Twenty-twenty’s final stretch gave us an incendiary video of policeman Jonel Nuezca’s easy act of shooting to death a mother and her son in an argument sparked by a firecracker. Just like that, two lives huffed out by a madman’s temper, the tragedy of which reached heights by the casualness of the act. Nuezca’s body language showed of one who doesn’t have accountability in mind, not even before the eyes of his own daughter, not even while he perfectly knew cameras were pointing at him.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) tried to spin it as “an isolated case,” but the public only saw it as symptomatic of a culture emboldened by persistent and public pronouncements of a President who makes killing sound routine in the Filipino life. No small help by the man’s open scorn to notions of human rights.
The Nuezca video, however, wasn’t something anyone could wish to be routine in any person’s life. Thank, God, we still had that automatic sensation of terror knowing that it was real life taking place, and not some Hollywood montage rolling. We were still, at our very core, human beings, humane, sensitive, outraged by any form of atrocity.
The Nuezca incident may be mere trailer of what could be a swelling narrative of abuse of power and disregard for human rights by our supposed custodians of the law. Between what the State assures and ground realities is a gulf of difference. The Filipino must be worried sick.
Despite the Philippine Government’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute on March 17, 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) retains its jurisdiction for crimes committed before the pullout. Still in the last month of 2020, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor revealed that there is “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity have been the ugly twin in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.
Rights groups in the Philippines say there is a “ray of hope” in the Philippines’ rights situation. And we do share the same hope for 2021—that a serious rights discussion and call for accountability must be brought to light this year, a crucial lead-up to next year’s national and local elections. If the enablers of these abuses stay unscathed, we will be looking at even dire consequences in the coming years, some Nuezca-like sequel, but in darker, more sinister modes. Violence have lumped drug addicts, terrorists, activists and journalists almost into a single entity—in the free season of Tokhang and red-tagging.
But 2020, however, showed not a few beacons to signal hope for rights defenders. Twenty-seven European Union member nations in early December agreed on a law that empowers the bloc to punish human rights violators all over the world, apparently an answer to the United States Magnitsky Act and, perhaps, in anticipation to the Joe Biden presidency. The bloc can cancel travel privileges of rights offenders and EU banks can freeze assets. It can also impose trade sanctions on countries whose governments are found to violate human rights.
Still into the final stretch of 2020, the US P2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending law provided for a sanction against foreign government officials who oppress journalists. An explanatory statement from the US legislators said, thus: “The Secretary of State shall apply subsection ( c) to foreign government officials involved in threatening, wrongfully imprisoning, or otherwise depriving of liberty independent journalists who speak out or publish about official corruption or other abuses, including Maria Ressa in the Philippines and El Faro in El Salvador.”
So we have all these developments as we welcome the New Year, hopefully a year to push back against assaults on otherwise non-negotiable, universal and basic human rights.