ACTIVIST and other civil society groups said they will hold protest actions in the Philippine capital region on Friday to commemorate International Human Rights Day, just as President Rodrigo R. Duterte participated in a virtual democracy summit hosted by the United States.

In a press conference on Thursday, the groups said the protest will highlight the state of human rights in the country under the current administration, which saw the implementation of a deadly drug war and a counterinsurgency program that facilitated the arrests of activists and other critics.

The groups will come together at the country’s premier state university, located in a city near the capital Manila.

Rights group Karapatan, whose officers have been tagged as communist fronts by government officials, said in an invitation statement that Mr. Duterte’s six-year term has been marked by “systemic and blatant violations of civil and political rights, from the thousands of poor killed in the sham and bloody drug war to the extrajudicial killings and illegal arrests of human rights defenders and activists in the government’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign.”

“We must act now and fight back together to ensure that Duterte is held to account for his crimes,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina E. Palabay.

Mr. Duterte, who has been accused of crimes against humanity by both domestic and international groups for implementing a deadly drug war that has killed thousands, on Thursday participated in a democracy summit hosted by US President Joseph R. Biden.

Ms. Palabay said if the American leader is truly seeking a partnership in working to build democratic and human rights-respecting societies, as he wrote in his invitation to Mr. Duterte, the United States must suspend its billions of security aid to the Philippine police and military and pass the Philippine Human Rights bill proposed by American legislators.

In an interview with the state media, Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje said the President prepared a statement detailing the challenges to Philippine democracy.

“An important part of the speech of the President are the components of democracy which are vital to make democracy stronger,” he said. “I think this is going to be said, in the context, not just of what he’s done during this administration, but working on his mandate to deliver peace and development, safety and security to the people, and in the context of the pandemic, health.”

He said the President was set to state in his speech the importance of a peaceful transition of power in a democracy.

“At the end of it all, what the President is saying is that the Philippines is democratic, Filipinos are democracy-loving people,” he said, “We may continue to have challenges as a democracy, but we’re firmly committed to democratic values.”

The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor recently assured that it would ask the Philippine government to provide proof that it’s investigating its war on drugs that has killed thousands, after the tribunal suspended an initial probe.


Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has started its own independent probe into the killing of a community journalist on Wednesday.

CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann C. De Guia said in a statement on Thursday that the commission condemns the murder of Jesus “Jess” Malabanan in Calbayog City, Samar as it “worsens the climate of impunity” against journalists.

The police said it has mobilized a “task group to coordinate all actions of regional investigative units” to immediately identify and arrest the perpetrator, who shot the victim in the head while watching television inside their retail store.

Mr. Malabanan was a correspondent for the Manila Standard, The Manila Times, Reuters and Bandera.

Journalist Manuel Mogato said Mr. Malabanan was instrumental in the Reuters reports on President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s drug war, which won the Pulitzer Award in 2018.

“I met Jess when he was a defense reporter in the late 1980s and helped me with stories in Pampanga when I was the Reuters political correspondent for 15 years from 2003. Jess helped Reuters a lot in the drug war stories that won a Pulitzer in 2018,” he said in a Facebook post.

Meanwhile, Presidential Task Force on Media Security executive director Joel S. Egco said in a separate statement that they are also already in coordination with the police.

“We will get to the bottom of this and will stop at nothing in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” he said. Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Russell Louis C. Ku