By Alan Davis
Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project
Any casual observer of Philippine society wanting to know if the government is sincerely committed to improving human rights probably need only to wait and see if retired major general Jovito Palparan becomes strategic adviser to the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).
If it happens, it would suggest, to borrow a phrase from US President Barack Obama’s inauguration address last week, that the Philippine government is sitting ‘on the wrong side of history.’
Without a doubt it would be a backward step. The fact that it is even being seriously discussed says a great deal.
Media reports from late last week have been suggesting the chief reason Malacanang Palace is interested in appointing the general to a strategic position in the DDB is because he can try and apply his ‘experience of counter-insurgency’ against the drug gangs.
What might this mean?
Well, one need only look at the human rights charges leveled against Palparan and what happened in Thailand in 2003 when authorities there similarly declared war on the drug gangs. The military were unleashed and the campaign reportedly resulted in the deaths of an estimated 2,500-3,000 people.
Summary killings were rife and the campaign was roundly and loudly condemned by the international human rights community. Bizarrely, the then government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat announced a similar new anti-drugs campaign late last year in Thailand. His government however fell before it got around implementing the policy.
The Philippines is not Thailand – but there are creeping parallels here –one being the insidious power of the military. This increasingly seems to be a civilian government led by ex-generals as a glance around the cabinet table clearly shows.
Drugs are a curse on Philippine society as they are elsewhere. An effective drugs policy needs to be developed –and that is no easy thing. But we expect government policy to be more than popular vigilantism. We don’t need the kind of justice doled out by the likes of Dirty Harry. If the government is really serious about human rights it will tackle the drug problem through the rule of law, not the barrel of the gun.
Given the claims against Palparan –claims to be fair the general denies– the authorities should not be considering his reappointment to a position of power. As a simple indicator on the government’s commitment to human rights, it says it all.
Alan Davis is the director of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project and a director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting special projects(PinoyPress)