BY RONALYN V. OLEA
The Philippine government’s second periodic report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) was ‘bombarded’ with questions, human rights network Philippine UPR Watch said.
The 27-member Philippine government delegation, headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, presented its report, April 28, to the 42nd session of the UNCAT in Geneva, Switzerland.
The CAT reviews the compliance of state parties to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment. The Philippines has been a state party to the UNCAT since June 18, 1986.
In a statement sent through email, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary general, related, “The rather oversized 27-member Philippine government delegation…faced a continuous barrage of questions from all ten members of the said Committee.”
Enriquez is part of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation that briefed the Committee members on the human rights situation under the Arroyo administration. Also with her are torture survivors farmer Raymond Manalo and Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, lawyer Edre Olalia, among others.
In an opportunity considered by Geneva-based human rights non-government organizations as “seldom or rare,” Manalo and Guerrero were allowed by the CAT to testify before the Committee. The two victims recounted their ordeal at the hands of state agents.
Gov’t denial of torture
Enriquez said that Ermita boasted to the Committee that their delegation of senior officials and technical experts is a proof of the government`s “unwavering commitment to human rights” particularly the Convention.
Ermita was quoted as saying that the Philippine Government is “proud of the gains it has achieved with regard to its compliance with the Convention” and is one with the Committee in “championing the cause of human rights.”
Ermita, Enriquez said, claimed that the government “neither engages in nor encourages acts of torture.”
Enriquez said that after Ermita`s opening statement which lasted for half an hour, a litany of questions and comments very critical of the report began to rain heavily on the Philippine delegation.
Felice Gaer, CAT’s rapporteur for the Philippines asked Ermita why it took so long for the Philippines to make a report. Gaer also commented on the lack of substance of the 49-page Philippine report.
Gaer also observed that the government seems to have many safeguards in place in order to prevent torture but asked why torture is continuously being practiced by military, police and security forces.
Xuexian Wang, the Committee’s vice chairperson and another rapporteur on the Philippines, asked Ermita if the government knew of the 1,016 documented victims of torture reported by Karapatan.
Another member of the Committee asked Ermita about what the government is doing to protect the security of human rights defenders.
Enriquez said the range of questions which lasted for one and a half hours include extrajudicial killings, disappearances, the Human Security Act, command responsibility, impunity, exploitation of migrants, children and women, judicial procedure and mechanisms.
Members of the Committee also asked about specific cases such as that of labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr., peace advocate Angie Ipong, the Manalo brothers, UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, among others.
Saladero was arrested and detained for fabricated charges of multiple murder. He was freed after the court found the charges defective. Ipong, meanwhile, has been languishing in jail for false charges since March 2005. Cadapan and Empeño are victims of enforced disappearances who have remained missing to this day. Based on Raymond Manalo’s affidavit, the two students were also subjected to torture.
The Philippine delegation will answer the questions at the April 29 afternoon session of the Committee.
Olalia, Karapatan special legal consultant for UN Mechanisms, said he foresees that the government`s reply to the stream of issues and questions raised by the Committee would either ‘make clear the government’s total disregard for human rights or simply prove once again that it is all the while lying through its teeth and pretending as a champion for human rights before the international community.’
Olalia described the Philippine government’s belated report as long in rhetoric and short in meaning. “…[I]t was replete with merely formal guarantees, a litany of laws – both relevant and others ridiculously irrelevant- and a ticker-tape parade of human rights.” (Bulatlat.com)