Filipino rights defenders in UN to support calls for NTF-ELCAC abolition

GENEVA, Switzerland—A delegation of Filipino human rights defenders is attending the 55th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland to support calls for the abolition of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency agency and review of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Following two recent visits of UN special rapporteurs who denounced government’s red-tagging practices and recommended the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch network said they are attending the session to testify on continuing human rights violations under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

“We are here to inform the international community that the findings by both special rapporteur on climate change and human rights Ian Fry last November and special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan last February that human rights violations continue are true,” Center for Environmental Concerns executive director Lia Mai Torres said.

Philippine UPR Watch said the rest of UN member states must be informed that both experts recommended the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and called for the review of the anti-terror law that are being used against human rights defenders and other civilians.

Aiming to deliver oral interventions during interactive dialogues and general debates as well as speak at various side events of the UNHRC session, the Philippine UPR Watch said they will also meet with various representatives of UN member states and international civil society organizations interested on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“The Marcos Jr. government wants to paint a rosy picture of so-called improved rhetoric and improved conditions but we are here both as victims and witnesses that anti-people policies have not changed as evidenced by the exit statements by Mr. Fry and Ms. Khan,” Torres added.

Among the main topics in the 55th UN HRC session are discussions on countering religious hatred and social security and public services.

With the Philippine UPR Watch delegation is Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the United Methodist Church who was among the first to be falsely charged by the government under the controversial Anti-Terror Law of 2020.

Based on an earlier trumped-up charge in August 2021, Rev. Baluntong was slapped with an alleged violation of the Anti-Terror Act in August 2022 which was recently dismissed by the public prosecutor for lack of merit.

“But the dismissal came with the warning that the case may be re-filed anytime that the military or the police decides to do so,” she said.

Baluntong said that red-tagging attacks and trumped-up charges prevent her from performing her ministry with the indigenous peoples and poor communities in her home province of Mindoro.

With Baluntong and Torres is IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa who said that his participation in the 55th session is in preparation for the anticipated official visit of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty.

Africa is also expected to participate in the panel discussion on challenges and good practices to realize the right to social security and to provide quality public services.

Other members of the delegation are Karapatan legal counsel Ma. Sol Taule and Philippine Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) chairperson Raymund Villanueva who both met Khan during her official investigations last January and February.

“This delegation supports suggestions made by the UN experts who recently visited the Philippines to continue our engagements leading to the submission of their respective final reports to the UN HRC,” Taule said.

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation is also scheduled to speak at forums in various cities in Switzerland and throughout Europe during the duration of the UN HRC session. #