Jonila and Jhed’s case reaches UN, rights defenders announce

A group of human rights defenders said they have reported the case of the two abducted environmental activists to the United Nations (UN) at the ongoing 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Philippine UPR [Universal Periodic Review] Watch (PUPR) said the press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) last September 19 when anti-Manila Bay reclamation project campaigners Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano revealed their abduction has reached the offices of several UN Special Rapporteurs and country missions.

The PUPR said it continues to update attendees at the 54th UN Human Rights Council session about the NTF-ELCAC’s “degenerative tactic” of presenting abduction and enforced disappearance victims as surrenderers.

“The PUPR team, continuing to report on developments in the Philippines, (also) shared this development with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information,” the group in a statement said, referring to Irene Khan who is set to visit the Philippine in January 2024.

Bishop Melzar Labuntog, the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines also asked other UN experts to red-tagging, freezing of assets, and arrests and detention of church workers and groups.

“Church groups living out their faith and expressions have met malignment and have been equated with terrorist groups,” Labuntog said. “The clear trend of attacking church workers and ministries is a clear indication of how human rights, freedom, and justice are being trampled upon.”

Bishop Labuntog is part of the PUPR delegation to the ongoing UN session, alongside an indigenous people’s leader, a climate activist, a victim of extra-judicial killings, and a people’s lawyer.

The group said they emphasize the injustices suffered by civilians under the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, citing at least 15 terrorism-related cases filed against activists, ranging from allegations of acts of terrorism to financing terrorism with corresponding civil forfeiture charges.

In their meetings with experts and country missions, the PUPR delegation said they also raise the issue of censorship such as the blocking of 25 websites of progressive news sites by the National Telecommunication Commission upon the orders of the National Security Council.

“The first target of government repression will not be the last,” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-National Capital Region secretary general Kristina Conti said.

Conti added that NUPL’s own Facebook page became inaccessible last September 26 after several posts condemning the killing of a fellow lawyer in Abra province.

PUPR said one of its members from the Council of Health and Development has delivered an oral intervention through video in the interactive dialogue on economic, social, and cultural rights and COVID-19 recovery at the ongoing UNHRC session. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights defenders ask UN: ‘Probe alarming record of Marcos gov’t’

A group of Filipino human rights advocates are in Geneva, Switzerland to attend the ongoing 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and seek an evaluation of the United Nations Joint Program (UNJP) being implemented in the Philippines.

A delegation of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said the UN must conduct a comprehensive, relevant and participatory evaluation of the program as it is failing to improve the human rights situation in the country.

The UNJP is also unable to significantly address continuing human rights violations in the Philippines with the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency virtually indistinguishable from the Rodrigo Duterte regime in terms of red-tagging, weaponization of laws and the people’s worsening poverty.

“PH UPR Watch calls on the UNHRC to seriously look at the alarming human rights record of the Marcos Jr. administration and the harmful policies perpetuating it,” the PH UPR Watch in a statement said.

The delegation said the Marcos government is abusing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the anti-terrorism financing law in persecuting critics even as the UNJP is being implemented by the UN, the Philippine government and private sector stakeholders.

Launched in 2021, the UNJP is an attempt to help the Philippine government in realizing its responsibilities in recognizing and upholding human rights.

The program conducts trainings and dialogues with the military, police and various government agencies on human rights and international humanitarian law in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights and civil society groups.

The Duterte government agreed to the program in place of a full investigation as recommended by the UNHRC following an Iceland-sponsored resolution in 2019 to probe into thousands of deaths resulting from the so-called drug war in the Philippines.

PH UPR Watch however said that there had been no significant improvement on the human rights situation in the Philippines even after three years of UNJP implementation, evidenced by the worsening weaponization of laws and incessant red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of critics and political dissenters.

The delegation also complains of an ongoing wholesale violation of the Filipino people’s economic rights as shown by uncontrolled rise in the prices of oil products and basic food items.

The PH UPR Watch delegation at the UNHRC’s 54th Session is composed of representatives from Karapatan, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Rise Up for Life and for Rights, and the KATRIBU – Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas.

The group will engage in dialogues with various UN special rapporteurs and country representatives as well as present their findings before the UNHRC to shed light on widespread human rights violations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Church worker in UN reveals continuing rights violations in the PH

GENEVA, Switzerland–A protestant church worker revealed continuing human rights violations in the Philippines under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in this city.

National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) program secretary for Faith, Witness and Service Mervin Sol Toquero reported before the international body that there had been 223 drug-related killings since July 2022, the start of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“There is very minimal accountability for perpetrators since the time of President Rodrigo Duterte,” Toquero said.

Toquero said they are alarmed that human rights defenders, including church people and humanitarian workers, are also targeted under the country’s anti-terrorism and related laws.

He cited the case of United Methodist Church minister Glofie Baluntong who had been “falsely accused” of attempted murder as well as charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

He also mentioned the case of NCCP staff member and land and environment defender Peti Enriquez who has been charged for alleged violations of the International Humanitarian Law.

The Philippine government mission was absent at the Council session when Toquero spoke,

Toquero appealed to the UNHRC to call on the Philippine government to enact the Human Rights Defenders Bill pending before the Philippine Congress.

The Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives has recently approved the measure for the third time in two decades but is yet to be approved by its plenary and the Senate.

Toquero also asked the UN to call on the Philippine government to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act “as it endangers human rights defenders.” 

“Relatedly, we ask this Council to continue urging the Philippine Government to cooperate with the ICC (International Criminal Court) as this would provide viable accountability mechanisms and combat impunity,” Toquero said.

The Philippine UPR Watch is participating in the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the UN HRC’s adoptions of the recommendations made during the 4th UPR on the Philippines last November.

The Philippine government is expected to accept 215 of the 289 recommendations by UN member states, choosing however to reject substantial proposals such as rejoining the International Criminal Court, putting a stop to red-tagging and repeal of laws that are “weaponized” against rights defenders, church workers, journalists such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and Libel/Cyber-Libel.

The NCCP is a co-convenor of the Philippine UPR Watch. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)