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Rights groups laud UN expert recommendation to abolish NTF-ELCAC, repeal anti-terror law

Environmental and human rights groups hailed a United Nations (UN) expert’s recommendations to abolish the government’s anti-insurgency task force and the country’s anti-terrorism law after a 10-day investigation in the Philippines.

In a joint statement, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Philippines UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said they welcome the statement made by UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights Dr. Ian Fry recommending the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the repeal of Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

In his exit statement last Wednesday, November 15, Fry said he listened to complaints by indigenous peoples groups, environmental rights defenders and other civil society organizations  who were abducted, bombed and killed for opposing reclamation projects, hydro-electric dams, destructive mining and deforestation.

“They told me horrific stories on how they have been treated. I have listed in my recommendations to disband the NTF-ELCAC because it is clear that it’s operating beyond its original mandate,” Fry said.

“It is evident that the NTF-ELCAC is using its powers to protect key economic interests in the country. This has nothing to do with anti-terrorism or anti-communism. The military’s gross overreaction to people trying to defend their right to a safe, clean health and sustainable environment is totally unacceptable. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded,” Fry added.

The expert also said he would recommend ATA’s repeal after hearing stories of “totally unreasonable” designation of church and humanitarian workers as so-called terrorists whose funds are being held by the government.

Kalikasan PNE and the Philippine UPR Watch said Fry’s findings are welcome as they “(make) it clear that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s posturing as a climate change advocate” are merely for show.”

Rights group Karapatan also lauded Fry’s exit statement, saying it puts on center stage “the sinister role played by the NTF-ELCAC and the dangerous impact of the terror law on the lives and safety of environmental human rights defenders in the country.

The group noted that the Philippines is one of the world’s deadliest countries and Asia’s worst for environmental defenders in the past 10 years.

“Killings of environmental defenders peaked during the Duterte regime, which accounted for 205 or 73% of the 281 extra-judicially from 2012 to 2022,” Karapatan revealed.

The group added that the Marcos Jr. government is not doing better, citing the case of anti-Manila Bay reclamation campaigners who revealed being abducted by the NTF-ELCAC and the Philippine Army last September.

Bato, Task Force take exception

Reacting to the UN expert’s recommendations, Senator Ronald dela Rosa said Fry is “one of the most misinformed foreigners.”

In a budget hearing at the Senate Wednesday night, dela Rosa said Fry’s views might have changed if he only involved NTF-ELCAC in his investigations.

National security adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson Eduardo Año also said Fry should have met with the task force “to ensure that he has a full appreciation of the body’s mandate, operations, and overall directions.”

The NTF-ELCAC said it will seek a dialogue with Fry in the future.

Move to defund

But Karapatan said NTF-ELCAC’s “boilerplate responses” to Fry’s observations “further expose its propensity to disregard and distort human rights.”

“NTF-ELCAC’s statement that it is a ‘working and effective human rights mechanism’ is a ludicrous claim, considering its track record of propagating lies and its long list of crimes against the Filipino people,” Karapatan said.

The group said Fry should instead be commended for lending his voice to the growing call for an end to the NTF-ELCAC and ATA menace on people’s rights.

Karapatan added it anticipates Fry’s full report on his official visit to the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.

“We hope that he can also look further into the militarist approach in the counterinsurgency policy of the Marcos Jr. – Duterte administration that drives NTF-ELCAC and the use of the terror law against environmental defenders and communities, as well as the neoliberal policies that spur destructive big reclamation, dam and mining projects that displace and violate rights of the people,” Karapatan said.

Meanwhile, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that in line with Fry’s recommendations, Congress should immediately move to defund NTF-ELCAC to prevent more human rights abuses in the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippines unworthy of UN Security Council seat, rights groups say

Human rights groups said the Philippines is not worthy to become a member of the United Nations  (UN) Security Council because of “grave human rights violations” in the country.

The Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch from Geneva, Switzerland said the Philippine government is insincere in cooperating with the UN itself on human rights and its bid to join the Security Council must be stopped.

The UPR Watch said that at the ongoing 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights themselves reported on reprisal cases against human rights defenders in the Philippines , saying “there must be an end to other politically motivated charges, and a safer environment for civil society.”

The report before the Human Rights Council took special note of the perjury case against Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, and a member of Philippine UPR Watch, and the red-tagging of Karapatan and its staff.

“How can the Philippines take on the task of international peace and safety when it is much of an epic fail on the domestic front? Killings, disappearances, trumped-up charges happen day in, day out. Aggression on our seas conducted by foreign vessels is a regular occurrence,” National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) officer Kristina Conti said.

“The report on reprisals clearly indicates that the Philippine government is merely posturing before international bodies. The red-tagging, cases, and adversarial stance against human rights defenders and especially civil society organizations that engage with the UN are intended to stifle dissent and, ultimately, kill the civic space,” she added.

Conti further said that the Philippine government’s refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a direct challenge to international authority.

“Their campaign stands on quicksand. Members of the UN General Assembly will be able to access information from the different offices and agencies of the UN. They will hear about the inaction of the Philippine government on cases lodged in domestic and international fora,” Katribu’s Beverly Longid said.

Longid added that UN Special Rapporteurs are also formally monitoring the cases against indigenous peoples’ rights activist Windel Bolinget, who has engaged with the UN since the 1990s and was designated a terrorist by the Philippine government.

The Philippines reiterated its bid to be one of 10 temporary members of the UN Security Council in 2027-2028 at the session in New York.

The Philippine UPR delegation meanwhile is at the UN headquarters in Geneva lobbying at the session of the Human Rights Council, meeting with country missions, UN offices, and spoken at several sessions and side events reporting on the Philippines’ inability to rein in abuses of state forces.

“The so-called ‘war on drugs’ and the ‘war on terror’ have been bloody, intense, and continuous. We have a long list of police abuses, military brutality, and government misuse of power. The Philippines simply lacks credibility to join the UN Security Council because it is in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Conti said.

The Philippine UPR Watch said UN experts are currently raising with the Philippine government the safety of lawyers, in particular that of five NUPL members who have been killed, attacked, and red-tagged.

In a joint communication dated 15 June 2023, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Margaret Satterthwaite and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin asked the Philippine government to provide information about the investigation into attacks and explain how the government can ensure safety of lawyers and judges.

They are looking specifically into the killing of Juan Macababbad and the attempted killing of Angelo Karlo Guillen, and the surveillance, threats and “red-tagging” of Catherine Salucon, Edre Olalia, and Maria Sol Taule. # (Raymund B.Villanueva)

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)

Drug war widow brings husband’s case to UN

A widow of a victim of the government’s so-called war on drugs called for a stronger United Nations (UN) effort in investigating the killings in the Philippines.

Amy Jane Lee, whose husband Michael was among the thousands killed, said the bloody campaign started by the Rodrigo Duterte government is continuing under the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“The killings continue. If the ‘war on drugs’ was effective, the proliferation of illegal drugs would no longer be an issue. If the domestic investigation processes were efficient, I wouldn’t be here asking for help again,” Lee said.

A member of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, Lee is in Geneva, Switzerland as the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) publicized its report on human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.

Rise Up is among the groups that submitted complaints to the OHCHR and was cited in the report, particularly about human rights violations “resulting from the militarization of anti-drug operations that disproportionately impact the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society.” 

The UN OHCHR report also stated that: “In most cases, accountability for human rights violations and access to effective remedies for victims and communities remains lacking.”

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is conducting its 54th session attended by a delegation of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch from human rights, lawyers, indigenous peoples, church, and environment groups from the Philippines.

The HRC is currently conducting a UN Joint Program in the Philippines that includes dialogues and trainings with government agencies in upholding and protecting human rights.

The program however had been receiving criticisms from local human rights groups for being “insubstantial in bringing about changes in the country’s drug policies, with the killings continuing under the Marcos administration unchecked and un-prosecuted.” 

“The heat is on the Philippines, with UN special rapporteurs noting concern over recent developments in the Philippines, on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the extrajudicial killings committed during the Duterte administration’s drug war,” said Atty. Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-National Capital Region.

The NUPL represents victims of the “war on drugs” in proceedings before the ICC.

Lee and Philippine UPR Watch called on missions of state members of the ICC to support the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor.

Conti emphasized the continuing obligation of the Philippine government to cooperate with the court.

“It is logically inconsistent for the Philippines to cooperate with the UN but not the ICC,” she said. 

Philippine UPR Watch also reiterated its call for the UN through the OHCHR to continue their monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, with the killing of a lawyer in Abra province  and the abduction and arbitrary detention of two environmental activists in Bataan. # (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)

Rights defenders at UN: Violations continue amid worsening economic crisis in PH

Filipino rights defenders urged the United Nations (UN) anew to investigate violations in the Philippines at the ongoing 53rd Human Rights Council (HRC) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Representatives of organizations Center for Environmental Concerns, Coalition for People’s Rights to Health, Council for Health and Development, IBON Foundation, Kilusang Mayo Uno and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said abuses and lack of accountability are continuing under the year-old Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency.

The human rights violations are happening amid worsening economic crisis, the groups that are part of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Network said.

The organizations reported it participated in interactive dialogues with UN Special Rapporteurs reporting before the UN HRC on the issues of physical and mental health, protection and promotion of human rights in the context of climate change, and the independence of judges and lawyers.

NUPL chairperson Edre Olalia (left) in a side event at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Supplied photo)

They added they have talked to other UN experts, working group members and their representatives, including those on enforced disappearances; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; peaceful assembly and of association; independence of judges and lawyers; climate change; right to food; business and human rights; and on leprosy.

“Beyond the optics and rhetoric of the Marcos Jr. administration, we come once again to the UN to hold power to account by presenting our data and recommendations,” NUPL chairperson Edre Olalia said.

Olalia added that their reports can serve as an alternative to State-backed narratives on the rights of the Filipino people.

In March, Philippine government representatives formally accepted select recommendations made by UN HRC member states at the 4th cycle of the UPR of the country’s human rights record held last November.

The Philippine UPR Watch said that there is lack of progress on civil and political rights violations in the country, adding there remains the absence of significant measures to address “deeply-rooted problems.”

The groups said these include problems on wages and job-security, precarious and hazardous work, poverty and inequality, ill health and poor services, and environmental distress and climate change.

“By failing to install robust mechanisms and staunch guardrails to respect, protect and fulfil human rights in the Philippines, those who raise dissent or dare challenge State narratives face harassment, intimidation, red-tagging, surveillance, or death,” the delegation said in a statement.

“The lives of countless workers, lawyers, judges, health workers, environment defenders, and development workers are senselessly taken, and basic democratic rights are continuously attacked with impunity,” Olalia further explained.

The human rights lawyers however said these fuel their resolve to tirelessly make their voices heard by the international community and to ask them to investigate injustices in the Philippines.

The 53rd Regular Session of the UN HRC is ongoing from June 19 to July 14. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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.

Rights network to gov’t: Sovereignty does not mean running away from ICC

A network of human rights and church groups said the Philippine government must stop playing the sovereignty card in trying to shield government officials involved in the mass murder of suspected drug personalities from ongoing investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Reacting to justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s latest address at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland last Thursday, March 2, the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said government is obviously engaged in an orchestrated effort to shield former President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials from accountability.

The network added that Remulla and other government officials, including legislators such as Senator Robinhood Padilla and Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Pimentel who separately filed resolutions against the ICC investigations, should be honorable and honest enough to admit that the Philippines “willingly, voluntarily, and solemnly endorsed and signed the Rome Statute” creating the ICC.

Philippine UPR Watch said the complaints filed against Duterte and others were made when it was still covered by the international treaty, mandating the ICC to continue its investigations despite the Philippine government’s withdrawal in March 2019.

In his March 2 address, Remulla said it was an overreach and a violation of the founding principles of the ICC to conduct the investigation when the Philippines is no longer part of the ICC.

“We draw the line, as any sovereign state must, when an international institution overreaches and departs from the boundaries of its creation. Upon this context, the Philippine Government rejects the ICC’s decision to resume investigations over alleged crimes committed during the anti-illegal drug campaign,” Remulla said.

But the Philippine UPR Watch said protecting the country’s sovereignty does not mean running away from international commitments, more so if the investigations are being done in accordance with the ICC’s mandate and procedures.
 
“On the other hand, how is it not a departure from justice when a government flees from its commitment just to provide escape investigation and prosecution of political allies from wrongdoing by a body it was part of?” the network countered.

The network also disagreed with Remulla’s claim that the criminal justice system in the Philippines is working perfectly when only 20 officers were prosecuted against a backdrop of at least 6,000 deaths.

Remulla’s address was part of the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva where he is also expected to appear later this month to announce which of the nearly 300 recommendations by other States in the last UPR review on the Philippines last November the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government would accept.

A Philippine UPR Watch delegation would also be attending at the latter half of March to urge the government to stop “cherry-picking” which recommendations to support and reject.

“A government that claims to be openly and actively engaging in international human rights mechanisms such as those being discussed in the ongoing 52nd UN Human Rights Council [should support recommendations] involving accountability to wrongdoings such as extrajudicial killings, red-tagging, ICC membership restoration and weaponization of laws against human rights defenders, activists and critics,” the network said.
 
“The Marcos Jr. government should begin earnestly committing to full justice and complete accountability that would make the country respected in the eyes of the world. A State that runs away from justice and accountability is a pariah, deserving of being called out by the rest of the civilized, decent world,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Karapatan to Remulla: Why not invite more UN experts for greater compliance?

Human rights group Karapatan urged Secretary of Justice Jesus Crispin Remulla to issue official invitations to more United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs to prove its compliance with the recommendations by other countries.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that aside from the government’s “follow up invitation” to UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Morris Tidball-Binz, the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration should issue invitations for all UN Special Procedures.

Palabay said these must include invitations to special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, independence of lawyers and judges, and right to health to allow them to conduct official investigations on other human rights violations in the country.  

“While the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings is most welcome to provide support for capacity building activities on human rights, the most pressing need for an official visit by the mandate comes from the continuing reports of extrajudicial killings in the country and the dire lack of justice related to the drug war and counterinsurgency programs, as well as to the killings of journalists, lawyers and those in the legal profession. The Philippine government should heed the call of UN member states to issue standing invitations to all UN Special Procedures,” Palabay said in a statement.

3 UN experts to visit PH next year

Remulla on Monday announced government’s invitation to Tidball-Binz as part of its capacity building under the United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The justice secretary said they wish the UN representative to focus on the capacity building of more forensic pathologists in the country, noting that Tidball-Binz, a Chilean physician, is an expert on forensic science, human rights, and humanitarian action.

Remulla added that Tidball-Binz is expected to visit the Philippines early next year, aside from Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Thought and Religion Irene Khan and Special Rapporteur on the Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of children Mama Fatima Singhate.

But Palabay reminded Remulla that in the last UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the human rights situation in the Philippines last week, at least four UN member States—Uruguay, Luxembourg, Uruguay, and Latvia – called on the Philippine government to issue standing invitations for all Special Procedures’ official visits to the country.

Ghana even recommended that the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings be granted unrestricted access to the country, she added.

“Such visits can hopefully provide more substantial and independent actions and recommendations on the killings, as well as on the root causes of policies and practices driving such violations,” Palabay said.

Culture of impunity

Karapatan also contradicted Remulla’s statement at the UN on the so-called non-existence of a culture of impunity in the Philippines, saying that the government has very little to show for cases of successful prosecution and final convictions of perpetrators of EJKs and other rights violations, especially among State actors. 

“Coupled with draconian policies, official pronouncements by government officials and continuing violations on the ground, Sec. Remulla’s claim is unsubstantiated. Several UN member states who have called for an end to the extrajudicial killings and for independent investigations during the last UPR clearly did not buy these claims,” Palabay said.

In his presentation before the fourth periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland last November 14, Remulla said 25 policemen have been charged with murder in connection with the government’s drug campaign.

Remulla’s claim was dismissed by 35 other governments, however, who recommended more investigations on summary executions under the Rodrigo Duterte and Marcos Jr. governments.

Civil society organizations present in Geneva also said that the number of charged police officers was a “mere drop in the bucket” considering the thousands killed under the government’s bloody war on drugs.

‘Remulla engaged in red-tagging himself’

Karapatan decried Remulla’s statements on civil society groups’ participation in the UPR as “somehow linked to the armed movement against government, linked to terrorism” and who “destroy the image of the country.” 

These statements, Palabay said, belie Remulla’s claims that red-tagging is not an official policy of the Philippine government.

“His pronouncements are proof that the Philippine government commits red- and terrorist-tagging of organizations, and that it continues the stigmatization of human rights defenders and our organizations,” she said. 

Karapatan said it and other organizations comprising the Philippine UPR Watch network that monitored the UPR in Geneva will conduct a report-back session before International Human Rights Day, December 10.

The group added it will monitor the 200 recommendations that the Philippine government reportedly accepted during the UPR, and urged UN member states to ensure time-bound and tangible actions especially on accountability issues, instead of mere promises on paper. 

The group noted that the Philippines publicly expressed rejection of recommendations pertaining to measures on sexual orientation, gender identity, expression equality, decriminalization of abortion and divorce.

The government also reportedly reserved responses to recommendations on State actors’ involvement in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and enforced disappearances; red-tagging and the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill; its rejoining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; the impact of laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act on the freedom of expression and association; the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the Optional Protocols on the Convention on the Rights of Children; establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism against torture, among others. 

“The Philippines’ rejection of specific recommendations and those without immediate responses show that the government refuses to acknowledge the long-standing human rights issues and concerns in the country,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups denounce Remulla’s red-tagging justification before UN

A network of church and human rights groups condemned justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s justification of government’s red-tagging of critics before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), saying the practice is against the values of a democratic and civilized society.

The Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch said they take strong exception to Remulla’s remark at the 136th session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland last Tuesday that red-tagging is “part of democracy.”

“It’s par for the course. If you can dish it out, you should be able to take it,” Remulla said.

“That, for me, is probably the essence of democracy. Are we not allowed to criticize our critics too? Is it a one-way street?” he added.

But the Philippine UPR Watch pointed out that Remulla made his remarks just as the UNHRC is discussing the dangers of red-tagging on the lives of people who raise legitimate issues on government policy.

“His remarks, while a brazen official admission of the practice, do not only encourage and normalize red-tagging but also brandish it as an institutionalized and orchestrated method of the government in dealing with perceived political critics,” Philippine UPR Watch said.

“Redtagging especially of State forces and their adjuncts has dire consequences on persons, families, organizations and communities,” the network said.

The network revealed that there were 801 political prisoners as well 442 human rights defenders who became victims of extra-judicial killings at the end of the Rodrigo Duterte government, most, if not all, were red tagging victims.

In Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first 100 days in office, there have been 10 civilians killed while four have been abducted and forcibly disappeared, the network reported. At least 37 have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, it added.

 “Feigning ignorance on these consequences and packaging these threats as mere exercise of freedom of expression are clear signals of a policy of tolerance for human rights violations and impunity,” the network said.

Red tagging explained, again

Former UN special rapporteur Phillip Alston first called the world’s attention on the practice of red tagging by the Philippine government in 2007, describing it as a classification of a wide range of groups – including human rights advocates, labour union organizations, journalists,
teachers, unions, women’s groups, indigenous organizations, religious groups, student
groups, agrarian reform advocates and others –as ‘fronts’ and then as
enemies of the State’ that are accordingly considered to be legitimate targets.”

The practice is a continuation of the McCarthyist red-baiting strategy in the 1950s employed against United States of America government critics.

At least one Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice, Marvic Leonen, has opined that red-tagging causes human rights violations.

“To make it easy for military and paramilitary units to silence or cause untold human rights abuses on vocal dissenters, government agents usually resort to stereotyping or caricaturing individuals. This is accomplished by providing witnesses who, under coercive and intimidating conditions, identify the leaders of organizations critical of the administration as masterminds of ordinary criminal acts. Not only does this make these leaders’ lives and liberties vulnerable, a chilling effect on dissent is also generated among similar-minded individuals,” Justice Leonen wrote.

In March 2021, then Senator Franklin Drilon proposed a law defining and penalizing red-tagging as “State’s malicious labeling and stereotyping of individuals or groups as communists or terrorists. It has not been passed.

Standing ground

Following Remulla’s apparent admission of the practice, the Philippine UPR Watch called on members of the UNHRC to further denounce government’s red-tagging.

The network also voiced fears that justice for victims of red-tagging will remain elusive and human rights violations continue during the Marcos government as under the past Duterte regime.

“[W]ith an administration that has not indicated any commitment, sincerity and political will to commit to justice and accountability, it is imperative to hold our ground, push back and demand for the protection of our rights,” the network said.

Philippine UPR Watch representatives are set to travel to Geneva in November to personally deliver their statements before the UNHRC assembly. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)