Philippine UPR Watch refutes PH envoy’s claims in UNHRC
March 16, 2024

The delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch (Contributed photo)

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Things are no better under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.”

This was the assertion of the Philippine delegation of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch (UPR Watch) made during a side event of the ongoing 55th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland last Thursday, March 14.

The UPR Watch said that the Marcos administration continues to implement former President Rodrigo Duterte’s repressive and oppressive policies.

The delegation refuted the Philippine government’s statements at the UNHRC claiming that the UN Joint Programme (UNJP), implemented in the last three years, was a success.

“High level envoys have been here at the start of this UNHRC session telling other member states and the UN in general of the so-called successes of the UN Joint Program (UNJP) that has been implemented in the Philippines in the last three years. What success is the Marcos government talking about when rights violations continue unabated?” Sonny Africa asked.

Africa is executive director of IBON Foundation and co-head of the delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch.

He said that Undersecretary Raul Vasquez claimed at the UNHRC last Feb. 27, in an oral statement, that the Philippine government “strengthen[ed] existing domestic human rights mechanisms (through the UNJP) in support of [the government’s rights-based development agenda.”

Vasquez also announced that the Marcos government shall establish “a human rights coordinating council (HRCC) to take over and broaden the programs identified under the UNJP, and ensure greater participation of other government agencies and civil society organizations.”

According to Africa, Ibon and Karapatan (as members of the technical working group within the UNJP), they have seen “how capacity-building exercises are ineffective when laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Act are still actively used to oppress human rights defenders.”

“The Marcos government cannot claim success of the UNJP when the drug killings continue, such as in the case of Jemboy Baltazar killed by the police 13 months into the Marcos presidency. Worse, the police officer who shot him was given a very light sentence and his cohorts were set free in what the court described was a simple case of mistaken identity,” Africa said.

He added that the planned HRCC is likely to become another failure like the UNJP as long as the Marcos administration continues to ignore the recommendations made by UN special rapporteurs such as the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the review of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 2020.

Read: UN expert bats for disbanding of ‘anti-communist’ task force, repeal of Anti-Terrorism Act
Read: UN expert calls for abolition of NTF-ELCAC, tolerance of PH gov’t to dissent
Read: Rights group says PH gov’t does not listen to experts

Karapatan legal counsel Maria Sol Taule said, “Since the compromise project of UNJP did not produce the intended result of respect for human rights in the Philippines, we urge the United Nations to revisit the approved 2019 Iceland resolution for the conduct of an independent investigation.”

Taule stressed that the DOJ has no right to head the proposed HRCC “given its lack of credibility in delivering justice to human rights violations victims,” citing the case of the Bloody Sunday killings in Southern Tagalog that killed five activists in Rizal, Batangas and Laguna on March 7, 2021.

Lia Mai Torres, Center for Environmental Concerns executive director, lamented that the two abduction survivors and environment defenders Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro were supposed to be part of the UPR Watch delegation but were unable to join the delegation because they are facing additional charges filed against them by the DOJ.

Read:  Environmentalists post bail, continue their fight after abduction
Read:  Envi activists dismay over charges of grave oral defamation

“The ongoing UN HRC session, being the first one after their abduction and dramatic walk to freedom, would have been the most opportune time for the two brave environmental activists to share to the world their ordeal in the hands of the Marcos government,” Torres said in a statement.

The DOJ filed a grave oral defamation charge against Tamano and Castro last February for allegedly maligning the Philippine Army.
“The irony of the kidnappers charging their abduction victims is simply incredible,” Torres said.

‘State of the civic space in the Philippines, repressed’

Meanwhile, global civil society alliance Civicus rated the state of civic space in the Philippines as repressed.

In its rating released on March 14, Civicus raised concerns documented in recent years such as the arrest and detention of activists on fabricated charges and the continued red-tagging of human rights defenders. It also documented the harassment and attacks against journalists.

Civicus cited the government’s non-cooperation with the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into possible crimes against humanity committed in the context of former President Duterte’s “drug war” and when Duterte was mayor of Davao City.

“In January 2024, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said that the Philippine government had no legal duty to cooperate in the ICC’s investigation,” the group said.

The alliance also said that at least six independent UN human rights experts have also flagged the government’s “seemingly broad and unchecked” use of the anti-terrorism law to target red-tagged humanitarian workers and church leaders.

Despite this, Civicus said that human rights violations still continue, citing the cases of rights violations against human rights defenders such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines for alleged terror financing, the trumped-up charges against activists John Ruiz and Jhonggie Rumol and the arbitrary detention of environmental defenders Miguela Peniero and Rowena Dasig.

“They have also accused environmental activists Jhonila Castro and Jhed Tamano of defamation. A human rights defender and former senator Leila De Lima was freed on bail but continues to face charges. Radio journalist Juan Jumalon was shot and killed, while security forces harassed and stopped protesters marking the 1986 uprising,” Civicus said. (RTS, DAA, RVO)

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