By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – As President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. looks forward to a “Bagong Pilipinas” (New Philippines) through the collective effort and cooperation of Filipinos, he continues to advocate for peace, unity, and reconciliation in pursuit of the nation’s progress and development.

 The situation of human rights in the country significantly improved under the Marcos administration, considering its several accomplishments in providing equal and fair opportunities for all Filipinos.

 International watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) even observed the improving state of human rights in the country, citing Marcos’ “stark contrast to the unabashedly anti-rights positions” of his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte.

 “In several international forums, Marcos has affirmed his administration’s commitment to human rights. The government has likewise begun engaging more openly with international actors, for example, by inviting UN (United Nations) human rights experts to the country,” HRW said in its World Report 2024 for the Philippines released on Jan. 11.

Recalibrated drug war

 Duterte’s drug war, which earned public criticism and outrage because of thousands of people killed since it was launched, was recalibrated when Marcos assumed office in June 2022, focusing on the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users.

 As of December last year, around 23 provinces, 447 municipalities and 43 cities have established their respective community-based drug rehabilitation programs through the consolidated efforts of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

 To prove that the anti-narcotics campaign of the Marcos administration spares no one, around 177 PNP officers in Metro Manila alone have been slapped with drug-related cases because of planting of evidence, unlawful arrest, and excessive violence.

On top of this, around 65 of 985 police officers who have also been dismissed from office from July 1, 2022 to Jan. 3, 2024 were positive for using illegal drugs while 43 were involved in illegal drugs.

Peace efforts, amnesty

Marcos also issued four proclamations in November last year granting amnesty to former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB).

The granting of amnesty is part of his administration’s comprehensive peace initiatives to encourage rebels to reintegrate into mainstream society.

To date, a total of 26,145 former MILF combatants have also been decommissioned and are now living as civilians in communities.

The decommissioning process, which involves the laying down of arms and return of former combatants to the fold of law, is a key component of the normalization program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The seven intergovernmental mechanisms to achieve peace and progress in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are also working in full swing. These include the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum; Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board; Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation; Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board; Intergovernmental Energy Board; Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board; and the Council of Leaders.

The government’s intensified campaign against insurgency also resulted in the dismantling of all NPA guerilla fronts in the country, while the national government in November last year agreed to a “principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict” with the communist group’s political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

In a joint statement issued on Nov. 23, 2023, the Philippine government and the NDF acknowledged the need “to unite as a nation in order to urgently address these challenges and resolve the reasons for the armed conflict.”

Press freedom, rights

The Marcos administration also remains committed to upholding the Philippine media’s freedom of speech and expression, with the Presidential Task Force of Media Security (PTFoMS) taking the lead in ensuring that media workers’ rights are protected.

The PTFoMS is working relentlessly to address the problems besetting the Philippine press, including the cases of killings of media personalities.

The PTFoMS guarantees that press freedom is “alive and vibrant” under Marcos’ leadership.

Gender equality

In an effort to promote gender equality and stop discrimination in the country, Marcos also issued Executive Order (EO) 51 on Dec. 22, 2023 to create a special committee on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and more (LGBTQIA+) affairs.

The creation of a Special Committee on LGBTQIA+ Affairs under the Inter-Agency Committee aims to strengthen existing mechanisms to address the continued discrimination being experienced by the members of the community, according to EO 51.

The issuance of the EO will also provide the LGBTQIA+ members an avenue to participate in policy formulation of the government, despite the absence of an established body specifically dedicated to promote their rights and address their concerns. (PNA)