A review of President Rodrigo Duterte's fourth year in office included a damning United Nations Human Rights Council report on widespread extrajudicial killings, the passage of a widely contested anti-terrorism legislation and a bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Philippines, the head of state holds office for a six-year term but is barred from running for reelection.
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council chief Michelle Bachelet released a report that characterized Duterte's rule as "heavy handed," which resulted in killings that are "widespread, systematic and on-going."
"Laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights. This has resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detention and vilification of those who challenge these severe human right violations," said Bachelet, who presented the report findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
Citing open source documents, media reports and testimonials from victims and their families, the report detailed how extrajudicial killings were carried out with near impunity.
Police operations and vigilante killings
Since Duterte was elected to the presidency in 2016, more than 27,000 suspected drug peddlers have been killed in a mix of police operations and vigilante killings. Additionally, almost 250 human rights defenders — including unionists, lawyers, journalists and environmental rights defenders — have been killed.
Responding to the report findings through a video message played during the UN session, Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the Philippines had set up an inter-agency panel that would investigate the claims of extrajudicial killings and "judiciously review" the more than 5,600 police operations where deaths occurred.
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights watchdog Karapatan, is skeptical of Guevarra's claim. "We have been on this road before. Task forces and commissions were created but do not deliver justice and accountability. These were used as tools for whitewashing," said Palabay in a statement.
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Bernard Banac denied the claim of widespread killings.
Citing police data, Banac said that since the start of the state's crackdown on illegal narcotics, police arrested more than 330,000 suspected drug users while 7,673 died in shootouts with law enforcement.
"One death for every 43 arrests does not add up to widespread killing. Rather, it implies the real intention of law enforcement to arrest the offender and uphold the law," Banac told DW.