Government claims before UN ‘hogwash’, rights defenders say

Abduction survivor’s testimony stuns Human Rights Council meeting

GENEVA, Switzerland–The Philippine government said nothing but a bunch of lies at the 52nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last Monday, March 27, a network of human rights defenders said.

Reacting to the government’s oral statements at the adoption of the recommendations made at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) last November, the Philippine UPR Watch said they were “astounded by the barefaced lies” Ambassador Evan Garcia told the international body.

“If the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is to be believed, the Philippines is a paradise and its government worth emulating by the rest of world in how it upholds human rights and serves its people through prosperity and social service,” the network said.

In his opening statement, Garcia said Garcia claimed Manila implements “profound and bold reforms” in the Philippines’ criminal justice system. He added that the Philippine government implements its human rights plans and the Joint Programme with the UN as it conducts investigations on human rights violation, extrajudicial killings. He further claimed that the Marcos government protects journalist, human and environmental rights defenders among others.

Garcia also claimed that the government is open to engagements with human rights advocates and had been willing to accept fair criticism. Its acceptance of 215 of the 289 recommendations made in the UPR is proof of this, he said.

But the PH UPR Watch said Garcia contradicted himself when he said the Philippines has an “effective and responsive justice system” while admitting to only five recent convictions of low level police officers involved in the thousands of deaths connected with the drug-related killings in the country.

Unanimous rejection by rights groups

Speaking in the same meeting, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Richard Pal-pallatoc pointed out that human rights violations, extrajudicial killings as well as threats and harassments against human rights defenders, civil society organizations, journalists and critics continue in the Philippines.

Pal-pallatoc added that social and economic problems such as runaway inflation and worsening standard of living still need to be addressed by the government.

While all of the 13 countries that spoke after Garcia recommended the adoption of the recommendations as standard practice, the nine international civil society organizations that delivered oral statements expressed disappointment that 74 recommendations were rejected.

Those that were “noted” by the government pertain to red-tagging, the government’s refusal to re-accede to the International Criminal Court, the persecution of human rights defenders, “weaponization” of laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and libel and cyber-libel, among others.

Abduction and enforced disappearance April dyan Gumanao’s testimony at the 52nd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. (UNTV video grab)

Recent abduction and enforced disappearance survivor and Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Region 7 coordinator April Dyan Gumanao and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay also delivered oral statements in behalf of the World Council of Churches and global civil society network CIVICUS, respectively.

Shocking testimony

The UNHRC session fell into a hush when Gumanao began narrating their harrowing experience when abducted, disappeared and tortured by men who introduced themselves as police officers.

Gumanao revealed their abductors forced them to become government spies against activist groups and labor unions.

She said they were abandoned by their abductors when a concerned citizen’s video of their abduction went viral online and due to intense public pressure for their surfacing.

Seemingly affected by Gumanao’s testimony at the UN, Garcia delivered a rejoinder in his closing statement, denying the existence of a government policy on red-tagging and persecution of human rights defenders, environmentalists, mass media and other government critics.

He added the availability of local judicial remedies as well as the existence of a “most vibrant mass media practice” in the Philippines.

He also called human rights defenders in the country as “empowered” whom the government considers as “partners”.

The PH UPR Watch however was quick to call Garcia’s claims as “hogwash”.

 “What a bunch of lies the world heard yesterday,” the network said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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Disclosure: The reporter is in Geneva to submit reports to the UN Special Procedures office connected with the expected official visit of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression later this year.

No justice for lots of victims

Abduction and enforced disappearance survivor to the United Nations:

“I believe that this will still be a tough struggle, especially with the worsening case of impunity, [There is] no justice to a lot of human rights violations victims. But we are still hopeful a lot of people in the Philippines are still taking the risk, who are still standing up and fighting for justice.”–April Dyan Gumanao, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Region 7 coordinator

(Image by Jo Maois D. Mamangun)