Rights defenders at UN press calls for NTF-ELCAC abolition, junking of anti-terror act

GENEVA, Switzerland—The Philippine UPR Watch again called for the abolition of the National Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the junking of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in its ongoing participation at the 55th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in this city.

A delegation of the group informed various permanent missions of member states and international civil society organizations based in Geneva last Monday and Tuesday of the results of two recent visits of UN special rapporteurs who denounced government’s red-tagging practices.

The group said they it is attending the session to testify on continuing human rights violations under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

“We are here to inform the international community that the findings by both special rapporteur on climate change and human rights Ian Fry last November and special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan last February that human rights violations continue are true,” Center for Environmental Concerns executive director Lia Mai Torres said.

Philippine UPR Watch said the rest of UN member states must be informed that both experts recommended the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and called for the review of the anti-terror law that are being used against human rights defenders and other civilians.

A network of human rights defenders in the Philippines, the Philippine UPR Watch said it is scheduled to deliver oral interventions at the UNHRC session and its other events to give updates on the government’s lack of compliance to its commitments to the international body 20 months after the last review on the Philippines.

 “The Marcos Jr. government wants to paint a rosy picture of so-called improved rhetoric and improved conditions but we are here both as victims and witnesses that anti-people policies have not changed as evidenced by the exit statements by Mr. Fry and Ms. Khan,” Torres added.

Clergywoman as victim of weaponized law

Among the main topics in the 55th UN HRC session are discussions on countering religious hatred and social security and public services.

With the Philippine UPR Watch delegation is Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines who was among the first charged by the government under the controversial Anti-Terror Law of 2020.

Based on an earlier murder charge in August 2021, Baluntong was slapped with an alleged violation of the Anti-Terror Act in August 2022 which was recently dismissed by the public prosecutor for lack of merit.

“But the dismissal came with the warning that the case may be re-filed anytime that the military or the police decides to do so,” the clergyperson said.

The United Methodist Church pastor was charged by the military of assisting the New People’s Army.

But the pastor said she was performing necrological services to a member of her church at the time she committed the alleged murder she was initially charged with.

“The government is saying that my work with the indigenous people’s communities make me an enemy of the state,” Baluntong said.

Baluntong said that red-tagging attacks and trumped-up charges prevent her from performing her ministry with the indigenous peoples and poor communities in her home province of Mindoro.

With Baluntong and Torres is IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa who said that his participation in the 55th session is in preparation for the anticipated official visit of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty.

Africa is also expected to participate in the panel discussion on challenges and good practices to realize the right to social security and to provide quality public services.

Delegation co-leader and Karapatan legal counsel Ma. Sol Taule  said, “This delegation supports suggestions made by the UN experts who recently visited the Philippines to continue our engagements leading to the submission of their respective final reports to the UN HRC.”

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation is also scheduled to speak at forums in various cities in Switzerland and throughout Europe during the duration of the UN HRC session. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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[DISCLOSURE] The reporter is a member of the PH UPR Watch delegation as chairperson of the People’s Alternative Media Network that also spoke with UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan in her visit to the Philippines earlier this year.