region’s first elections, due in 2022, but delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic now threaten to push that important deadline. Another key element of the 2014 peace deal between the rebels and the Philippines government is also languishing: the so-called “normalization process,” an ambitious combination of measures that aim to demobilize Moro Muslim fighters, transform their camps into peaceful and productive communities, establish a transitional justice process, and carry out a series of confidence-building initiatives.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangsamoro’s Potential for Regional Gains

The recently established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) offers new hope for a peaceful future for its majority-Muslim population after decades of war. The new entity is the result of almost two dozen years of talks, and the peace agreements it was built on are inclusive pacts that aim to take into account the Bangsamoro’s complexity while focusing on giving its population a long-awaited peace dividend.

Yet from the start, the Bangsamoro was also rooted in a trans-regional reality, shaped by geography just as much as by the tides of war, peace, and everything in between. The various Muslim ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao making up the Bangsamoro share several cultural, religious, and linguistic characteristics with the populations of neighboring Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.…  Seguir leyendo »

Descubriendo el Códice Boxer

El 27 de septiembre de 1940, la Luftwaffe lanzó veintidós bombas sobre el palacio de lord Ilchester en Londres. Siete años más tarde, los libros y códices que sobrevivieron al incendio resultante salieron a subasta. Charles R. Boxer (1904-2000), espía e historiador británico, adquirió la joya de la colección: un misterioso códice de Manila de finales del siglo XVI. Aunque dio cuenta del hallazgo en un artículo de 1950, el manuscrito no fue publicado hasta 2016. Fue entonces cuando lo leí, aunque no percibí toda su importancia. El recién publicado volumen de Manel Ollé y Joan Pau Rubiés (El Códice Boxer: Etnografía colonial e hibridismo cultural en las islas Filipinas) me ha abierto los ojos.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump toasts with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at a summit dinner in Manila on Nov. 12, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

This weekend, crowds danced in the streets of U.S. cities to mark the end of the Trump era and the start of democratic restoration.

I’ve danced on the streets before, but I do so now with caution. I know from my home country, the Philippines, that the spell of authoritarianism is not so easily broken. The rite of voting does not suffice to exorcise its demons.

In 1986, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos called an election, a cynical ploy to prove to his American patrons he still had popular support. He thought he could bribe and bully his way to victory at the polls as he had done in the past, but after 20 years of plunder and abuse, Filipinos could no longer be bought or cowed.…  Seguir leyendo »

On 24 August, two explosions in Jolo, a city in Sulu province in the southern Philippines, killed 15 and injured 74—a chilling case of déjà vu in a region that has suffered repeated attacks in recent years. The incident set alarm bells ringing in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) about the resurgence of violence. The explosions also reheated familiar media tropes of Islamic State’s perseverance amid the coronavirus pandemic and seemingly ceaseless lawlessness. But it’s important to move beyond this narrative to grasp the structural foundations of the turmoil Sulu finds itself in.

While some details remain murky, initial information put forward by authorities suggests that the perpetrators may be linked to Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a key figure in the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)—a loose collection of small networks in the Sulu archipelago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rappler chief executive and executive editor Maria Ressa during a news conference in Manila on Monday. (Aaron Favila/AP)

On Monday, a court in Manila convicted Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa of something called “cyber libel.” Her case will have severe ramifications for press freedom not only in South Asia but around the world.

“Today a court in the Philippines became complicit in a sinister action to silence a journalist for exposing corruption and abuse,” Amal Clooney, Ressa’s London-based lawyer, said in a statement with co-counsel Caoilfhionn Gallagher. “This conviction is an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press, and a blow to democracy in the Philippines.”

Clooney also called on the U.S. government to “take action to protect their citizen and the values of their Constitution.”…  Seguir leyendo »

At a time of crisis, reporting the truth is more important than ever. Information about the coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic could have saved thousands of lives. The publication of a video showing police brutality may accelerate racial justice around the world. But, increasingly, we see false information proliferating while honest reporting is being suppressed — leaving people in the dark and democracy on the line.

Data gathered in the past few years shows more journalists being imprisoned for their work than at any time since records began. And on Monday we will know the verdict in one of the most brazen and consequential cases of the decade.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protestors raise placards calling on legislators to scrap a proposed anti-terrorism bill in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, on June 4. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread around the world, the Philippines is marching in lockstep with the United States and Brazil, fellow struggling democracies that are heading toward the edge of disaster. After dragging his feet during the initial phases of covid-19 — going as far as stating “there is nothing really to be extra scared of that coronavirus thing” in a Feb. 3 briefing — President Rodrigo Duterte has now fast-tracked a controversial anti-terrorism bill through the Philippine House of Representatives. The bill, which received overwhelming support within the lower chamber, will be approved pending Duterte’s signature.

The timing of the bill has left human rights groups nothing short of skeptical.…  Seguir leyendo »

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has built his regime on fear and repression, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that his response to the Covid-19 crisis is following the same script. Unless there is a sharp change of direction, the results of this military-driven approach will be disastrous for the Filipino people.

I have taken a particular interest in the situation in the Philippines in my role as an expert on US arms transfer policy, because I am interested in the consequences of US weapons sales to repressive regimes. The Duterte government is high on that list. Duterte's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic raises further questions about the nature of his regime and the wisdom of continuing to arm his military and police forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Duterte (left) with the Philippines’ armed forces chief of staff, Lieutenant General Noel Clement. Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, decided to terminate a prominent and unpopular military agreement with the US in early February. The move came as a direct response to Washington’s invocation of the American Magnitsky Act, which gives the US government the power to impose visa and financial sanctions on human rights abusers around the world.

But Duterte is using it as a pretext to push the Philippines, which is battling an ongoing series of insurgencies, closer to China.

Duterte’s “drug war” has killed over 20,000 people (nobody knows the true extent). In January, the US triggered the Magnitsky Act over the violence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Leila de Lima, center, after her arrest in 2017. Credit Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since taking office just over three years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte has not only overseen a murderous campaign on drug users and sellers. He has also unleashed a brazen assault on the country’s democratic institutions — at times, using his so-called war on drugs as a pretense for going after his political adversaries and dissenters.

I should know: I’m one of its victims. I am writing this essay from a prison cell in Camp Crame, the national Police Headquarters in Manila. I have spent the past two years here, after being arrested on fabricated drug-trafficking charges. But the only crime I committed was to use my platform as a senator to oppose the brutality of this administration’s campaign against drugs.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Philippines Just Became More Authoritarian, Thanks to the People

Filipinos have just gone through another election, apparently unchastened by a past too ignoble, too repetitive and too recent to be forgotten: They endorsed the repressive presidency of Rodrigo Duterte by voting in all of his candidates to the Senate.

Half of the Senate’s 24 seats were up in midterm elections last week, and all, the election commission announced Wednesday, have gone to Duterte supporters. It was a sweep — and the freshest baffling evidence that Mr. Duterte’s repressive regime and growing authoritarianism have not put a dent in his popularity.

For decades, Filipinos have time and again brought on themselves leaders who promised quick reforms but ended up exploiting them.…  Seguir leyendo »

A PLA Navy fleet takes part in a review in the South China Sea on 12 April. Photo: Getty Images.

On 12 July 2016, an independent arbitral tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) published a clear and binding ruling on China’s claims vis-à-vis the Philippines in the South China Sea. China’s response at the time was to dismiss the ruling as ‘nothing more than a piece of waste paper’.

Interestingly, in the two years since then it has, in some small ways, complied with it. However, it is also clear that China’s behaviour in the South China Sea has not fundamentally changed. It is, in effect, using military force to try to extort concessions from its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los invasores chinos de Filipinas

Así es como describió Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar los planes de rehabilitación de Marawi, la capital de la provincia de Lanao del Sur en la isla filipina de Mindanao, un año después de que el Grupo Maute, también conocido como el Estado Islámico de Lanao, lanzara un ataque a la ciudad el 23 de mayo de 2017. La batalla de 5 meses que le siguió mató a más de 1000 personas y causó el desplazamiento de otras 360 000.

El pueblo de Marawi, llamado maranaos, es muy independiente. Como el resto de los moros (como son conocidos los musulmanes de Mindanao), los maranaos (o “Gente del Lago”, pues han construido sus vidas y hogares en la orilla del Lago Lanao) nunca fue conquistado o colonizado por los españoles, los estadounidenses ni los japoneses, a diferencia de otros filipinos de las regiones de Luzón y las islas Bisayas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hundreds marched in support of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on May 11 in Manila. (Bullit Marquez/AP)

The recent decision by our Supreme Court to remove a sitting chief justice — whom President Rodrigo Duterte had declared his “enemy” — is nothing short of chilling. With one swift move, the high tribunal has succumbed to executive overreach, surrendered its judicial independence and reneged on its very duty to defend the constitution.

Our constitution is clear: The best way to hold accountable and remove high-ranking government officials is through the process of impeachment, in which the House of Representatives initiates all cases of impeachment and the Senate is convened as a court. With this ruling, our system of checks and balances has been seriously undermined and now tilts heavily in favor of Duterte.…  Seguir leyendo »

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reviews an honor guard at the Bureau of Customs in Manila on Feb. 6, 2018. (Mark R. Cristino/European Pressphoto Agency)

In what could be the beginning of the trial of the century, the International Criminal Court has initiated a preliminary probe into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The prime target is no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a bloody campaign against suspected drug dealers since his ascent to power in 2016. Almost overnight, the Southeast Asian country transformed from a “bastion of human rights and democracy” into potentially the latest member of an exclusive club of nations that have seen their leaders prosecuted for crimes against humanity. In response, Duterte has called to withdraw his country’s membership to the international body, which would make the Philippines only the second nation, after Burundi, to withdraw.…  Seguir leyendo »

A policeman in Manila investigates the scene where the body of an alleged drug user lies after being killed by unidentified assailants on 8 December 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

After winning a landslide victory in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines immediately fulfilled a campaign promise and instigated a so-called ‘war on drugs.’ He publicly endorsed the arrest and killing of suspected drug users and sellers, even going so far as to promise the police there would be no repercussions for their actions.

International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have documented that 3,906 suspected drug users and dealers died at the hands of the police from 1 July 2016 to 26 September 2017 while unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester covered his mouth with tape on Wednesday during a protest for press freedom in Manila. (Rolex dela Pena/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has never gotten along with the press. Three media companies have incurred his particular ire: the ABS-CBN television and radio network, the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, and the news website Rappler. At one time or another, each has offended Duterte by reporting on his ongoing drug war, his personal finances, or even his personal history. He has denounced all three outlets during his trademark vitriolic speeches.

On January 11, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission issued a decision, declaring that Rappler had violated the Philippine Constitution’s requirement of 100 percent Filipino ownership for media companies.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law — for a second time — in his home region of Mindanao. Two days later, Congress did just that. Mindanao is a restive southern province and home to 94 percent of the country’s Muslim population. Martial law is part of Duterte’s plan to ensure the “total eradication” of Islamist extremists — but this approach can backfire. Here’s why.

Why did Duterte first declare martial law?

In May, Duterte declared 60 days of martial law after security forces raided a suspected terrorist hideout. The raid was a failure: Instead of capturing the leader of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Philippine troops found themselves in a firefight with different Islamists, the Maute group.…  Seguir leyendo »