TALL TALES ON HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION EXPECTED FROM PH GOV’T ON 4TH UPR

There is nothing new with the Philippine government’s report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, when it is subjected to the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council.

We expect the tall tales and big words – “transformational reform,” “real justice in real time” – which are empty rhetoric. The same words were used during diplomatic briefings, statements, and reports to the UN Human Rights Committee.

But facts, experiences and implementation of policies on the ground reveal the realities.

According to the UP Third World Studies Center, from July 1, 2022 to November 7, 2022, 127 individuals died in Marcos Jr.’s drug war. Majority of them were killed by state agents, despite the Philippine National Police’s claims of “bloodless” anti-narcotics operations under the Marcos Jr. administration.

There is almost no successful prosecution and zero final convictions of perpetrators in the sham drug war of former President Rodrigo Duterte. The drug war review panel has been reporting investigations on a number of cases – but then again, investigations on extrajudicial killings incidents since 2016 can barely be considered as “real justice in real time.”

Karapatan agrees with International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan, in his statements in September 2022, that the Philippine government has not demonstrated that it has conducted or is conducting national investigations on the thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in the drug war that mirror the probe previously authorized by the ICC’s pre-trial chamber. And hence, the ICC chamber should commence investigations, despite the Philippine government’s refusal to be subjected to such.

Karapatan documented 442 civilians, mostly peasants, indigenous and Moro peoples killed during the Duterte administration’s counterinsurgency campaign. At least 222 of them are human rights defenders. Ten civilians have been reportedly killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the first three months of the Marcos Jr. administration, while four defenders have been forcibly disappeared.

According to a report in June 2020, the Task Force on Administrative Order 35 mechanism, which has been mandated to solve cases of political violence in the form of extra-legal killings (EJKs), enforced disappearances (ED), torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons, handled 385 cases since 2001, with 270 cases of extrajudicial killings, 28 cases of enforced disappearance, 7 cases on international humanitarian law, and 80 cases of torture. During the said period, Karapatan has documented 1,953 extrajudicial killings, 252 enforced disappearances, and 1,570 victims of torture.

In the TF’s ten years, it has attained convictions in only 13 cases, that is about only 3% of the 385 cases. It was also cited that in at least 127 cases, perpetrators have been cleared through acquittals and dismissals in court, or through dismissals by the Ombudsman, or through dismissals or provisional dismissals by the prosecution. This number comprises 33% of the 385 cases being handled by the AO35 IAC, while the rest continue to be under investigation.

Injustice and the climate of impunity clearly prevail, and the Marcos Jr. administration perpetuates it by continuing Duterte’s draconian policies. There have been no reversals of police memoranda on the drug war, nor is the administration backing down on the existence and operations of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

To date, there are 842 political prisoners in the Philippines, with 15 of them arrested and detained under the current administration. The government continues the practice of filing trumped up charges against political dissidents through spurious search warrants, planted evidence, perjured testimonies and inaccessibility of due process, and thereby putting more human rights defenders in jail.

Red- and terror-tagging, along with the use of terror laws, have become the default responses of the government against any form of dissent and criticism. Freedom of expression and press freedom remain in peril, with journalists among those killed in the first months of the Marcos Jr. administration. There is gross disregard of international humanitarian law as bombings, forcible evacuation and forced or coerced surrenders of poor civilian communities continue.  

All these occur amid an intensifying economic crisis and the pandemic affecting the poorest of the poor, with high inflation rates, unemployment and underemployment rates, dirt-poor wages and decreased public funding for social services.

The Marcos Jr. administration cannot hide behind empty platitudes, nor can it be window-dressed by a Joint Program with the UN. It cannot sugar-coat the dire lack of effective domestic mechanisms for redress, nor can it spin tales using a religious fundamentalist network, trolls, and disinformation machines. The bare, glaring realities are there.

In this 4th cycle of the UPR on the Philippines, we expect various States to once again call for an end to the killings and all human rights violations. We expect stronger demands for justice and accountability. We expect stronger advocacy for the issuance of standing invitations to UN Special Procedures. We call on the UN Human Rights Council to walk the talk in their recommendations in the UPR, and finally pave the way for the long overdue independent investigation on the Philippine human rights situation.