“The government is using the UN joint program, they say they are complying with the HRC resolution. We don’t want the international community to depend only on that because that is only a window dressing of the Philippine government.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Conduct an independent and impartial investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
This remains to be the call of different civil society organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council which is scheduled to review the human rights situation in the Philippines on the Universal Periodic Review on Nov. 14.
More than a hundred member states of the United National Human Council will hear the report of the Philippine government on the fourth cycle of the UPR.
Justice Secretary Jesus “Boying” Remulla will be representing the Philippine government in the UPR.
In a forum conducted in the halls of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland last Nov. 10, human rights groups expressed their frustration and dismay over the implementation of the UN joint program on human rights in the country.
“We have always known that a resolution on technical cooperation and capacity building doesn’t and will not address the dire situation in the Philippines,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said in the forum, Human Rights in the Philippines: Challenges on Civic and Democratic Space and Opportunities in the UPR.
Palabay was joined by Rose Trajano of iDefend, Josalee Deila, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general, Ron de Vera, son of political prisoner Adora Faye, journalist Raymund Villanueva, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor.
Trajano lamented that the technical assistance has no substantial result in its one and a half year of implementation.
“The government is using the UN joint program, they say they are complying with the HRC resolution. We don’t want the international community to depend only on that because that is only a window dressing of the Philippine government,” Trajano said.
The UN joint program is the result of the UNHRC’s resolution in October 2020 mandating technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.
Palabay also said that they have not seen any indicators that the UN joint program has helped in pursuing justice, successful prosecution and final conviction of perpetrators of rights violations.
Trajano said there is a need for a stronger intervention, independent investigation and direct accountability mechanism if the government would continue the UN joint program.
Recommendations not accepted
Lawlor meanwhile said that the Philippine government has not accepted the recommendations made by the human rights defenders mandate in UPR 2017.
“The State urged the Philippine government to carry out an impartial investigation into the killings of human rights defenders, to establish better protection strategies and to promote a safe and enabling environment for their work. None of the 11 human rights defenders recommendations were accepted by the government,” Lawlor said.
She urged the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to meet its rights obligations if it wants “to put horrors of the past behind.”
“I hope to see the government of the Philippines rise to the challenges of tackling the recommendations from other states. The first step it can take is to adopt the framework to effectively integrate the UPR recommendations, international goals, policies, laws and practices,” Lawlor said.
Lawlor also urged the Philippine government to train security forces to defend human rights defenders and their work, stop the smearing and red-tagging by public officials, prompt investigation of killing and disappearance, and place effective measures to protect those who are most at risk of rights violations.
“It’s not rocket science but it does require political will,” Lawlor said.
She also urged the government to pass the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act.
Meanwhile, the groups are hopeful that UN member states who have expressed their support and called out the government for grave human rights abuses in the Philippines will remain firm in their stand to end such violations.
Palabay also hopes that the UNHRC will have a recommendation to address the economic and cultural rights of the Filipino people.
Palabay said that during the pandemic and increased global economic crisis, the economic and cultural rights of the Filipino people are violated with high time rises on prices of basic commodities.
Deinla meanwhile said that they are looking forward to hearing recommendations in support of calls to investigate, and prosecute human rights violators and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
Deinla said that they have filed a number of cases with the Office of the Ombudsman against key officials of the government responsible for red-tagging and inciting violence against human rights defenders and ordinary citizens.
However, not one of the respondents in their complaints have been indicted. “No one has been (held) administratively liable for these acts,” Deinla said.
“There should be a recommendation for the Philippine government to ensure people’s right to health, such measures should not be militarized in nature,” Deinla said, adding that most of the arrests and killings “arose from repressing legitimate advocacies towards the fulfillment of these long neglected rights.”
Lawlor said that while human rights defenders said that little has changed on the ground where rights violations continue, she also notes that the Philippines will receive and has accepted the visit of special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children this year, a first visit since 2015. Next year, the special rapporteur on freedom of expression is scheduled to visit.