During the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Philippine government claimed that it has been complying with the recommendations put forward by the council during the Universal Periodic Review, but human rights and church groups think otherwise.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Human rights groups accused the Philippine government of spreading lies at the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Philippines underwent the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Counci in ensuring that member-states fulfill its human rights obligations.
During the consideration of the Working Group report on the Philippines UPR, Teofilo S. Pilando, deputy executive secretary, said the Philippine government is committed to fulfilling the recommendations it accepted during the UPR last May.
Among the recommendations were: to step up efforts to fully prohibit and address cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and ensure that there are mechanisms in place to address such cases; to enhance human rights-based training for all law enforcement personnel on the absolute prohibition of torture and ill treatment; to ratify the Convention on forced disappearances, withdraw all reservations to the CAT (Convention Against Torture) and ensure that national legislation is in line with the Rome ICC Statute (International Criminal Court), to ensure related cases are well recorded; to ensure that victims of torture and ill treatment have effective access to a medical evaluation.
“The Philippine Government has shamelessly spread lies here at the United Nations,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairwoman of Karapatan, said. “Just last week, Genesis Ambason, a leader of the Matigsalog tribe in Agusan del Sur, was brutally killed by paramilitary groups under the command of the Philippine military.”
Pilando said the Philipine government has “strong resolve to promote accountability through measures that will end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country.”
The deputy executive secretary added that the Philippines had created a multisectoral national monitoring mechanism that will look into the progress of cases involving extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, and torture.
During her oral intervention in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Civicus World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Enriquez said “extra – judicial executions, disappearances, other human rights violations and impunity persist under the so called democracy and even under the so called righteous path taken by the new President Noynoy Aquino.” She said that under the two-year administration of Aquino, Karapatan has documented 99 victims of extra judicial executions.
In a separate oral intervention, Dr. Rommel Linatoc of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a member of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation, said, “the Philippine Report was very selective in its presentation of data.”
“It intentionally left out the essential issues such as the almost zero conviction rate of perpetrators of human rights abuses; the failure of the government to press charges and arrest suspects and the continuing effects of Oplan Bayanihan a counterinsurgency program against the Filipino people,” Linatoc said, reading a joint statement of the World Council of Churches – Churches Commission on International Affairs, the United Methodist Church Global Board Global Ministry and the Indian Council of South America (CISA).
At the UN session, Human Rights Watch said the Philippine government’s expressed commitment to eliminate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances had not resulted in the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Amnesty International likewise expressed concern that thousands of cases of human rights abuses remain unresolved and new cases continue to be reported.
In a forum in Quezon City, Sept. 27, Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said there is no “better human rights condition” as claimed by the Philippine government before the UN and the United States Congress.
American legislators were pleased by Justice Secetary Leila de Lima’s statement that the Philippines was able to demonstrate improvements in its human rights record at the UN’s UPR session.
In her recent visit to Washington, De Lima cited the creation of a special task force to oversee the investigation and prosecution of cases of extra-judicial cases and other human rights violations as well as the recent memorandum between the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights that aims to achieve a high level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases.
Palabay belied the claims. “First, impunity persists. The big criminals in government and in the military remain at large,” she said, referring to retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., charged in relation to the disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, and to Joel Reyes and his brother, suspects in the murder of environmentalist Gerry Ortega.
“Second, militarization is rampant in the countryside and forced eviction afflicts the urban poor,” Palabay said.
“Third, the bills for the protection of human rights such as the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill and the indemnification bill for the victims of martial law have not been passed,” she said.
No prosecution of violators
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said: “The Philippine government is premature in boasting of significant progress on justice for past killings. The question isn’t what the government plans to do, but what it has already done. Up to the present, there have been no successful prosecutions of military personnel for extrajudicial killings.”
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch said that while the number of killings has gone down since Aquino assumed office, killings continue. “Unless the government prosecutes those responsible for past and recent abuses — and ensure that there are institutions capable of doing so – there is nothing to prevent these abuses from increasing again in the future,” he said.
In the same vein, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) underscored that Aquino has filed zero complaints for human rights violations.
“How come nobody has ever been credibly convicted for human rights violations under the present administration after all these years and after all supposed aid and support from foreign governments?” Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general, said. “The Aquino administration has not conducted a deep and thorough investigation, nor has it initiated the filing of substantial countersuit cases against human rights perpetrators, nor has it expedited prosecution, content in piggybacking on the complaints initiated, prepared and filed by the victims, relatives and human rights defenders to pursue justice in all venues available.”