By David Borden
On Thursday March 16th our international drug policy work took a new turn, when we presented “Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War,” a side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. The event addressed the situation in the Philippines, in which the new president of the country, former Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, entered office last summer promising to slaughter large numbers of purported drug suspects. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the Philippines at the time of this writing, by police or vigilantes.
Our session unexpectedly drew high-level political interest, and Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, opposition leader and a critic of the killings, recorded a video to be presented there. The video and event were covered by TIME as part of being made public (one article featuring the video then another interviewing Robredo), and the news wire services Reuters and Agence France Press published articles, as did numerous outlets in the Philippines. At the time of this writing the video has garnered over 167,000 views.
Other speakers at the event included the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Chito Gascon; former prime minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva (also by video), the Chair of our partner group the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats; and experts on international criminal justice.
Unfortunately, allies of Pres. Duterte as well as other rivals of Vice President Robredo seized on the video to attack her politically, claiming that the video constituted a “betrayal of the public trust” that she should be impeached for. Political figures including the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president’s spokesperson claimed falsely the video’s release was timed to coincide with the filing by a member of Congress of an impeachment complaint against the president.
On the same day as the session, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to the killings and for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima, another prominent critic of the killings who has been jailed on charges that are widely viewed as unsupported. The critics of the vice president, which include Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator who lost by a narrow margin to Robredo in the vice-presidential election and is challenging it in court, have charged that Robredo was behind all three events and is engaged in a “destabilization campaign” against the Duterte government to make herself president.
By the time the actual session took place, it was already controversial, and the heated political conflict the video prompted has raged in the Philippine media during weeks since then, only now possibly slowing down. A Google News search on “Robredo” turns up dozens of articles about it, most of them mentioning the video and our UN event. We’ve been able to play a helpful role at times — the Philippine Daily Inquirer published an article this week which primarily featured an interview with our executive director (Group Say Duterte, Not Robredo, Upsetting Int’l Community), shared over 7,600 times according to the newspaper’s web site, and several outlets including CNN Philippines published a statement we issued clarifying that the video’s release was not related to the impeachment complaint against the president.
We have full footage from the event prepared, which we are shopping around to major media outlets before posting, but which we hope to make public by next week. We hope that seeing footage from the actual event will help to turn the discussion in the Philippines back to what’s important: the extrajudicial killings and other abuses in the president’s drug war, and the failure of the drug in the Philippines, US and elsewhere.
In the meanwhile, you can help by circulating the vice president’s powerful video message on your networks. If you have a web site, you can post an embedded copy of the YouTube video, or you can post it to your social media pages. (When posting to Facebook, we recommend you use this Facebook copy, as we’ve heard that Facebook deprioritizes YouTube videos.
Here is the event flyer. And here is Vice President Robredo’s video: