A few weeks after the Rodrigo Duterte government assured the international community of its commitment to uphold human rights, the United Nations (UN) said it is appalled by the series of mass killing of activists throughout the Philippines.
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva, Switzerland said the international body is “appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists in simultaneous police-military operations” across four provinces last Sunday, March 7.
Shamdasani noted that the latest mass killing and arrest of activists, like in the December 30, 2020 massacre of nine Tumandok in Panay Island, was conducted at nighttime.
“We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation and harassment and red tagging of human rights defenders,” she said.
Shamdasani added there is a history of human rights advocates of being red-tagged or being accused of being fronts for the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, an allegation unanimously denied by the families of the victims of the various massacres.
“In our June 2020 report, the [UN] high commissioner (for human rights Michelle Bachelet) warned that such public labeling has proved to be extremely dangerous and she urged the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and others at risk,” Shamdasani said.
“In recent months, there has been dozens of activists and journalists who have been arrested, including on human rights day on December 2020,” referring to recently-freed Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and six labor union organizers arrested with her.
Making his spokesperson a liar
The international body’s condemnation came merely two weeks after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra assured the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last February 24 the Duterte government had adopted measures “to minimize loss of lives during legitimate law enforcement operations.”
Guevarra added that the Philippines “strongly emphasizes that its legal and judiciary system and domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should.”
Guevarra had been the designated spokesperson for the Philippine government at UNHRC sessions since late 2020 after combative statements by officials earlier failed to deflect criticisms of the Duterte government’s mass murder of suspected drug users, critics and other civilians.
At the 44th General Session of the UNHRC last June 2020, the international body severely criticized the Duterte government for its woeful human rights record.
In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.
The UN also condemned Duterte’s ill-defined and ominous language, “coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill.”
Duterte ignored the condemnation again when he issued shoot-to-kill and “ignore human rights” orders against alleged communists to state forces when he presided over a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict meeting at Cagayan de Oro City last Friday.
Families of the nine killed last Sunday vow the victims were civilians, however. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)