Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who celebrates two years in power today, recently insisted that police and the military remained free to kill suspected drug users without due process.

His words may have chilled Filipino fugitive Ricardo “Ardot” Parojinog if they reached his prison cell in Taipei, where he awaits a deportation decision that will test the relationship between Taiwan and its southern neighbor.

Last Monday, the director of commercial affairs for the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taipei, Michael Alfred Ignacio, said his country can become “Taiwan’s gateway to Southeast Asia,” touting the expansion of two-way economic and educational exchanges under President Tsai Ing-wen’ (蔡英文)'s New Southbound Policy (NSP).

The NSP has been called a purely “economic” plan by its first director, James Huang (黃志芳), but the policy – a large-scale effort to deepen ties with neighboring states, including the Philippines and a keystone of the Tsai administration's foreign policy – has come under criticism for its failure to work human rights standards into its agreements with partner countries.

“Taiwan should do more due diligence on human rights” when dealing with the Philippines, said Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Whatever mechanisms Taiwan has need to be enforced more robustly now.”


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

A protester pretends to be dead to picture one of the victims of war on drugs of President Rodrigo Duterte during a National Day of Protest outside the Malacanang presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines, Sept. 21, 2017. A note read 'Don't imitate it was mistaken identity.'

Taiwanese authorities arrested Parojinog last month after raiding his hideout in Pingtung County in southern Taiwan. Authorities are processing immigration fraud charges, but Parojinog's case has been turned over to the Philippine National Police and he is scheduled to be deported within weeks. Philippine officials traveled to Taipei in late May to try and expedite the deportation.

Taiwan continues to quietly partner with the Philippines in anti-drug operations. Earlier this month, the Philippines aided Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) in the repatriation of a Taiwanese fugitive accused of smuggling narcotics from China to Taiwan.

In 2017, a U.S. judge refused to deport two Filipinos accused of drug-related crimes to the Philippines, citing concerns they could be executed under Duterte’s drug crackdown. With Parojinog, Taiwan is on the verge of setting its own precedent.

“No Filipino arrested on drug-related cases should be deported back to the Philippines, where the risk of torture and ill-treatment remains high,” said Andrea Giorgetta, director of the Asia desk of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

“We hope that he will be accorded due process, and that he’ll be left unharmed to face the charges against him in a court of law,” added HRW's Conde.

Last week, 38 nations called on Duterte to stop extrajudicial killings and allow international bodies to probe human rights abuses. But as Taiwan has deepened its economic ties with the Philippines, it has shown little inclination to take its own stand.

The dangerous Parojinog precedent

Parojinog, an Ozamiz City councilor, fled to Taiwan and evaded authorities for 10 months before being apprehended in May. The Philippine Inquirer reported that he was “being hunted down for his alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade.”

His older brother, Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parijinog Sr., was killed last year along with his wife and 14 others in a police raid opposing politicians called “highly suspicious” with worrying “implications on democracy.” Duterte critics have long accused the government of using the drug war to silence political opponents.

Parojinog is on a government ‘kill list’ and Duterte has placed a 5 million peso (US$93,165) bounty on his head. Upon deportation, he will be transferred to one of the country’s overcrowded prisons, where the Philippines’ new Bureau of Corrections director has recently encouraged prison guards to kill detained drug offenders.

This “is an extremely worrying development and is emblematic of the Philippines’ disregard for the rule of law and human rights under President Duterte,” said Giorgetta.

Taiwan risks sending Parojinog to a country where rights groups say over 20,000 Filipinos have died in a campaign of extrajudicial killings since Duterte’s inauguration on June 30, 2016.

If the primordial consideration for Taiwan is the need to put in more investment, I think that's going to be a race to the bottom. — Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher for Human Rights Watch

In the United States, Kevin Lo, a staff attorney in the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, successfully blocked the deportation of two Filipino drug offenders by arguing that they were at risk of being added to kill lists should they be deported.

The judge in that case invoked the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT), which forbids states to transport people to a country where they may be tortured.

Taiwan is not a signatory to the CAT. The Philippines is a signatory, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized Duterte for undermining the CAT.

Lo told The News Lens that the CAT “only protects people who can prove that it’s more likely than not that they would be tortured if deported, which is actually a higher standard than for asylum.”

“We certainly hoped immigration judges would recognize the desperate situation faced by people with drug convictions under Duterte’s policies,” said Lo.

Lo and two expert witnesses submitted an evidence packet of over 300 pages. They emphasized that the U.S. hands over conviction documents to the countries to which it deports people.

“For Filipinos with drug convictions, this means the U.S. government explicitly flags for the Duterte administration whether deportees have been drug users, which raises the risk that they are added to kill lists,” said Lo.

In a June 6 press release, Taiwan’s CIB said that it works closely with Philippine authorities to combat crimes, including exchanging intelligence data about drug crime suspects.

“Duterte himself is a popular figure, despite all the international criticism,” said Lo. “As he continues to stay in power, I don't see the incentive for him to rein in the anti-drug campaign, so immigration lawyers will continue seeking protection for their clients who have drug convictions.”

Parojinog remains in custody, where he cannot receive visitors. It is unclear whether attorneys have visited Parojinog, or whether Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau has retained any authority over his case.

A ‘purely economic’ policy?

Ultimately, Taiwan’s growing economic engagement with the Philippines – it became the country’s second-largest foreign direct investor in 2017 – may depend on its willingness to cooperate with Duterte in cases such as Parojinog’s. Duterte has shown impatience with trade partners critical of his administration’s human rights record.

Human rights advocates, however, insist that Taiwan must enforce its own human rights standards in its New Southbound Policy.

“Taiwan is marketing itself as alternative to China, but it’s also playing the same game as these countries,” said Conde. “You would think Taiwan would be more critical of China's engagement in the Philippines. If the primordial consideration for Taiwan is the need to put in more investment, I think that's going to be a race to the bottom.”

Indeed, President Tsai this week called for democratic governments to band together to counter efforts by China and other authoritarian regimes to band together and protect universal values and pressure the Communist Party of China to be a responsible stakeholder in international affairs.

“At what point does Taiwan ignore the human rights situation before this blows up and harms its reputation and relations with other countries in the region?” said Conde. “Taiwan cannot have a business as usual attitude towards the Duterte government, in terms of what's happened in the past few years. It needs to be more proactive. It has to step up its game.”

FIDH's Giorgetta warned that the Philippines, despite its skyrocketing GDP and attractiveness to foreign investors like Taiwan, has a weak legal framework leaving business operations “likely to fuel further abuses, particularly in the area of economic, social, and cultural rights.”

He called for Taiwan to incorporate a human rights dimension in its New Southbound Policy. By doing this, he said, “Taiwan has an exceptional opportunity to show that its trade and investment policies are not harmful to its regional neighbors.”

Read Next: OPINION: Duterte: Destabilizing, Explosive and Popular at Home

Editor: David Green