Two of the five presidential candidates in the Philippines, Mar Roxas and Miriam Defensor Santiago, responded to a questionnaire on key human rights issues facing the country, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing the responses. Topics covered include accountability for abuses by state security forces, ending torture, indigenous peoples’ rights, killings of journalists, HIV/AIDS, and internal displacement. The presidential election is scheduled for May 9, 2016.
All candidates should take a stand on human rights in the campaign’s remaining days, Human Rights Watch said.
“Human rights are critically important in the Philippines so it’s important to learn what the candidates have to say about them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The candidates who responded to the questionnaire are helping Filipino voters better understand the country’s problems, and the steps that can be taken to address them.”
Human Rights Watch sent the human rights questionnaire to all five presidential campaigns on March 21 and sought responses by April 15, a deadline that was extended to April 21. The questionnaire contained 10 questions.
The campaigns of Roxas and Santiago submitted completed questionnaires by April 15. No response was received from the other three candidates: Jejomar Binay, Rodrigo Duterte, and Grace Poe.
“Human rights and justice go to the heart of how a government should be run,” said Adams.
Human rights have not figured prominently in the media coverage of the campaign or in two of the three presidential debates held so far. Much of the discussion thus far has focused on allegations that Duterte, as mayor of Davao City, was complicit in the operations of the so-called Davao Death Squad, which is linked to hundreds of killings of suspected criminals.
Term limits in the Philippine constitution bar the current president, Benigno Aquino III, from re-election. Aquino has presided over some positive developments on human rights, such as the passage of a reproductive health law. However, impunity persists for extrajudicial killings and torture linked to elements of the military and the police. Killings of journalists continue. Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups forced to flee their homes because of fighting between government forces and insurgent groups have received inadequate assistance.
“The presidential candidates should make their positions and plans for protecting human rights clear,” Adams said. “Filipino voters should go to the polls with full knowledge of their prospective leaders’ positions on these life-and-death issues.