PROGRESSIVE groups, rights activists, and government critics said the exclusion of human rights violations and drug war issues in the previous administration during the first State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was “a very disturbing sign.”

“When there’s eerie silence on these issues, we surmise that there are no significant shifts in the draconian policies of the previous administration. The impact is a more threatening environment that encourages further closing of democratic spaces,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan.

“Marcos finished his speech without any mention of human rights, pursuing peace and fighting corruption. These may not be among the priorities of his government. It is a very disturbing sign,” added Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bayan.

In his speech Monday, July 25, 2022, Marcos focused on the pressing economic issues following the pandemic yet failed to mention the alleged political excesses, his unpaid taxes, and the ill-gotten wealth of his family.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, maintained that Marcos “should demonstrate a serious commitment to human rights in his first State of the Nation Address.”

“President Marcos has a golden opportunity to get the Philippines on the right track by setting out clear priorities and policies to improve human rights in the country,” said Robertson.

“After six years of Duterte’s disastrous ‘drug war’ that killed thousands of people, Marcos needs to make a clean break by showing he is serious about accountability for past human rights violations, as well as preventing abuses in the future,” he added.

In an earlier statement, Robertson urged Marcos “to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.”

Robertson opined that “his nationwide address should be all about how he will protect the rights of all Filipinos, and right past wrongs.”

Meanwhile, the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) vowed they would continue to fight for justice under Marcos, on behalf of the hundreds of Martial Law victims and survivors, Catholic news site Licas.News reported.

“Marcos Jr. cannot claim that he is innocent and is off the hook from being liable on the violations inflicted upon us by his father’s bloody regime,” said Danilo dela Fuente, the group’s vice chairperson.

Citing a report from Amnesty International, Dela Fuente said at least 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 victims of enforced disappearances, and 70,000 incarcerations happened during the Martial Law period.

“The audacity of Marcos Jr. to deny this truth and escape accountability!” said Dela Fuente, a political detainee during the height of dictatorship under Marcos’ father and namesake. (SunStar Philippines)