GPH hounded by persistent concerns on EJK, disappearances and torture at UN rights review
GENEVA-- As the Chief Justice of the Philippines was being handed down a verdict in the impeachment trial, the Philippine government was also undergoing a similar process of accountability, this time before the United Nations.
Around 69 countries quizzed the Philippine government on its human rights record, Tuesday May 29 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Philippines participated in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council. One after the other, at least 22 countries expressed concerns on the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture in particular, and impunity in general, according to the Philippine UPR Watch. Several countries also called on the Philippine government to dismantle all paramilitary groups and militias.
The Australian mission urged the Philippine government to arrest fugitive Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who is wanted for the abduction of two UP activists. The UK, Spain and the Holy See called on the Philippine government to “completely eradicate extrajudicial killings”.
The United States said that “impunity in human rights violations” continued. It cited institutional barriers to the attainment of justice for victims of rights abuse. Ireland called for “decisive measures” to address the problems. Germany urged the strengthening of accountability mechanisms and the conduct of impartial investigations in cases involving state forces, reminding the PH government of the recommendations of Prof. Philip Alston, former Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions. The Netherlands asked that the issue of impunity be addressed and called for the prosecution, trial and conviction of perpetrators. Denmark called for the full implementation of the anti-torture law, saying that state forces are still involved in abuses.
Spain and Canada called for the dismantling of all paramilitary groups and militias, a position that has gained support after the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, with the latter mincing no words, saying that despite training programs on human rights for security forces, human rights violations are “still serious and all too widespread.” Belgium asked the PH government on measures to record cases of EJKs and urged the Philippines to ratify the convention against enforced disappearances. Austria expressed concerns over attacks on journalists and cases of torture.
France said it was “alarmed by extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and continuing violations against journalists and human rights defenders”. Japan echoed this, saying “extrajudicial killings continue as a significant political issue.”
The questions and comments from the foreign missions were directed to the GPH delegation headed by Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
At least six countries meanwhile asked the Philippines to act on requests of UN special rapporteurs who want to visit the Philippines to examine the rights situation in the country. To this, de Lima remarked that they are still studying the requests and said the PH government cannot act on all requests because of alleged shortage in resources.
“We view the questions and statements of continuing concern by the different foreign missions as very telling. It shows even greater interest by the international community on the human rights situation. They know that the Philippine government has not lived up to its commitment to completely eliminate extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. The language used may have been diplomatic, but clearly the international community wants the Philippine government to do more,” said Fr. Jonash Joyohoy of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and co-head of delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch.
Present during the session were two Filipino human rights victims, Fil-Am activist and torture and disappearance survivor Melissa Roxas and Aklan municipal councilor Ernan Baldomero, son of slain councilor Fernando Baldomero, the first victim of extrajudicial killing under the Aquino administration.
Leaders from Karapatan, NCCP, Tanggol Bayi, NUPL, Bayan, KAMP, MCPA-Kawagib, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Defend Job Philippines, Migrante, Cordillera People’s Alliance, Promotion of Church People’s Response, IFI-Ramento Project for Rights Defenders, Migrante International, International Coordinating Committee on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP) and Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines-United Kingdom and CHRP-Switzerland also attended the session. Prior to the start of the session, the UPR Watch delegates flashed their I-Pads bearing calls to end extrajudicial killings and impunity in the Philippines.
“The questions raised by the foreign missions were nearly identical to the questions we have submitted to them prior to the UN session. Human rights defenders, the victims and their families have submitted reports that belie the overstated achievements of the Philippine government. We count 76 victims of extradjudicial killings since Aquino took office. While the PH government now claims a dramatic decline in the killings, - no thanks to its supposed efforts - our data shows that the PH government has not lived up to its commitment to eliminate these violations altogether,” said Karapatan chair Marie Enriquez.
Selective presentation of data
Atty. Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and also a UPR Watch delegate commented that the Philippine report was very selective in its presentation of data. “The report tends to highlight lesser achievements by gloating over showcase steps it has belatedly done while conveniently drowning the more essential issues such as the almost nil conviction rate of perpetrators of rights abuses, the failure of the Aquino government to press charges and arrest suspects, and the continuing effects of the government’s counter-insurgency program on the people. There is basically deafening silence from the GPH on all these issues,” he said.
Even on the issue of social and economic rights, the GPH report was very selective in its presentation, says Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. “They highlighted so-called achievements in the conditional cash transfer program while glossing over rising poverty, unemployment and hunger,” Reyes said.
“While Aquino and his allies whoop it up in their victory in the Corona impeachment, human rights victims are still fighting for the longest time for accountability from a state that continues to commit and condone abuses with shameless impunity,” Reyes added.
At the end of the review, the whole Philippine UPR Watch, who were all seated in one long row inside the session hall of the Palais des Nations and wearing different pins with various calls for justice and accountability, simultaneously gave a thumbs-down sign of the Philippine report.