Going into its last year in office – with President Duterte saying he’s “somewhat sold on the idea” of running for vice president in next year’s elections – his government has been put on the global spotlight this week for reported human rights violations.
The spotlighting came from three global human rights watchdogs, each separately issuing its damning report.
One report listed the Philippines as among the “ten worst countries for working people” in 2021, where trade unionists have been killed and have restricted access to justice, among other serious problems.
A second report included President Duterte as one of the 37 heads of state/government in its 2021 list of “press freedom predators.”
The third report scored the escalating violence in what it called the government’s “war on dissent” and “war against the Moro people,” as it pursues its “war against the poor” (referring to the “war on drugs”). The “systematic killing” used in the drug war has been applied in the intensified counterinsurgency campaign since 2018, it noted, pointing out that both the “wars” against dissent and the Moro people are “strongly influenced by US policy and support.”
Here are some details:
• In its 2021 Global Rights Index report (issued on June 30), the International Trade Union Confederation ranked 149 countries on the degree of respect for workers’ rights. Alphabetically, the GRI named the following as the 10 worst countries in that regard: Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Myanmar, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
It also included the Philippines in these categories: the six countries where trade unionists have been killed; the 87 percent of countries that have violated the workers’ right to strike; the 65 percent of countries where workers “have no or restricted access to justice” and the four countries that have passed repressive laws which severely violated civil liberties – specifying the Philippines for “escalation of violence against workers.”
“Democracy has come under renewed attack” in 2021, the report observed. The number of countries that impeded union registration rose from 89 last year to 109, and those that denied or constrained freedom of speech and assembly increased from 56 to 64.
• A photo gallery of 24 heads of state/government, which the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) posted on its website on Monday, included President Duterte. The 24 were identified as among the 37 “press freedom predators [who] trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them… or have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.”
Some of the 37 “have been operating for more than two decades,” RSF said, but the 17 others were added to the list only in 2021 (the last one was issued in 2016). More than 1/3 of these tyrants come from the Asia-Pacific region.
On Duterte, RSF noted that he “easily imposes his line on media outlets owned by businessmen that support him.” But he has “an arsenal that he can use to wage ‘total war’ against journalists,” including “spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion or violation of capital legislation; rescinding broadcast licenses and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.”
• The third critical report was the second of a series of three, put together by the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (Investigate PH for short). The commission is composed of 33 “eminent individuals with impeccable credentials for independence and commitment to human rights,” including a leader of the World Council of Churches and four other heads of international and national church organizations; three heads of large lawyers’ groups; two Australian senators and several individuals from the academe.
This report built on the findings of the first report issued in March 2021. The latter had picked up from the comprehensive report, presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020, by the United Nations human rights head, Michelle Bachelet, who urged a deeper independent investigation on the country’s human rights situation.
The government, through Justice Secretary Guevarra, had submitted a response to Bachelet’s report through the UNHRC, in which he promised an investigation specifically of the cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) related to the anti-drug campaign.
But the report criticized Guevarra for “overpromising” to investigate all EJK cases by way of backing up his assertion that government domestic remedies are adequate to address the problem. When he spoke online before the UNHRC in February, it noted, the high-level review panel formed by Guevarra had looked only into 328 cases – Philippine authorities have admitted more than 6,000 – and that the justice secretary admitted that many police operatives had failed to follow standard protocols. “Yet,” the report stressed, “this finding has not translated into changes in anti-drug policy and operations or placed accountability for the killings.”
“An important contribution to the growing body of evidence of state-perpetrated human rights violations… that could help facilitate international accountability mechanisms,” said a statement that accompanied the release of the 59-page report. It was issued by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), which organized Investigate PH.
“It deepens the focus on the lack of domestic remedies by examining how the judicial system has failed to uphold the rights of the people,” ICHRP added, pointing out that the judicial system “has been weaponized through state structures to further violate people’s rights – in the process perpetuating and institutionalizing lack of accountability for state agents who perpetrate abuses.”
The report was based on recorded testimonies, given through telephone and online interviews, and verified information from resource persons who included survivors, relatives of victims, human rights advocates and the country’s foremost forensic pathologist, Dr. Raquel Fortun.
Besides submitting it to the UNHRC, its 47 member-states, Bachelet’s UN office and the UN Secretary-General, ICHRP said the report will also be submitted to the International Criminal Court.
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Published in The Philippine Star
July 10, 2021