The German Bundestag Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development led by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Dr. Bärbel Kofler, nominated last February the work done by the Preda Foundation, Rev. Shay Cullen and his team for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. It can only now be made public.
The prestigious nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by such a distinguished parliamentary group highlights the work of the Preda Foundation and hundreds of Filipino human rights advocates working in seriously deteriorating conditions of human rights violations. It is a dangerous and risky work by hundreds of courageous Filipinos defending the helpless victims.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte told his police on August 16 to “shoot those who are part of (drug activity). If they are (members of human rights organizations) and are obstructing justice, shoot them,” he ordered. He also said that human rights organizations could possibly face criminal investigation for criticizing his anti-drug campaign. “One of these days, you human rights groups, I will also investigate you, that’s the truth, for conspiracy,” he told the media. In December 2016 he also threatened to kill human rights defenders.
Despite these dire warnings, the advocates continued standing up, marching, writing and speaking out for the rule of law and human dignity. The nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, while given to one, is for all. It is a signal of solidarity and support for all the human rights advocates.
Anton is a teenager that recently sought refuge and protection in the Preda home for boys. He feared that he was tagged as a drug dependent and frightened that he would be killed by a vigilante group or by the police. Preda has sheltered and protected hundreds of youth from violations of their rights by rescuing them from horrid dangerous jail cells and from the streets and dangerous situations. More young people are being targeted by the death squads and as many as 54 children have been killed already. The total estimated number dead is at 12,700 since May 2016.
The blatant killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos in August ignited a outpouring of anger and rage among Filipinos and now 60 percent of the people polled say that they believe only the poor are being killed. Another 14-year old youth and his 19-year-old companion were found dead, their faces wrapped in plastic tape: the marks of extrajudicial killing.
Seventy percent of the people interviewed in a SWS poll said that they fear the death squads might target their relatives or neighbors. Most of the accused are the very poor and killed for abusing a few grams of “shabu,” an illegal drug. Others are killed for a bounty payment. This has thrown the spotlight on the recent Senate investigations on the smuggling into the Philippines of large quantities of crystal-meth drugs, commonly known as “shabu” by a Davao group to which the son of the president has been linked. The president said that he would resign if the allegations were proven and he would kill his son if he was proven to be using illegal drugs.
The wave of street protests by thousands of Filipinos against the killings has indicated that the silent majority of Filipinos is finding a voice and is against the killings and the human rights violations. The human rights advocates’ hard work is showing results in greater public awareness of the moral values and rule of law values at stake. Some of the supportive media is also speaking out against the human rights violations.
The Catholic Church is finding its voice too through a few outspoken leaders like Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan where many youth have been killed. The archbishop is offering protection to police who would confess in public their involvement in the killings and violations of human rights by the extrajudicial killings of innocent people.
But despite this, President Duterte is adamant in his campaign. “I tell you, I will triple it. ‘Pag hindi nasunod ang gusto ko, to get rid of my country (of the drug problem), you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more (deaths),” Duterte said in Davao City after his return from an official visit to Japan according to media reports. During his campaign for the presidency, he said 100,000 people would die when he would launch his war on crime. Then in response, a police operation that identifies suspects was intensified and as many as 32 suspects were killed in a single night in Bulacan province and in Metro Manila, within the same 48 hours, another 26 people were killed. President Duterte said it was a good operation. “Thirty-two were killed in a massive raid in Bulacan. That is good. If we could kill 32 every day, then maybe we could reduce what ails this country,” he told the media in an interview.
These are dark and difficult days for those defending the rights of the people targeted by the death squads that seem to operate with official protection. Some are police in civilian clothes, according to some researches. It is in this atmosphere that the German Commissioner Dr. Bärbel Kofler and the German Bundestag committee signed the letter of nomination. It is important to have international support and encouragement to continue the struggle and defense of the poor and the vulnerable.
Fr. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA: a nonprofit that seeks to protect children.