JAKARTA – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a senior United Nations official based in the Philippines, is refusing to leave her homeland despite a legal petition by the government to designate her and about 600 others as terrorists.
Tauli-Corpuz, appointed the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2014, said in a telephone interview that “of course I am concerned” about the government’s list, which was filed by the justice ministry in court in Manila on February 21, but was adamant that she would not flee overseas.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 an estimated 12,000 people have been killed as part of a state-sanctioned campaign against drugs that critics say is rife with extrajudicial shootings and impunity for police excesses. Duterte said before he was elected that he would fill Manila Bay with corpses of drug peddlers.
Tauli-Corpuz said that the attempt to brand her and hundreds of others as terrorists could, in such a climate, act as a green light for would-be assassins. “There are parallels between what has happened on the drugs war and the drawing up of this list,” she said.
Some political opponents of the president, notably the outspoken senator Leila de Lima, have been jailed. Tauli-Corpuz sees echoes of de Lima’s travails in her own case. “It is a harassment of those who are critical of the creeping fascism we have seen from the administration here,” she said of the list.
Tauli-Corpuz rejected the government’s allegation that she is a member of the New People’s Army, a communist militia that has sustained a long running insurgency in rural areas. Duterte came to office pledging to forge a peace deal with the NPA, but those talks have broken down and the government now wants the NPA listed as a terrorist group. Tauli-Corpuz has spoken up for ethnic minorities living in areas where the NPA is active.
The attempt to blacklist Tauli-Corpuz last week prompted another round in the Philippine government’s seemingly-endless verbal jousting with international organisations. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the UN’s leading human rights official, said on March 9 that Duterte should see a psychiatrist, a suggestion that Duterte’s foreign minister Alan Peter Cayetano labelled “irresponsible” and an insult to the Philippines.
In the meantime Duterte suggested that any visiting officials from the International Criminal Court, a UN body, should be fed to crocodiles and earlier described another UN official who had criticised the “war on drugs” as “undernourished.”
Tauli-Corpuz said that al Hussein was responding to Duterte’s series of “crass” comments about the UN and others. Among Duterte’s targets have been former US President Barack Obama, and, incredibly perhaps, given the strength of the Catholic Church in the country, Pope Francis, with both men branded separately as a “son of a bitch” by the president.Show