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Transcript of VP Leni Robredo’s message at the United Nations Narcotics Commission

David Borden, executive director of the DRCNet Foundation, Marco Perduca, former member of the Italian Senate, Chito Gascon, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, Alison Smith, legal counsel and director of International Criminal Justice Program “No Peace Without Justice”, all the other sponsors of this event, ladies and gentlemen, a good day to all of you. We are heartened that the issue of extra judicial killings in the Philippines today is being discussed in an event such as this. To know that the international community’s eyes are on us and to feel that human rights advocates are watching over our country gives us comfort, courage, and hope. It is already February 2017, and the body count due to drug-related killings keeps growing. We are now looking at some very grim statistics: since July last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions. We agree that our people deserve nothing less than a safe environment, so that anyone can walk the streets safely, whether in daylight or at nighttime. But drug abuse should not be treated as one that can be solved with bullets alone. It must be regarded as it truly is: a complex public health issue, linked intimately with poverty and social inequality. As it is, in some areas in Manila where poverty is rampant, residents tell us that communities are rounded up in places like basketball courts, women separated from men, those with tattoos asked to stand in a corner, their belongings searched. People are told that they didn’t have the right to demand for search warrants because they were squatters and did not own the properties on which their houses were built. They told us of the “palit ulo” scheme, which literally means “exchange heads”, where the wife or husband or relative of a person in a so-called drug list will be taken if the person himself could not be found. Some of those who have told us that when there’s crime, they normally go to the police. Now, they don’t know where to turn. Our people feel both hopeless and helpless—a state of mind that we must all take seriously. This is why the Office of the Vice President supports the rehabilitation of drug dependents. You cannot kill addicts and declare the problem solved. The solution is to design the proper health, education, and psychosocial interventions to prevent further drug use and help them transition into a productive member of society. Another challenge is to drum up legal and psychological support for those who may have undergone trauma due to extrajudicial killings. We believe that when the public knows its rights under the Philippine Constitution, when the community is united in this knowledge, our people will be better protected. We must tread carefully on this, however, because in some cases reported to us, those who ask for a search warrant, for instance, have been beaten and physically abused for doing so. We must also demand greater transparency in the government’s war on drugs. Because this is a major, publicly funded campaign, our leaders must be honest about the basis of the drug war. What, exactly, is the scope of the drug problem? Why do numbers about the extent of the problem change as officially reported to the nation by our President inconsistent? We believe that any campaign against illegal drugs must be founded on integrity. The public must ask why no one is being held accountable. The public must be watchful. Around 500 complaints have been filed at the Commission on Human Rights and recommended to the Department of Justice for filing of cases, but until now, seven months into the administration’s drug war, no information has been filed. On top of these, there’s a brewing problem. Death penalty might soon return, and the age of criminal liability might be brought down to nine. We believe this to be a huge mistake because death penalty for non-violent offenses, violate UN treaties and international human rights norms. Last Friday, a day before the EDSA People Power Revolution’s 31st anniversary, we called President Rodrigo Duterte to task on this. In behalf of the Filipino people, whose daily struggles are escalating, we asked him to focus on the war that really matters: the war against poverty instead of just the war against drugs. In a public statement, we asked him to direct the nation towards respect for rule of law, instead of blatant disregard for it. We ask him to uphold basic human rights enshrined in our constitution, instead of encouraging its abuse. We asked him to be the leader he promised to be, and evoke in our people hope and inspiration, instead of fear. We told him: Do not allow the lies to distort the truth. We also asked the Filipino people to defy brazen incursions on their rights. Our people have fought long for our rights and freedoms. The Filipino nation has come so far since our country’s darkest days. We are not about to back down now. Thank you for listening. May you have a fruitful discussion moving forward. The Office of the Vice President is looking forward to deepening this conversation further with you.

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