Rights Groups Urge Taiwan to Suspend Deadly Philippines Drug Deportations

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Why you need to know

Taiwan’s gesture of diplomatic goodwill just set an unnerving precedent that affects over 150,000 Filipinos working legally on the island.

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Angelito Banayo, the Philippines' top envoy to Taipei, thanked Taiwan last week for deporting Ricardo "Ardot" Parojinog, a former city councilor who is suspected of drug trafficking in his home country, in a move that could affect Taiwan's 150,000-strong Filipino population.

Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine police have extrajudicially killed between 4,000 and 20,000 suspected drug traffickers and users, and Duterte insists that the practice of denying drug suspects due process will continue. Taiwan's cooperation thus comes as bad news for any Filipino who is accused of drug crimes by Taiwanese or Philippine authorities, and human rights advocates are deeply worried.

"As a matter of policy, the Taiwanese government should suspend any deportations of Filipinos who have been accused of drug-related offenses in their home country," Andrea Giorgetta, director of the Asia desk of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), told The News Lens.

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Philippine prisons are extremely overcrowded, with almost six inmates to every available bed. Prison guards have been given license to kill detained drug suspects.

In 2017, U.S. federal immigration courts in Hawaii and California blocked the deportations of Filipinos convicted of drug charges when judges said their extraditions, under the Duterte administration, would amount to death sentences, citing the United Nations (UN) Convention Against Torture in the California case.

This standard was not applied to Parojinog, deported to Manila from Taipei on July 27 after serving three months in a Taiwanese prison for immigration fraud.

In response to questions from The News Lens, a National Immigration Agency (NIA) spokesperson said in an emailed statement that foreigners in Taiwan who are found guilty of crimes, including drug offenses, are subject to deportation after a hearing, but may be deported immediately if they do not hold residency status, as stated in Taiwan's National Immigration Act.

This means that Filipinos accused of drug crimes who hold Alien Residence Certificates (ARCs) or other residency documents may receive a fair trial in Taiwanese courts, but are still subject to deportation if they are convicted. Filipinos in Taiwan illegally, as Parojinog was when he fled the Philippines last year and hid from authorities in Pingtung, can be deported without having their case heard by an immigration court. In this case, the Pingtung District Prosecutor's Office asked the Criminal Intelligence Bureau (CIB) to carry out the deportation, according to a CIB spokesperson.

Foreigners convicted of crimes often serve their sentences in Taiwan, but may be extradited should their home country request it, as Philippine authorities did in the Parojinog case. The NIA spokesperson said Taiwan's Ministry of Justice (MoJ) handles extradition policy. At press time, the MoJ had not responded to requests for comment from The News Lens.

There are no formal refugee laws or asylum processes in Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations (UN), should a Filipino want to claim refuge from Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

In the Philippines, prison guards have been encouraged to kill drug suspects, prisons are extremely overcrowded, and the government is considering reintroducing the death penalty for drug convicts. This "makes it imperative that Taipei puts all deportations of alleged drug offenders back to the Philippines on stand by," said Giorgetta.

"It's more fair to keep them here [in Taiwan] and keep them in the justice system rather than sending them back," said Lennon Wong Ying-dah (汪英達) of Taoyuan-based migrant advocacy group Serve the People Association (SPA). "At least here, they have a chance for a fair trial. If they are sent back, they might just be killed without a trial."

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Taiwanese nationals are escorted by Chinese officials after being arrested by the Philippines on suspicion of telecoms fraud and deported to China in April 2018.

Duterte's practices have been repeatedly condemned by advocates, UN officials, and other UN member states. Taiwan, one of East Asia's only democracies, has remained silent, leading some to wonder whether it is prioritizing trade and robust diplomatic relations over its own commitment to human rights.

Banayo, speaking to CNA, took the opportunity to apologize for deporting 78 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China in April, saying the Philippines was obliged to comply with an Interpol Red Alert, which is a request by a member country or international tribunal to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition. Since then, Taiwan and the Philippines have cooperated to repatriate a Taiwanese drug suspect before working together on the Parojinog case, moves which representatives from both countries characterized as strengthening common crime-fighting ties.

Governments that share information with the Philippines on drug accusations leveled in any country put suspects at risk should they be deported there, a defense lawyer in the 2017 California case told The News Lens in June, as Philippine police are given advance knowledge that the deportees can be targeted and may add them to kill lists.

Is Taiwan endorsing an administration which denies due process to its drug suspects? At present, it gives 150,000 resident Filipinos in Taiwan no clear assurances that they will be spared deportation should they commit, or be accused of, drug crimes.

In the same CNA interview, Banayo touted the opportunities created for the Philippines by Taiwan's New Southbound Policy, launched by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in May 2016, saying regional neighbors must work together in a time of global economic turbulence. Taiwan was the second-largest foreign direct investor in the Philippines in 2017, trailing only Japan.

However, the budding relationship may tarnish Taiwan's human rights record. Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde told The News Lens in June that, if Taiwanese attempts to compete economically with China in ASEAN markets while neglecting rights concerns, it would be "a race to the bottom."

Parojinog came to Taiwan after a July 2017 police raid killed three of his siblings, including Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, and 11 others at his family's residence in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Police said they executed a search warrant and found weapons and amphetamines at the residence. However, irregularities cropped up immediately, according to HRW's Asia Deputy Director Phelim Kine, who wrote at the time that skepticism of the raid coalesced with evidence of "unlawful police conduct designed to paint a veneer of legality over extrajudicial executions."

The Parojinogs, including Ricardo Parojinog, were on a "narco list" published by Duterte's office which names suspected high-profile drug traffickers. Leading Philippine online news outlet Rappler has repeatedly questioned the validity and methodology of the list, showing that some listed names are incorrect. In the first week of July, two mayors and a city vice-mayor were killed. Two of the three victims were on Duterte's narco list. The first, Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili, had denied involvement in the drug trade before being shot dead by a sniper at a flag-raising ceremony.

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Loved ones cry in front of a coffin of Arjay Suldao, 16, before his funeral. Local media reported that he was killed by unknown assailants in an attack related to the drug war.

By sending Parojinog back to the Philippines, is Taiwan endorsing an administration which denies due process to its drug suspects? At present, it gives 150,000 resident Filipinos in Taiwan no clear assurances that they will be spared deportation should they commit, or be accused of, drug crimes. The citizenship process for long-term residents remains arduous, as Filipinos must renounce their own citizenship to be naturalized by Taiwan.

Filipinos in Taiwan who face drug accusations are thus subject to the mechanisms of immigration policy – and, perhaps, this administration's desire to bolster economic ties with its southern neighbor. This leaves advocates concerned that Filipinos with any connection to drugs are one step away from returning involuntarily to a country in which their survival is far from certain.

"Given the high risk of torture, ill-treatment, and possible extrajudicial killing that alleged drug offenders face in the Philippines," said Giorgetta, "Taiwanese authorities should refrain from deporting them there until basic human rights safeguards, including the right to a fair trial, are fully reinstated and guaranteed."

Read Next: Taiwan's New Southbound Push Risks Duterte Drug War Complicity

Editor: David Green

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