By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A rights group in the country claims that rights violations continue to worsen despite interventions provided by the United Nations.
Reacting to the oral update on the progress of the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines given by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet before the council’s 48th regular session last October 7, Karapatan said that the continued killings and other forms of rights violations under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte are “compelling reasons why the current HRC resolution, even the UN Joint Programme, does not address the worsening human rights situation in the country.”
“These emphasize more than ever the importance of an international independent investigation,” the group said.
In her oral update, Bachelet cited what can be seen as positive steps towards attaining justice.
She noted the recent Supreme Court rulings that limit the power of Manila and Quezon City judges to issue warrants outside of their judicial regions as well as requiring law enforcement authorities to wear body cameras when serving warrants.
However, Bachelet said that despite these developments, she remains to be disturbed by reports of continuing and severe rights violations across the country “including killings by members of the security forces and law enforcement in counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency operations – often in circumstances that indicate basic human rights standards have been ignored.”
Bachelet also noted that while the Inter-agency Review Panel on anti-drug operations has submitted their review, she noted the acquittal of 19 police officers who were charged of homicide over the death of former mayor Rolando Espinosa in 2016 saying that this “highlights the challenges in securing accountability.”
She encouraged the panel to publicize their review “so its work can be evaluated.”
The panel, led by the Department of Justice, has so far submitted its review of anti-illegal drugs operations to President Duterte.
Bachelet also said that the authorities should involve the Commission on Human Rights as well as relevant actors, “including by sharing information on cases under investigation, to ensure an effective and victim-centered process.”
She expressed her deep concern on continued reports of red-tagging of human rights and environmental defenders, journalists, union activists, church workers, and humanitarian workers – “publicly labelling them as Communists with a view to discrediting their human rights work and encouraging attacks against them.
On domestic remedies
Meanwhile, she said that the International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber authorization to proceed with an investigation to the possible crimes against humanity in the Philippines in the context of the “war on drugs” campaign “brings into sharp focus the issue of the ability and willingness of domestic accountability mechanisms to produce clear and measurable results.”
“Human rights defenders — including environmental defenders, journalists, union activists, church workers, and humanitarian workers — continue to be at high risk of harassment, threats and killings. Judges and lawyers are also at risk, as the Supreme Court noted in March. Investigations into the killing of nine Tumandok indigenous people in December 2020, and of nine activists in Calabarzon region in March 2021, must ensure accountability for any members of the security forces involved in violations, redress for victims, and institutional review to ensure non-repetition,” Bachelet said.
In reaction to this, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia said that “the subtext is apparent: the domestic remedies remain unable, unwilling and even ineffective to bring impartial, concrete and measurable justice to the victims.”
Peter Murphy, chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), said that Bachelet’s report “clearly demonstrated the lack of domestic mechanisms in the Philippines to end such human rights violations.”
Murphy reiterated the recommendations of Investigate PH, an international body that looked into human rights violations in the Philippines, which included the authorization of an international independent investigation of human rights violations in the Philippines.
They also called on the UNHRC to maintain its efforts on holding the Philippine government and its officials accountable for the thousands of violations on human rights carried out as official state policies.
Olalia, however, welcomed Bachelet’s call on all sides as the 2022 national elections draws near, describing it as “a tangential rebuke on the present government’s vicious red-tagging.”
In her oral update, Bachelet urged political aspirants on all sides to “set aside the ugly rhetoric against human rights defenders, attack (on) independent media, or (in condoning) extra-judicial killings and other violations and abuses.” (RTS, RVO)