Using Trump-speak at UNHR review

Ally of Rodrigo Duterte employs Trump-speak to deny that the President’s policy [on his ‘war on drugs’] has resulted in more than 7,000 being killed by death squads and vigilantes.”

Thus says the feisty Guardian, a leading British newspaper, in reporting online about Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano’s statement last Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Cayetano spoke at the presentation of the Philippine government report on the state of human rights in the country, submitted to the UN body for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The UPR is a process done every four years for a group of countries (the first cycle for the Philippines was in May 2008, the second in May 2012). The report covers the last four years of the Aquino administration and first 10 months of the Duterte government.

The Guardian took issue with Cayetano’s characterization of the government report as constituting the “true facts and real numbers, instead of alternative facts” which the senator attributed to Duterte’s critics and which have then been allegedly “used, accepted and repeated by some in the western media.”

Specifically, Cayetano blamed the “Commission on Human Rights, a senator [probably alluding to Leila de Lima] and some local media” for allegedly deceiving the public and foreign media into believing that there has been a “sudden wave of state-sponsored extrajudicial killings [EJKs] in the Philippines.” He also blamed the critics for allegedly changing the definition of EJKs to project that impression.

Under the previous administration, he claimed, Administrative Order No. 35 defined EJKs as the killing of the members or advocates of cause-oriented organizations (such as labor, environment, or media activists), which he said resulted in a “very low” number of EJKs (Note that such killings under P-Noy’s watch totalled 834, as documented by the human rights group Karapatan.)

But in the Duterte government’s case, Cayetano further claimed, any death outside of those resulting from natural causes, accidents, or those ordered by the courts, are considered as EJKs. There is “a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs, or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs and that these are state-sponsored – which is simply not true.”

But why didn’t Cayetano put forward more definite numbers to substantiate his claim that killings under the previous administration varied from a “low of 11,000” to a “high of 16,000”?

Citing numbers to show greatly disparate accomplishments between the Duterte administration and its predecessor, the senator said a total of 93,197 anti-drug operations were conducted in the six years of the Aquino government. In contrast, he bragged, a total of 53,503 anti-illegal drug operations were conducted in barely 10 months under Duterte. And in the latter operations, he claimed, 64,917 drug personalities were arrested – not killed, he emphasized – while 1,266,000 pushers and users surrendered and were “given a second chance.” But these accomplishments, he lamented, were rarely included in media reports.

Of 9,432 total homicide cases, Cayetano acknowledged, 2,692 deaths resulted from “presumed legitimate law enforcement operations.” As a legal norm, he pointed out, any deaths resulting from law enforcement operation are presumed legitimate, although automatically subject to investigation.

But why are there more deaths due to police operations? He explained: as operations were conducted daily, the ratio of those who surrendered and those who violently resisted was consistent: more operations led to more arrests, more surrenders, and more who resisted violently and got killed.

Two days after Cayetano’s defense of his administration, the President, obviously satisfied with the senator’s first foray in United Nations grounds, signed his appointment as secretary of foreign affairs. (Duterte had already promised to do this when the senator lost last year’s election as his vice presidential running mate.) But were the UNHRC delegates convinced by Cayetano?

Obviously not. Forty-five of the 47 UNHRC member-states have expressed concern over the alleged EJKs and urged the government to investigate these and hold accountable those responsible, be they the police or so-called vigilantes. These included bigger states such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and also the Vatican City.

Member-states also urged Duterte to allow Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, to probe the killings, without imposing any conditions. The president had earlier agreed to allow Callamard’s official visit-investigation provided he could question her and engage her in a debate over her findings. She declined, asserting the conditions would violate the UN terms of reference and code of conduct for her mission.

Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate human rights committee, called on the government to take seriously the UNHRC member-states’ concern, while remarking he found Cayetano’s defense not dishonest but rather confrontational. “Maybe next time (in 2021?),” he suggested, “it would be better if the presentation would be calmer, less confrontational and give much attention in seeking understanding on the style and attitude as well as the way President Duterte speaks.”

Cayetano, after joining Duterte in Cambodia for a World Economic Forum activity, remarked: “I’m willing to resign, to be jailed, to be exiled if what I presented was wrong, or at the very least if I intentionally misled anyone.” Brave words, this time reflective of Duterte-speak! But the big test for both the President and his foreign affairs secretary-designate is for them to enable Callamard to do her mission freely, as her predecessor, Philip Alston, did in 2006 and made public his findings.

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Published in The Philippine Star
May 13, 2017

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