Anti-terror law being used for trumped-up charges in PH, Bishop tells world

A Protestant denomination urged the United Nations (UN) to ask the Philippine government to repeal its anti-terrorism law it says is being used to randomly arrest members of the clergy and other human rights defenders.

United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) secretary general Bishop Melzar Labuntog told the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland last Thursday the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is increasingly using the law to file trumped-up cases against rights defenders and church people.

Labuntog said that in Southern Tagalog region alone, Rev.  Edwin Egar of the UCCP and Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the United Methodist Church as well as 13 others had been falsely charged under the said law.

Throughout the Philippines, there are 776 political prisoners are detained on false charges, Labuntog, citing Karaparan data, reported.

The UCCP prelate said two of their own Pastors, Rev. Nathaniel Vallente and Rev. Jimmy Teves, are unjustly detained.

“Our prison congestion rates are among the highest in the world, and yet people continue to be arrested for simply speaking up against the government,” Baluntong said.

“Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not taken measures to address the continuing pattern of rights violations and repeated denial of due process,” the Bishop added.

Baluntong is a member of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch delegation to the ongoing 54th session of the UN HRC.

Respect health workers

A week earlier, the Council for Health and Development (CHD) also delivered an oral intervention in the debates asking the UN HRC to encourage member states such as the Philippines to ratify the proposed Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Katharina Berza of the CHD said countries must address the root causes of poverty and disease for a faster recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Berza added that civic spaces must also be respected and protected in the respective government’s responses to COVID.

For demanding just compensation during the worst years of the pandemic, health groups in the Philippines had been criticized by former government COVID task force adviser and now health secretary Teodoro Herbosa.

“[A]ll citizens, including health workers, must be able to express criticism of State policies detrimental to human rights,” Berza told the UN. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Health care in PH remains unbalanced, groups tell UN

Health groups reported at the United Nations (UN) that access to health care in the Philippines remains inequitable despite digital innovations and technological breakthroughs in the sector.

Dr. Joshua San Pedro of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) and Council for Health and Development (CGD) said problems on the lack of health infrastructure remain in the Philippines.

Speaking at an interactive dialogue at the ongoing 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland last June 22, San Pedro added that shortfalls in health human resources as well as inadequate State funding for public health have yet to be addressed.

With UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng in attendance, San Pedro said governments must adequately fund public health and systematically reverse privatization of health services.

This is to ensure a safe environment for patients and health workers, increase monitoring systems for human rights violations, create mechanisms for accountability, and enact laws that will comprehensively address health inequities, he added.

The Free National Public Health System Bill is pending at both houses of Congress in the Philippines that may help address these concerns in combination with breakthroughs in digital innovations and technology in local health care, San Pedro said.

Harassment of health workers

San Pedro also raised concerns on the harassment and intimidation, red-tagging and surveillance of health workers who criticize government shortcomings in health care delivery.

“[A] climate of fear persists among health workers whose freedom of speech and association are constantly challenged,” San Pedro said.

In response, Mofokeng said that surveillance of vulnerable populations and groups is not in line with the right to health approach and businesses must not interfere with the right to health and human right.

Taking note of inequalities gravely aggravated in a pandemic, Dr. Mofokeng remarked that a pandemic treaty without a human rights approach and human rights foundation will not yield the desired equitable outcomes.

The UN expert added that scientific development is a public good and the rights-based approach is key to ensuring availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of diagnostics, screening test, therapeutics, vaccines, surgical procedures as well as sexual and reproductive health programs. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)