PH accepted 215 out of 289 UN’s human rights recommendations. What were excluded?
March 30, 2023

UN Photo/Jess Hoffman

The local human rights situation has not improved under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration. This is the message of Philippine representatives to the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The dismal rights situation, they added, persists despite the Philippine government already accepting about three-fourths of the recommendations made in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human, social, and economic rights in the Philippines from November 2022.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that there remains “no substantial improvement on the state of civic and democratic space in the country.” The human rights group, joined by local and international lawyers’ organizations as well as an abduction survivor, delivered their respective oral statements at the UNHRC session.

The UNHRC has adopted the UPR outcome of the Philippines. Out of 289 recommendations, 215 were adopted while the remaining 74 were “noted.”

Quality over quantity

The Philippine UPR Watch, a delegation of human rights defenders and advocates participating in the Universal Periodic Review process, have pointed out why this figure is only impressive on paper. It added that the Philippine government “plays up” accepting the recommendations made by UN member states, over two-fifths of which were on civil and political rights (CPR) and almost three-fifths on economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR).

“However, the quantity belies their quality and the true value of the accepted recommendations on the ground will range from limited to inconsequential. This is even assuming that they are all implemented which the government has a poor track record of doing,” the delegation said.

Although the Marcos Jr. administration accepted over 90 CPR recommendations, they still refused to support what has been described by rights groups as “the most critical recommendations for genuinely improving the human rights situation–taking these as merely noted, which is diplomatic-speak for rejection.”

These included crucial recommendations to re-accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to issue standing invitations to UN special procedures, and to end former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, among other urgent measures to uphold CPR.

“The government spurned dozens of important recommendations: to end extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, red-tagging, and attacks on media freedom; to protect journalists and human rights defenders; to review the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Anti-Terrorism Law, and other abusive mechanisms and revise these; and to conduct thorough and impartial investigations towards accountability and ending impunity,” the Philippine UPR Watch summarized.

Culture of impunity

“Government policies on the counterinsurgency and drug war have not been rescinded, resulting in continuing extrajudicial killings, including those of human rights defenders. Task forces or panels created to look into these have failed to investigate and successfully prosecute the perpetrators and senior officials who ordered the killings have not been held to account,” the Karapatan secretary general told the international body.

Palabay added how the Joint Programme lacks the necessary accountability tools that can ensure justice. The Karapatan representative then said the Marcos Jr. government continues to abuse existing laws to persecute local human rights defenders, political dissenters, and journalists.

Specifically, she cited that the number of political prisoners (many of whom face trumped-up charges) have increased,while community organization members face intimidation and threats of arrest and abduction.

“We call on the Philippine government to stop the persecution of defenders, journalists, and dissenters, and to enact the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill…We renew our call to the

Council for an independent investigation into the cases of extrajudicial killings and other grave rights violations in the Philippines,” Palabay said.

The human rights defender, also speaking for civil society organization global alliance Civicus, reiterated their view that laws on terrorism and libel “violate the right to due process, free expression, press freedom, and freedom of association, among other constitutional rights.”

No justice, no peace

In a separate oral statement, the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) that counts National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) as its Philippine affiliate, called to “cease the vilification and extrajudicial killings of lawyers and human rights defenders.”

“We are gravely concerned that lawyers and human rights defenders continue to be arrested or killed with impunity. Vilification and political persecution of defenders are facilitated by false claims by the government that human rights issues are a result of “competing human rights” or insurgency,” the lawyers groups said in their statement, citing the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020.

They then called on the UNHRC to insist that the Philippines immediately stop the political persecution of lawyers and human rights defenders, the culture of impunity, and adopt the Human Rights Defenders Bill.

“We urge the Council to create an adequately resourced, independent investigative mechanism to investigate extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in the Philippines,” they ended their statement.

Meanwhile, local abduction survivor April Dyan Gumanao called on the UNHRC to compel the Philippine government to accept UPR recommendations “pertaining to the adoption of legislation establishing a national preventive mechanism on torture, to strengthen the mechanisms to end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, [and] end the practice of ‘red-tagging.’”

Beyond assistance

The UNHRC was earlier criticized by human rights advocates for merely adopting a “weak” resolution in October 2020 to provide technical assistance in light of the Philippines human rights situation. In contrast, the ICC resumed the probe into the local “War on Drugs” after determining that Philippine authorities had not been conducting any genuine investigations.

“Instead of launching a much-needed international investigation, it adopted a resolution mandating ‘technical assistance’ to the government, failing to address the massive killings, sending dangerous messages that justice can be denied,” Amnesty International secretary general and former UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said.

According to the Philippine UPR Watch, the country’s human rights situation will only worsen under the Marcos Jr. government if it maintains the same impunity and violations from Duterte’s term.

“The government’s policies on the drug war are abusive and those on closing civic and democratic space are repressive. It refuses important recommendations to be able to maintain the abusive and repressive legal apparatus set up by the previous Duterte administration,” the delegation said.

It said the Philippine government failed to adopt the necessary UPR recommendations nor made any specific commitments to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“The government has shown that it will not take concrete steps to end impunity for human rights violations, to investigate and prosecute those responsible, and to provide reparations to the victims and their families. There will be no accountability and justice for the tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations in the country. Political and economic elites will remain in power while tens of millions of Filipinos are denied real and meaningful development and dignified lives,” Philippine UPR Watch concluded.


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