The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed it is being kept out of the review of the first partial report of the deaths resulting from the conduct of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug operations.
The CHR said the snub is contrary to the commitments and assurances of the government during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year.
“This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations,” CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement Monday.
In his speech delivered online during the UNHRC’s 44th general session last June 30, Guevarra said the Duterte government established an inter-agency panel, chaired by his office, “that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.”
The members of the interagency panel are the Department of Justice, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Presidential Management Staff, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, Guevarra later revealed.
The government assured the international community that the CHR would play a role in the panel.
“As with all human rights-related mechanisms in the country, the Commission on Human Rights would be involved in its capacity as an independent monitoring body,” it said.
But Dumpit said the CHR has not been involved despite “respectfully, diligently, consistently, and repeatedly asked the Department of Justice” concerning its role in the said panel, to no avail.
Nonetheless, Dumpit said the CHR strongly urges the Government to publicize the findings “as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report.”
“This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice. We reiterate our openness and willingness to engage with the government in this process,” Dumpit said.
What the UNHRC said
In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC 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.
The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.
In examining key policy documents of the Duterte government relating to its campaign against illegal drugs, the UNHRC found a troubling lack of due process, protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.
“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the UNHRC report stated.
In a separate statement issued last June 26, various UN special rapporteurs said the UNHRC 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,” the UN experts 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 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)