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De Lima, rights defenders warn UN on Duterte’s ‘snake oil salesman of a government’

By adopting a more diplomatic tone in its resolution on the state of human rights in the Philippines, did the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expect the Rodrigo Duterte government to suddenly behave? Senator Leila de Lima asked.

Reacting to the Council’s position on the penultimate day of its 45th General Session last Wednesday, the imprisoned Senator asked the UNHRC if after 28,000 murders and hundreds of cases of attacks on critics and human rights defenders, does it expect the Duterte government to “grow a conscience and cultivate an appetite for the promotion and defense of human rights?”

In a statement read at an online press conference by her spokesperson Atty Fhillip Sawali last Thursday, October 8, the Senator also expressed doubt that the technical cooperation offered by the UNHRC to Duterte’s government will finally enable it to fulfill its international obligations on human rights.

De Lima said the resolution is “not responsive to the human rights calamity under the Duterte government,” adding the new UNHRC resolution is out of sync and incongruous with its earlier resolution calling for in-country investigations by independent experts on reports of human rights violations the President himself encouraged.

“It does not meaningfully address the need to stop the policies and practices that result in EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and other gross human rights violations. It does not put in place an independent investigation of the killings and other abuses,” de Lima said.

She added that technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability and similar measures do not result in any concrete mechanism that can lead to the prosecution and punishment of the masterminds and perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations.

The Senator said she fears that the government may just use UNHRC’s supposed technical assistance and capacity-building programs as convenient covers to hide its actual policy of contempt towards human rights and human rights defenders.

“In other words: the new UNHRC resolution fails to take concrete steps towards ending the killings. It likewise fails to advance the cause of justice for the numerous victims and their bereaved families,” she said.

De Lima urged the UNHRC “not to be easily swayed by the snake oil salesman of a government that has clearly declared an open war against human rights and the rule of law.”

 “How do you disable a killing machine? You confront it tenaciously, with all the talents and tools that you have, aiming at disarming and dismantling it, and holding responsible all its masterminds and operators,” de Lima said.

Diplomacy at work?

Philippine government officials were quick to welcome the UNHRC resolution and claimed the international body trusts that Philippine criminal and judicial institutions to address human rights violations.

In an online briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the resolution “shows that the UN Human Rights Council trusts the institutions tasked to address human rights violators.”

“We will fully cooperate with the UN Human Rights system because that is what we want. We are not saying we are perfect. Do not criticize us and help us instead,” Roque said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra for his part said he will get the proferred technical cooperation with the UNHRC going and create a panel to review drug operations resulting in deaths.

The latest UNHRC resolution was co-sponsored by the Philippine government.

‘Simple posturing’

Asked on the possible reasons for the tone of the resolution and the calmer response by the Philippine government, National Union of Peoples Lawyers president Edre Olalia said it appears that the Duterte government is shifting its stance from belligerence to mollification.

“After overwhelming, persistent and consistent condemnation by the international community on the state of human rights in the Philippines, the Duterte government painted itself to a corner by its combative stance in the past,” Olalia said.

“The calmer tone may be a tactical approach to temper criticism of its record and it may also be a strategic approach to preempt accountability for its human rights violations,” Olalia added.

The lawyer also explained that voting at the UN is political and influenced by set voting patterns, lobbying, quid-pro-quo among States, and regional considerations.

“But what is relevant is whether the victims receive justice or the perpetrators are only emboldened further. In the end, it is the policy and reality on the ground that matters,” he said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay added that the Duterte government should not be too quick on claiming it won points with a resolution written in fine language.

“What is very clear is that there still needs to be strong domestic accountability and impartial investigations,” Palabay said, noting that the resolution is still based on the report filed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing thousands of rights violations by the Duterte government.

“The challenge here is how the Philippine government honors and views OHCHR recommendations, as well as those by other independent local and international human rights organizations,” Palabay stressed.

Palabay recalled Duterte’s recent online address of the UN General Assembly where he called for “open dialogue” and “constructive engagement” but complained that human rights had been “weaponized” against him and his government by local and international critics.

“Duterte is clearly just posturing. In any case, the ball is in the government’s court, so to speak,” she said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also dismissed the government’s assurance of dialogue and cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

“Any technical cooperation and capacity building on human rights for the part of the Duterte government  would just be tokenistic and superficial. Duterte’s practice of human rights promotion is practically naught. Soon enough, he would [again] be verbally lashing at the UNHRC and human rights defenders,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

KARAPATAN unfurls giant “Stop the Killings” banner as 45th UNHRC opens

Human rights group Karapatan unfurled a giant “Stop the Killings” banner at the Commission on Human Rights’ Liwasang Diokno in Quezon City as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opens its 45th session today, September 14, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The group reiterates its call for an end to the Duterte government’s extrajudicial killings and for the UNHRC to investigate rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.

Groups cynical of gov’t promises to UN rights body

Human rights groups said they are “reasonably cynical” of the statements made by the Rodrigo Duterte government in response to the damning report on the state of human rights in the Philippines submitted to the United National (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) last Tuesday, June 30.

Reacting to justice secretary Menardo Guevarra’s reply to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle’s Bachelet’s submission, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) said the Duterte administration appears to be on damage control and pre-empting further accountability on the thousands of anti-illegal drugs deaths.

“Saccharine statements at appeasing widespread condemnation and creating yet another government body to address unabated impunity and support self-serving claims that domestic remedies are adequate, prompt and credible become soporific in the face of previous experience and present realities,” EcuVoice said in a statement.

RELATED STORIES: UN submits Duterte’s rights record

UN official slams rights violations in PH

The group noted that the government’s reply was delivered in “more sober and studied tones,” a departure from the combative manner it contested various reports by UN experts in Geneva, Switzerland during the HRC’s 43rd general session last March.

EcuVoice however said Bachelet’s findings of massive human rights violations and the near-impunity by which it happens in the country warrant an in-country independent investigation as well as “options for international accountability measures” should the government refuse to cooperate.

‘Transparency mechanisms’

In his speech delivered online at the opening of the UNHRC’s 44th general session, Guevarra denied impunity exists under the Duterte government, adding Duterte has discharged his campaign promises “faithfully.”

“Our President ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where our people are safe and their rights protected,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra said the government’s monitoring mechanism called RealNumbersPH ensures public transparency and full accountability” on drug-related killings.

“We have also established an inter-agency panel, chaired by my office, that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred. The Philippine National Police is obliged by its internal mechanisms to conduct motu propio investigations — whether or not there are complainants — on all law enforcement operations that result in deaths, and take action on this basis,” he said.

Guevarra added that the government system in the country provides “every avenue to examine, establish and pursue of wrongdoing by State actors.

The justice secretary did not reply to Bachelet’s recommendation that UN investigators be allowed into the Philippines.

Earlier, President Duterte has threatened to deport, imprison or slap UN experts who dare come into the Philippines to conduct human rights investigations.

‘Empty promises’

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said Guevarra’s statements are empty promises in light of the government’s “relentless attacks against freedom and democracy.”

“[U]ntil the government of President Rodrigo Duterte takes seriously the facts-based findings of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Report and cooperates with the UN office for an independent, international probe these promises are nothing but empty,” the group said in a statement.

“It is hard to believe that President Rodrigo Duterte’s government is sincere in its claims of promoting and uplifting the dignity of Filipinos as Mr. Guevarra claims. Harassments, arrests, and killings of civilians are still happening on the ground with impunity,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN submits PH rights record on Duterte’s 4th anniversary as president

United Nations (UN) human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet is about to formally submit her report on the state of human rights in the Philippines today, June 30, the fourth anniversary of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.

As the 44th general session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) starts in Geneva, Switzerland, Bachelet’s submission will be followed by discussions on the document by its member-states.

Philippine representatives are expected to deliver the government’s response to the 26-page report, first released to the public last June 4.

The session starts at 4:30 pm, Philippine time.

(Watch it here: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/44th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council-/5708657554001)

The report said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

Read Kodao’s article on the report here:

Dozens of civil society organizations submitted complaints to the UN earlier this year as part of UN’s data-gathering following the passage of Iceland-sponsored Resolution 41/2 to conduct investigations on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

At least sixteen organizations under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) also urged the UNHRC to pass a resolution to investigate further the killings and threats of activists, churchpeople, teachers, indigenous peoples, lawyers, the political opposition, journalists, environment defenders and other sectors.

Ecuvoice sent representatives to the UNHRC’s 43rd general session in Geneva last February and March, urging the body to pass a resolution for a more thorough investigation of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The Philippine Mission to the UN in Geneva has consistently denied the killings and rights violations are official policy and acts of the Duterte government.

Palace photo

‘Sactions vs rights violators’

Meanwhile, UN human rights experts (see list below) renewed calls for an on-the-ground independent and impartial probe despite Duterte’s threat to expel investigators upon arrival in the Philippines.

In a statement last Friday, June 26, the UN experts said Bachelet’s report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.

“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” UN special rapporteurs said. 

The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:

  • Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
  • At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
  • The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
  • At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
  • The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
  • On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
  • There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
  • President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.

The experts said the coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the downward spiral of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” the experts said.

The group quoted Duterte saying, “Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.”

The experts also warned against the Philippine Government’s attempt to fast track a new Anti-Terrorism Bill they sau will further dilute human rights safeguards, by justifying the arrests of human rights defenders and government’s critics, authorising lengthy detention based on warrantless arrests, wiretapping and other surveillance for extended periods of time.

“Thousands in the Philippines have been killed as the direct result of the government policies. Domestic mechanisms responsible for ensuring accountability and protecting the rule of law have failed to do so,” the UN experts said.

The group urged the OHCHR report should not be the end of international commitment but a milestone marking the beginning of real accountability, redress for the victims and a definite end to the very serious violations committed.

The experts said the human rights situation in the Philippines has now reached a level of gravity requiring a robust intervention by the UN.

“The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuses against the Philippines people,” the group said.

The experts urged the Human Rights Council to:

  1. Establish an on-the-ground international investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines
  2. Strengthen the OHCHR mandate to continue its monitoring and reporting on the human rights violations in the Philippines
  3. Call on the ICC to expedite and prioritize the completion of its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines   

The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

* The experts: Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequencesMr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitationMr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and associationMs. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. Michael FakhriSpecial Rapporteur on the right to foodMr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this contextWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Mr. José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoplesMr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrenceMr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to developmentWorking Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprisesSurya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai (Chair), Dante Pesce, Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair).

[NEXT IN THIS SERIES: UN official slams rights violations in the Philippines, urges options for international accountability]

[DISCLOSURE: The reporter was a member of the EcuVoice delegation to the 43rd General Session of the UNHRC as a freedom of expression/press freedom violation victim.)

Duterte admin banning aid to hide human rights violations

by IBON Media

Research group IBON, a member of the multisectoral network AidWatch, said that the Duterte administration is stopping talks on new official development assistance (ODA) from 18 countries as part of its efforts to hide the worsening domestic human rights situation.

This includes Spain which is supporting the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

The group said that the show of standing up against foreign intervention in the country is hollow because the administration continues to receive much more ‘aid’ from China and the United States (US) despite their much larger and more damaging intervention in the Philippines.

The administration issued a memorandum on August 27, 2019 directing the suspension of all negotiations and signing of loan and grant agreements with the 18 countries of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that recently supported a resolution to investigate human rights violations in the country.

These include: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

AidWatch, a network actively working with different government agencies and stakeholders on ODA issues, noted that as of the first quarter of 2019, the 18 countries combined account for only US$525 million or less than 3% of the Philippines’ active loans and grants.

This is because only three of the 18 countries have active ODA here — Australia (US$476 million), Italy (US$41 million) and Spain (US$8.1 million).

There is also just an additional US$414 million in the pipeline from Australia (US$82 million), Austria (US$177 million), and the UK (US$155 million).

Active grants and loans mostly go to education, disaster management, agrarian reform and peace-building projects.

Spain however also provides almost US$6 million in grants as institutional support for the CHR under the Project Go-Just Human Rights-CHR project.

This started in February 2016 and is due to end in December 2019.

Aid in the pipeline is meanwhile overwhelmingly for transport infrastructure especially bridges, the group noted.

The president’s memo says that the government is in the process of ‘assessing’ relations with these countries.

AidWatch said that this is clearly a signal not just to the 18 countries but to the international community that it will not take any criticism about its human rights record and indeed that the only narrative about the human rights situation it allows will be its own sanitized version.

The administration has already said that it will not cooperate with the UN on any such investigation and that it will block the entry of any UN special rapporteurs.

The group said that this is however clearly not a principled stand against foreign intervention but a self-serving stand to cover up massive and rising human rights violations stemming from its violent ‘war on drugs’ and repression of activists and political opposition.

The Duterte administration continues to accept US$365 million in active ODA from China and looking to as much as US$10.6 billion more despite its gross intrusiveness in the West Philippine Sea, said the group.

It is also accepting US$887 million in active ODA and US$276 million in military aid over 2016-2020 from the US despite Philippine territory being used as a US military outpost hosting troops, warplanes, war materiel, equipment and bases.

IBON said that notwithstanding the president’s swagger and rhetoric, the country is clearly still under the thrall of big foreign powers and still wanting genuinely independent foreign policy. #

Araw ng mga Desaparecido ginunita sa isang pagtitipon

Muling inalala ng mga kaanak at grupong Desaparecidos ang International Day of the Disappeared sa isang pagtitipon sa Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church sa Baclaran, Parañaque City noong Agosto 30. Sigaw nila ang patuloy na katarungan sa mga biktima ng sapilitang pagkawala.

Sumulat sila kay United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet upang humingi ng tulong sa kaso ng mga desaparecido sa bansa. Si Bachelet ay dating political prisoner sa Chile at lumaban sa gobyernong Pinochet noong dekada 70.

Umapela rin sila sa gobyerno ni Pangulong Duterte na huwag tanggalin ang mahigit 600 kaso ng desaparecidos na nakatala ngayon sa UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.

Music: News Background / Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao

Karapatan lauds UNHRC resolution on the human rights crisis in the Philippines

Karapatan said it is pleased about the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution tabled by Iceland asking member-states to take concrete steps on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines during the council’s 41st session.

“Karapatan welcomes the UNHRC’s decision to pass this long overdue resolution. This comes at a most pressing and opportune time as the Duterte government is set to report on its “achievements” after 3 years in office. This is a significant step towards accountability and we applaud the UNHRC’s decision to not remain complicit amid the rights violations being perpetrated in the Philippines. This is not the end-all, be-all of our efforts to exact accountability, but we take it as a critical start. This is a decision on the side of justice,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said soon after learning of the resolution’s passage.

The Iceland resolution expressed concern on reported cases of extrajudicial killings in line with the drug war, but also raised the issue of reported violations targeting critics and human rights defenders.

According to Karapatan, the resolution urges the Philippine government to take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, to carry out impartial investigations and to hold perpetrators accountable in accordance with international norms and standards including on due process and the rule of law; and to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, including by facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation.

“This is a significant and relevant move by Iceland, which was supported by 28 states. An independent investigation into reported human rights violations in line with the government’s anti-narcotics campaign and its counterinsurgency program is long overdue,” Karapatan said in a statement.

“This resolution will initiate the start of a close monitoring on the rights situation in the country. Other efforts domestically, regionally and internationally will likewise move forward, the aggregate of which will expectedly bring out the changes in policy and in leadership that prioritizes human and people’s rights,” the group explained.

Palabay said the UNHRC resolution is not an issue of sovereignty but of accountability.

The Philippines is signatory to binding human rights treaties that allow for such mechanisms of investigation and accountability.

“Duty-bearers who act contrary to their mandate of upholding human rights should expect to be made accountable. In the end, it comes down to exacting justice,” Palabay said.

“This is not a numbers game, as what this callous government tries to reason out. This systematic and state-perpetrated butchering of the Filipino people has reached international concern, and the clamor for change will only echo louder from here on,” she added.

“Despite the government’s efforts to discredit and malign victims, their relatives, and human rights organizations, many countries have already expressed alarm on our situation. We will continuously challenge the government to own up to its flagship policies, and face the consequences of peddling militarism at the expense of people’s rights,” Palabay concluded. (Video by Joseph Cuevas/Report by Raymund B. Villanueva)