First, the repeated denials: “Extrajudicial killing is not state policy; no state policy to attack, harass or intimidate human rights defenders, including environmental rights defenders, lawyers and other practitioners of the legal profession and the media; claims of a shrinking civic and media space are unfounded.”
Then the repeated government avowal: “We will never tolerate the abuse of power and use of force beyond the bounds of law.”
Finally, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla gave the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – the body mandated to oversee the implementation by all state-parties of the landmark International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – an explanation of what he said is the “particular politico-security context” of the country’s human rights problems.
The Philippines, he said, “has the unfortunate distinction of dealing with the longest-running armed communist insurgency in the world, whose adherents deliberately blur the line between civic activism and armed violence.”
“They use human rights as a tool to advance their violent agenda,” he claimed, accusing the Left of “claiming red-tagging and reprisal when the State exercises its duty to protect the human rights to life, liberty, security of persons and property; and to preserve national security and safeguard the democratic order.”
In effect, Remulla passes the blame for human rights woes on the Left. He sought to assure the UNHRC that the government is determined to end the insurgency through the NTF-ELCAC’s “whole-of-nation strategy.”
The Marcos government sent a delegation, headed by Remulla, to the UNHRC’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation here. Two weeks earlier, the UNHRC committee of experts had presented its observations and recommendations to the council, pointing out hundreds of issues raised against the Philippines’ performance. At that session, Remulla announced the government’s acceptance of 200 out of the nearly 300 recommendations.
Space limits do not allow me to mention all the recommendations, which I cited partially in my last column piece. Among the noteworthy ones accepted by the government are those that have to do with “preventing extrajudicial killings, conducting independent investigations, protecting human rights defenders and journalists and upholding the rights of persons with disadvantages, indigenous people, women, children refugees and stateless persons.”
Let me now share some of the observations and recommendations coming from various entities and groups regarding the outcome of the latest universal periodic review on the Philippines:
• The Commission on Human Rights recalled that already in June 2020, the UNHRC noted “persistent impunity” in the Philippines, with some 8,000 alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the “war on drugs” aside from those of human rights defenders. All these still need to be addressed.
“While it is imperative to address present human rights challenges, the UPR similarly brings into light the conditions in the last five years that continue to impact the way Filipinos enjoy their rights today,” the CHR pointed out, adding: “We look forward to the fulfillment of the commitments to institute reforms not only prospectively but also those from the past.”
• The International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), which observed the review process, called for concrete steps to be taken to tackle underlying factors:
“ICHRP is concerned by the general lack of support for action among UN member-states… The recommendations take note of the issues and instruments that have contributed to a system of impunity and state-orchestrated terror, such as: the red-tagging of (HRDs) and attacks on journalists and lawyers; continued [EJKs] under the guise of the war on drugs and the repressive provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which targets the fundamental foundation of democracy, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to dissent.”
While noting that 107 member-states intervened and about 40 percent took a critical stand and supported the Committee recommendations, ICHRP lamented a “general reticence among the majority of member-states to be critical towards the Philippines’ abysmal human rights record.” Only a minority openly expressed concern and “even fewer were willing to make strong recommendations for action (specifically some European and Latin American states),” it further noted.
Specifically, ICHRP lauded the intervention of Sierra Leone, an African nation, for urging the abolition of the counterinsurgency arm NTF-ELCAC, which the coalition said “has functioned as one of the main instruments of state terror against dissidents.”
Slamming Remulla for “angrily responding” to the US criticisms and claiming that “red-tagging is a term invented by the Left,” it pointed out that two weeks earlier, he had actually contended that red-tagging was “a government right and a vibrant part of the democratic process.”
ICHRP urged UN member-states to hold the government accountable to act on the latest UPR findings, take concrete action to support ending impunity, back the struggle for justice of HR violations victims and their families and conduct an independent international investigation into the Philippine HR situation.
• Katribu, an indigenous peoples’ alliance, thanked UN member-states that recommended favorable actions on IP and HRD issues, saying it proves that the international community heeded their voices. Sandugo Movement of the Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, however, decried the UPR’s seeming glossing over the Marawi siege that devastated the Muslim city in 2017.
• Karapatan, the Philippine UPR Watch leader, asserted that the present administration has failed to convince the international community about its claim of having improved the HR situation. For instance, many countries were “justifiably skeptical” during the review when they heard the Marcos government’s claims of success in investigating HRV perpetrators despite not having produced “zero final and successful conviction.”
“The government would have shown sincerity if it acknowledged that [HRVs]…and gross poverty and government neglect continue,” Karapatan surmised. “It would have earned respect if it committed to pass a law protecting human rights defenders.”
“Behind polite words in which the recommendations were given by more than 100 countries,” it concluded, “they clearly mean that the Philippines has a long way to go in ensuring human rights are respected and upheld in the country.”
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Published in Philippine Star
November 19, 2022