Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the new resolution is not a magic wand that can erase the human rights violations and the accountability that those concerned will face.
By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – Nearly six months since his killing, family and colleagues of activist Jory Porquia remain in the dark in their search for justice. They have neither a clue nor lead from any government-investigating body on who is behind the gruesome murder.
When his son Lean learned that the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted on Monday night a resolution that primarily focuses on technical cooperation and capacity-building, he knew right away that it was not enough. The need for independent investigation remains.
“The government has done nothing for justice to be served,” he told the media in a press briefing this morning, Oct. 8.
Yesterday, the UN HRC adopted by consensus the tabled resolution that spared the Philippine government from international probe amid the worsening human rights situation here. In an earlier statement, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) acknowledged the adoption but assailed how it fell short on concrete recommendations on the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of human rights violations.
Panelists from various rights groups and families of victims of rights abuses noted the disconnect between the UN adopted resolution from what is happening on the ground.
Lean said it has been a struggle, knowing that after his father, two other activists who were also victims of vilification campaigns were gunned down – peace advocate Randall Echanis and church worker Zara Alvarez.
“We fear that our lives are in danger. Whenever we step out of the house, we do not know if we can make it back alive for the simple fact that red-tagging continues,” said Lean.
Rights violations continued amid the pandemic
Rose Hayahay, a teacher for a tribal school that the Education department has shut down, expressed doubts over the Philippine government’s ability to carry out technical cooperation in the face of continuing human rights violations.
As public school classes recently resumed, she underscored that thousands of students from 178 tribal schools which have been closed have lost access to a kind of education that is responsive to their life and culture as indigenous peoples.
This, she said, does not include the continuing vilification campaigns against teachers and supporters of these alternative tribal schools. Among the most recent is the filing of trumped-up cases against church leaders of the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), who have been providing sanctuary for displaced Lumad families in their Haran compound in Davao City.
Communities of indigenous peoples in Mindanao, too, continued to be subjected to aerial bombings despite the ongoing pandemic.
Hayahay feared that giving the Philippine government a hand on this technical cooperation “may serve as a camouflage in the continuing human rights violations.”
Mothers of victims of drug-related killings in the Philippines like Llore Benedicto are likewise disappointed. She said they have long lost their trust on government agencies who should be investigating and holding to account those responsible. “If they have really wanted to put an end to these rights abuses, they should have done so a long time ago,” she added.
But four years on, Benedicto said rights abuses continue unabated.
Resolution remains a vindication, somehow
While it fell short of the victims’ expectations, human rights groups here said the resolution remains a vindication. The Philippine government, in fact, cannot claim victory over the adopted resolution even if it spared them from international scrutiny as it remained an indictment for what various rights groups and victims of abuses have long been struggling, said human rights lawyer Edre Olalia.
Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the new resolution is not a magic wand that can erase the human rights violations and the accountability that those concerned will face. The reports of its special rapporteurs and other international agencies may still be brought before other treaty mechanisms of the United Nations.
It has also put the Philippine government to task to their various recommendations – some of which its agencies should have long done.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that while the resolution “barely scratched the surface,” it is also a challenge to the Philippine government to implement the cited recommendations in the adopted resolution as the “ball is now in their court” so to speak.
Palabay also called on the Duterte administration to “allow the access of UN human rights mechanisms in the country to assess domestic accountability mechanisms if they are truly working and if they have nothing to hide.”