‘Marcos Jr’s human rights committee will not address rights abuses’ – rights groups
May 24, 2024

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat


MANILA – Different civil society organizations are not optimistic that Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s creation of the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination will address the human rights abuses in the Philippines.

In a joint statement, groups noted the composition of the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination (Special Committee) which is led and dominated by government agencies.

“While we don’t deny the government the right to carry out initiatives to improve, promote, and uphold human rights — indeed, we have been advocating for these initiatives — we are nonetheless concerned that this ‘super body,’ as laid out in Administrative Order No. 22, has fundamental problems that, we fear, will prevent it from addressing the most pressing human rights needs in the Philippines at this time: accountability and an end to the policies that resulted in human rights abuses to begin with,” the joint statement read referring to the Special Committee’s composition.

The joint statement was signed by Aktionsbundnis Menschenrechte – Philippinen (AMP); Amnesty Philippines; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Council for People’s Development and Governance; Franciscans International; IBON Foundation; iDefend; Karapatan; Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Pahra); and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

According to the AO No. 22, the Special Committee, which is created under the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), will be chaired by the Office of the Executive Secretary with the Department of Justice as its co-chairperson. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Interior and Local Government on the other hand are members of the Special Committee.

This composition, the groups said, is the most fundamental defect of the Special Committee, agencies, which they said, “not only failed to address the many human rights issues relating to the brutal ‘war on drugs’ and suppression of freedoms and dissent but are, in fact, part of the problem.”

Groups pointed out the PHRC does not have the credibility to promote and uphold human rights as its officer, serves as spokesperson of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). “It undertook efforts to undermine civil society organizations and rights defenders both in the Philippines and in international forums such as the UN Human Rights Council. It functions mainly as an apologist and propagandist of the government as it tries to parry allegations of state abuses,” the joint statement said.

Groups also cited what they described as DOJ’s “lackluster record” of investigating and prosecuting drug-related killings. “notwithstanding its role in undertaking the judicial harassment of human rights defenders, including being one of the primary drivers in using draconian counter-terrorism legislation.”

“The DILG, which has administrative control of the Philippine National Police, has proved ineffective in addressing the thousands of allegations of police misconduct during the past administration’s anti-drug campaign and also in the present one,” they added.

The groups also said that there is a high possibility that the Special Committee will have as “observers” agencies such as the Anti-Terrorism Council, “which is a key perpetrator in the targeting of civil society actors and activists through red-tagging and terror-tagging.”

“We are worried that other ‘observers’ that have a track record of undermining human rights will be included in the committee, such as the NTF-ELCAC and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Both of these agencies have taken part in the harassment of activists, critics, Indigenous peoples, and environment defenders,” they added.

In an earlier statement, Karapatan said that the Special Committee will just be like Administrative Order No. 35 or the Inter-Agency committee tasked to resolve extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of human rights “which has a pitiful record of having handled only 385 cases and securing 13 convictions out of thousands of cases, as well as the more recently created task force under Executive Order No. 23 which is supposed to probe labor-related violations but has not been heard of again since its establishment a year ago.”

Concrete action

The groups urged the Marcos Jr. administration to take concrete actions to truly address human rights abuses in the Philippines.

For these groups, the government should “cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines and with United Nations human rights mechanisms in their recommendations on the policies and practices that have an impact on human rights.”

“Such a cooperation will show consistency in the Marcos administration’s actions and rhetoric on human rights. It should also endeavor to bring the Philippines back to the fold of the ICC,” the joint statement read.

They added that Marcos Jr. also needs to categorically end the “war on drugs” by rescinding the official issuances by then President Rodrigo Duterte and order law enforcers to stand down and to launch a full-scale investigation into the complicity of many officers in the drug-related killings.

They also urged Marcos Jr. “to categorically end red-tagging as a policy in the government’s campaign against the communist insurgency, with an official issuance that explicitly denounces this and penalizes red-taggers.”

“He should also order an audit of the government’s efforts to investigate the many incidents of extrajudicial killings of individuals who had been red-tagged or accused of being communist combatants,” the groups said.

These actions, they added, “will be far more effective in ending impunity and securing accountability for serious rights abuses. Another layer of bureaucracy with a questionable mandate and composed of agencies with questionable human rights records will be useless.”

The groups pointed out that there is much that needs to be done to improve the human rights crisis in the country. They call on other western governments including the UN in the Philippines to “stop drinking Mr. Marcos’s Kool-Aid about an ‘improved’ human rights situation.”

“The international community cannot look away just because President Marcos is enthralling them with his promises,” they said. (RVO) 


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