Help stop the killings, Filipino rights defenders appeal to the world

Ahead of the adoption of the recommendations made by United Nations (UN) member states during the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the state of human rights in the Philippines last November 2022, Filipino human rights defenders from the Philippine UPR Watch again appealed for international support to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the country.

The group is co-led by National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chairperson and International Association of Democratic Lawyers interim president Edre Olalia who recalled first attending UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Regular Sessions in March 2008.

“I have been here the first time during the 7th session and now it is the 52nd. We don’t want to come back here. We don’t want to come back again and again and again. [The killings] must stop. Whatever the administration, it must stop,” Olalia said as his closing statement on a side event to the UNHRC meetings.

Olalia’s group, the Philippine UPR Watch, cited the report by the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center which monitored 227 drug war-related killings under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government, proof that the State-sponsored killings in the country have not stopped.

In the same event, National Council of Churches in the Philippines for Faith, Witness and Service program secretary Mervin Sol Toquero decried the weaponization of laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act, in the context of the government’s all-out war or counter insurgency program, instead of addressing the roots of the armed conflict.

“Also as a member of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, I am also asking for your support for our call for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Toquero said.

Among the speakers in the side event, sponsored by prominent international human rights NGOs led by Civicus at the Palais des Nations last Thursday, March 23, was recent abduction survivor April Dyan Gumanao, Region 7 coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

“First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their support regarding our case. I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak before you alive,” Gumanao, who earlier narrated how he and partner Armand Dayoha were brazenly abducted by suspected State agents as they disembarked from a ferry at the Cebu port last January, said.

A video of Gumanao and Dayoha’s abduction that went viral was shown at the side event.

Gumanao said she agreed to be part of the delegation to Geneva in realization that their struggle for justice is far from over.

“I believe that this will still be a tough struggle, especially with the worsening case of impunity, [there is] no justice to a lot of human rights violations victims. But we are still hopeful a lot of people in the Philippines are still taking the risk, who are still standing up and fighting for justice,” she said.

“And we are still hopeful that our international friends and fellow advocates would stand in solidarity with us in this struggle. In dark times, what kept us alive is this certain ray of hope. This is what keeps us going on,” Gumanao added.

Human rights campaigner and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay pointed out that domestic redress mechanisms remain ineffective in delivering justice and accountability, as she called on the States and international NGOs to continue to monitor the Philippine government’s actions on the UPR recommendations.

Three years after the UNHRC’s resolution on technical cooperation and capacity-building on human rights in the Philippines, and even with a UN Joint Programme (UNJP), Palabay said “it is clear that a more decisive action from the Council, especially a resolution to conduct independent investigation in the Philippines is imperative.”

“There are no accountability benchmarks and tools in the implementation of the UNJP, the joint program may not be the most responsive mechanism for the delivery of justice and accountability,” Palabay stated.