As we were saying, Irene Khan

Dear Irene:

Halfway into your official visit and only after one tweet, enemies of freedom of expression and opinion in this country have already come out of the woodwork to attack your person and your mandate. Among them is a retired general and former spokesperson of the government’s counter-insurgency task force; another is a self-absorbed lawyer who once publicly defended Adolf Hitler.

But you must know about how your post on X on your visit to the Tacloban District Jail yesterday made the spokesperson of the regional red-tagging task force reply with menacing vitriol. You asked, “How long must they (journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and fellow human rights defenders Marielle Domequil and Alexander Abinguna) wait to be freed?” and Prosecutor Flosemer Chris Gonzales responded with naked annoyance and arrogance.

UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan (second from left) with staff and the three political detainees at the Tacloban District Jail on Friday. (Ms Khan’s X post)

Mr Gonzales alleged that you directly insulted the so-called independence of the entire Philippine judicial system, particularly the national prosecution service, by asking the question. He felt compelled to remind you that the outcome of court trials in the Philippines is not subject to ideologically-based speculation, conclusion and assumption.

I could have laughed hard at that were it not for the fact that too many innocent people have been victims of our corrupt judicial system. Leila de Lima (your fellow lawyer, former senator and former justice secretary who I heard will also be meeting you on this trip) will tell you more about it.

The public prosecutor went on to allege that your question assumes the three detainees will be free and that it encroaches on the functions of Philippine courts, putting a cloud on the so-called competence and integrity of the country’s law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. But he himself assumes the court will agree with him that the three prisoners slept with guns and grenades under their pillows (like hundreds of other political prisoners at the time of their midnight arrests), doesn’t he?

The fiscal who moonlights as a red-tagging task force mouthpiece proceeded to advise you to observe prudence and tact. Obviously bereft of these values himself, he ordered you to choose your words carefully when commenting about a host country that now happens to be ours. He seems ignorant of the fact that the state he refers to is a founding member of the United Nations of which you represent. He also “strongly reminded” you that the Philippines is a country of laws, forgetting that those laws include international covenants such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the country signed and claims to adhere to, the very same precepts your mandate and your very presence in the Philippines are based upon.

Mr Gonzales claimed as well that every person charged with an offense in the Philippines is entitled to due process of laws. Indeed, Frenchie, Marielle and Alexander should be entitled to their rights. But the public prosecutor is obviously desperate of reminding that the arresting officers swooped like thieves in the dead of night and blindfolded them. Yes, the government harps that no one is above the law here, but we aver in turn that many are under its boot.

Gonzales meanly ended with the statement that it is not your place to pass judgment on pending trials in this country’s courts. “Know your place in our country. Respect begets respect,” Gonzales wrote. “You are not a part of our judicial system,” he added.

Thank heavens you are not, Irene. If you are, who in their right mind would think of asking your help?

But you hear us more now, right? Asking a simple question, twitting an opinion, can be dangerous in this country. It is unacceptable to the State Mr Gonzales and government officials his kind represent. #