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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)

Migrante asks UN to conduct investigations on killings in PH

Filipino migrants asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCRC) to look into extrajudicial killings in the country, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of committing “gross human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.”

Migrante International submitted its Global Petition of Filipino Migrants UNHCRC Tuesday in support to the call of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs for an independent investigation into the increasing rights violations in the Philippines.

Migrante cited government neglect of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country in its petition, also posted on the online petition platform change.org since last week.

Filipino migrants and families are not spared from extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the group said.

Migrante recalled the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos in August 2017 by police operatives who collared the youngster, dragged him across a dark alley and summarily killed. The victim was the son of a Saudi-based domestic worker.

In August 2018, Manila police officers mugged OFW Allan Rafael and detained him until he died under police custody.

Rafael, a cancer patient, was arrested by the police on suspicion of being a drug addict based on his pale appearance, his family alleges. He was undergoing chemotherapy when accosted by the police.

Migrante’s petition likewise accused the government of sending cheap Filipino labor abroad instead of creating enough domestic jobs to end forced migration.

“Through the Duterte regime’s labor export program, the government has been imposing unjust state exactions as its way of subjecting OFWs to legalized robbery. A Filipino migrant worker already wallows in debt even before she is deployed overseas and whenever they get mistreated abroad, they are often left neglected or coerced by government agencies to keep silent and relinquish their demands for justice,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

In its petition, Migrante also cited the case of 81 Filipino migrants currently on death rows as well as the numerous cases of unsolved deaths and detention of migrant Filipinos abroad.

International pressure

The Philippine government is facing mounting international pressure on widespread reports of continuing extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

Last Thursday, Iceland issued a draft resolution signed by 28 UN-member states asking the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to impose concrete actions on the killings.

Members of the Philippines’ official delegation to the 41st UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reportedly walked out of the meeting in protest to suggestions that an official and impartial investigation be conducted in the Philippines.

Varied estimates from 6,000 to 30,000 victims killed have been reported by local and international groups.

“My only sin are the extrajudicial killings,” Duterte confessed at a gathering in the Presidential palace in September 2018.

In a speech in Malacañan last Monday, Duterte also said he prefers to be tried on his human rights record than being accused of corruption.  

“Well, extrajudicial killing is ok but not corruption,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of government officials at the Palace.

Human rights groups said that Duterte’s admissions add weight to the preliminary investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court last year. 

“We demand an end to the violation of our collective human rights and hold the Duterte government accountable. We urgently plead with the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Duterte government,” Migrante’s petition said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Extraordinary’ number of killings put Philippines under UN scrutiny

The 41st session of the United Nations Human Council (UNHRC) included the Philippines as among the countries that need special attention, citing the high number of deaths and extrajudicial killings connected with the Rodrigo Duterte government’s campaign against drug use.

In her opening statement Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachenet said that her office is very closely following the human rights situation in the Philippines, adding that the high number of deaths is extraordinary and that reports of extrajudicial killings are persistent.

“Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” she said.

Bachenet said that she welcomes recent statements made by UN Special Rapporteurs calling for action by the UNHRC.

She added that Philippine authorities should provide “comprehensive and transparent information” on the circumstances around the deaths as well as investigations related to reported human rights violations in the country.

Such actions, Bachenet said, “…could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities.”

The High Commissioner added that human rights defenders as well as activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, journalists, lawyers, members of the Catholic clergy and others who have spoken out have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials.

United National High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. (UNHRC photo)

Bachenet cited the case of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz who the Duterte government wanted proscribed as a terrorist for her alleged ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

She, along with around 600 others, has since been delisted by the government after an international denunciation of the proscription.

Threats against Tauli-Corpuz’s and other human rights defenders and activities “…creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression, Bachenet said.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) welcomed Bachenet’s statements, saying the High Commissioner’s tenor and tone on the Philippine human rights situation “…reflect the desired credibility, objectivity, transparency and fairness on the matter.”

“It does not only underscore the urgency and imperative of squarely and decisively addressing the issue and concerns about these [extrajudicial killings] as well as other brazen human rights violations, many disguised or legitimized by color of legality and official sanction,” NUPL president Atty Edre Olalia told Kodao.

The public interest lawyer said Bachenet’s statement also highlights the significance of parallel or alternative avenues for redress and accountability in the international community.

“We look earnestly forward to a positive response from the UN Human Rights Council during its present session in Geneva,” Olalia added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UNCHR reports high level of internal displacement in PH

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) tagged the Philippines as among the countries with high levels of internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the end of 2018.

In its Global Trends Forced Displacement report, the international agency said that the Philippines has as many as 212,600 victims of forced internal displacement “due to armed conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations.”

While not listed in the report as among the 10 countries with the highest number of IDPs, the Philippines have been included in the worst 11 to 20 countries since 1980.

The UNCHR defines IDPs as people or groups of people who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or man-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border.

UNHCR’s 2018 report, however, only included IDPs who fled conflicts and those “suffering IDP-like situations.”

The agency said that an estimated 41.3 million people were internally displaced all over the world, according to estimates from its Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

This is an increase on the 40.0 million reported in 2017.

“The small declines of the previous years were reversed and the internally displaced population in 2018 was the largest ever reported by IDMC,” the UNCHR said.

The agency maintains an office in the Philippines

Militarization and IDPs

Local human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights told Kodao that IDPs in the Philippines are victims of militarization.

“Their displacement from their homes and communities are due to military operations. Most of the victims are peasants, indigenous peoples, and Moro peoples,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay said Karapatan for its part has documented 449,284 victims of forced evacuations from July 2016 to March 2019.

‘Persons of concern’

The UN report also cited in its “persons of concern” category that about 80,000 Filipino Muslims went to live abroad.

“As in previous years, Filipino Muslims (80,000) who settled in Malaysia’s Sabah state were reported as ‘others of concern’ by Malaysia, the report said.

“Persons of concern” refers to individuals to whom UNHCR has extended its protection and assistance services based on humanitarian or other special grounds. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Petition amendment proves terrorist proscription vs CPP-NPA arbitrary–lawyer

The Rodrigo Duterte government’s amendment to its petition to proscribe revolutionary groups as terrorists is proof that it has a weak case against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), a human rights lawyer said.

In a statement, National Union of People’s Lawyer president Edre Olalia said the government’s original petition filed in February 2018 is weak and is merely a move to railroad the legal process.

“[The] amended petition by the government to proscribe the CPP-NPA is proof that the original one was sloppy, shotgun and arbitrary against hundreds of individuals and was designed to harass and threaten them,” Olalia said.

Last January 3, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the amended petition before Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court in Manila.

Six hundred individuals listed as “terrorists” in the original petition have been taken off  but retained CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison; NPA national operations command spokesperson Jorge Madlos; NPA’s Melito Glor Command spokesperson Jaime Padilla, National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Negros spokesperson Francisco Fernandez; alleged CPP-Visayas deputy secretary Cleofe Lagtapon; alleged CPP Mindanao Commission secretary Antonio Cabanatan; alleged NPA-Mindanao leader; and alleged NPA-Mindanao operations chief Myrna Sularte.

The amended petition no longer includes United Nations Environment Programme 2018 Champion of the Earth awardee Joan Carling and five Baguio activists like Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding.

Cawiding, former chair of the Tongtongan ti Umili and coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), said the new petition removes them from immediate danger posed by being labelled as terrorists, but said government spying on non-government organizations remains as a threat to free speech and human rights.

“This is a partial victory, but we cannot let our guard down,” Cawiding said.

She points to the latest red-tagging of ACT and harassment of teachers who are ACT members as proof that the threat against activists and government critics will continue.

“Harassment has been continuous against progressive organizations, like ACT, the delisting of the individuals named in the DOJ proscription does not guarantee the protection of our rights and our safety because the Philippine National Police and Malacañang are justifying their witch hunt in the context of [Duterte’s] Executive Order 70,” Cawiding said.

EO 70, signed last December, directs the creation of a national task force headed by the President and vice-chaired by the National Security Adviser to end local communist armed conflict and pushed for localized peace talks.

The court earlier directed the DOJ to remove the names of Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Concerns and former Baguio councilor Jose Molintas.

Molintas was also a former member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).

Corpuz, Carling, Longid and Molintas are former leaders of the militant Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), which Cariño helped establish as an indigenous peoples’ rights group that opposed the Marcos regime.

Current CPA chair Windell Bolinget said strong protests pushed the DOJ to amend its proscription petition.

But he said the threat does not end.

“They wanted the proscription of the CPP and NPA as terrorists by focusing on few names. Once they are proscribed as terrorists, people they suspect, vilify and attack as fronts and supporters will be linked and later considered terrorists. This is the danger,” Bolinget said.

Still dangerous

Olalia said that even with the amendment, the petition remains dangerous to those earlier named.

“[The] present petition remains to be without legal and factual basis and repackaged the old one in order to railroad the legal process. This will in turn violate a slew of individual and collective rights not only for those who remain in the list but many others who are maliciously identified, associated, suspected or labelled,” Olalia said.

IFI Bishop Vermilon Tagalog, chair of the regional coordinating committee of the Ilocos Network for the Environment welcomed the amended DOJ petition but said “the removal of names does not guarantee their safety”.

“The mere existence of the DOJ petition remains a clear threat especially with the insistent communist-tagging of Duterte’s administration of activists and progressive organizations,” Tagalog added.

Tagalog said that the Human Security Act of 2007, the DOJ’s basis for the filing of the proscription petition is not just directed against “terrorists” but also to critics of the government.

“We call on all environmental defenders to remain vigilant and steadfast in the fight against efforts of the administration to impose its tyrannical rule and clamped-down on our democratic rights.” #(Raymund B. Villanueva/ Kodao and Kimberlie Olmaya Ngabit-Quitasol/Northern Dispatch)

‘Terrorist’ wins UN Champions of the Earth award

An indigenous people’s rights defender and environmentalist the Rodrigo Duterte government wanted labelled as “terrorist” is named winner of the Champions of the Earth Award by the United Nations, one of the international body’s most prestigious awards.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that Joan Carling is the winner of the Champions of the Earth Award for lifetime achievement in her advocacies.

“She has been defending land rights from grassroots to international levels for more than 20 years. Her main concerns include protection of land rights of indigenous peoples, ensuring sustainable development of natural resources and upholding human rights of marginalized people,” the UNEP said in its announcement.

A member of the Kankanaey tribe of Mountain Province, Carling is a former chairperson of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance and former secretary general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Carling was also appointed by the UN Economic and Social Council as an indigenous expert and served as a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues between 2014 and 2016.

Just last February, however, the Duterte government named Carling as one of the 600 leaders it wanted the Manila Regional Trial Court to declare as terrorists.

I have dedicated my life to teaching about human rights. I have spent much of it campaigning for environmental protection and sustainable development. So, I was surprised to learn that I was labelled as a terrorist,” Carling said.

“I haven’t been home since. It has uprooted me: I fear for the safety of my family and friends. But I need to stay more motivated than ever. I cannot give up the fight for my people,” Carling added.

Carling however thanked UNEP for the award, saying she is humbled by the recognition.

Carling said she started her indigenous people’s rights and environmental protection advocacies as a member of the Kankanaey Tribe who was first inspired by the Cordillerans’ resistance against so-called development projects that destroy the environment and their culture. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[Watch this UNEP video of Joan Carling]

PH fails in international review, rights workers say

THE Philippine government received a failing grade at the recently-concluded United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights in the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland, contrary to claims of success by its delegation head, local rights workers said.

“Despite attempts by the Philippine delegation to justify the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and to present a positive picture of its achievements on the political, economic, social and cultural rights of the people, most of the attending states still raised serious concerns on a host of human rights issues that remain unaddressed,” Philippine UPR Watch delegation to the Geneva event co-head Atty. Ephraim Cortez said.  Read more