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, Father 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.
Rodrigo Duterte told his police last 16 August 2017 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 said.
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, a teenager, was one of those who recently sought refuge and protection in the Preda home for boys. He was frightened because he was tagged as a drug dependent, scared that he would be killed by a vigilante group or by the police.
Preda has sheltered and protected hundreds of youth whose rights have been violated. It has rescued them from horrid jail cells and from the streets and dangerous situations. More young people are being targeted by death squads. As many as 54 children have been killed.
The blatant killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos in August this year ignited public anger. Another 14-year old youth and his companion, aged 19, were found dead, victims of extrajudicial killing.
Seventy percent of the people interviewed in a Social Weather Stations poll said they fear that they, their relatives or friends may also be targetted by death squads. Most Filipinos believe that only the poor are being killed for using a few grams of “shabu,” an illegal drug. Others are killed for bounty.
The wave of street protests by thousands of Filipinos against the killings has indicated that the silent majority has found a voice and is against the killings and human rights violations. There appears to be a greater public awareness of moral values when the rule of law is at stake. Even the media has spoke out against human rights violations.
The Catholic Church has also found its voice through a few outspoken leaders like Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan.
The archbishop has offered, and is offering protection to policemen who had been involved in extrajudicial killings.
But the President remains adamant in his campaign. Recently he was quoted to have said: “I tell you, I will triple it. ‘Pag hindi nasunod ang gusto ko (If my desire is not followed, to get rid of my country (of the drug problem), you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more (deaths).”
During his campaign for the presidency, he said 100,000 people would die when he launches his war on drugs and crime. The police in response intensified their campaign against illegal drugs and at one time, killed as many as 32 suspects were in a single night in Bulacan province. The same thing happened in Metro Manila, where 26 people were killed in drug operations in 48 hours.
President Rodrigo Duterte cheered. “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 said.
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 defend the poor and the vulnerable.