Protecting PH sovereignty does not mean running away from international commitments

The Philippine government must stop playing the so-called “sovereignty” card in its orchestrated effort to shield former President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials from accountability for the thousands of deaths in connection with its so-called anti-drug war from 2016 onwards.

In his latest appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland last March 2, 2023, Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla again in effect sought to shield Duterte and his slew of putative co-principals, accomplices and accessories, let alone enablers, from liability and culpability for the many deaths perpetrated by police and other state agents by saying it will not tolerate transgressions to Philippine sovereignty by international justice bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Oh come on.

When will government officials be honorable and honest enough to admit that the Philippines willingly, voluntarily and solemnly endorsed and signed the Rome Statute and that complaints filed against Duterte et. al. were made when it was still covered by the international treaty? How is it an overreach on the part of the ICC and a departure from the boundaries of its creation when everything was done in accordance with its mandate and procedures, matters that the Philippine government cannot pretend not to know or understand with a straight face and a forked tongue, including its lawyers who should know better?

On the other hand, how is it not a departure from justice when a government flees from its commitment just to provide escape investigation and prosecution of political allies from wrongdoing by a body it was part of?

The extrajudicial killings connected with the war against illegal drugs were clearly the worst kind among wrongdoings, depriving citizens of their very right to life when they should first be investigated and rehabilitated if they were indeed involved. This much the Philippine government admits when it brags it has investigated and filed charges against 20 police officers against a backdrop of at least 6,000 extrajudicial deaths.

Twenty police officers prosecuted when thousands drug war killings were sustained and nationwide, involving the President, the chief of police and many other government officials, does not a working justice system make. A government open to accountability is not one that proposes self-serving yet contradictory legislative resolutions shielding political patrons like Duterte from investigations. A government that claims to be openly and actively engaging in international human rights mechanisms such as those being discussed in the ongoing 52nd UN Human Rights Council session is not one that cherry picks which recommendations to support and which to reject, the latter involving accountability to wrongdoings such as extrajudicial killings, red-tagging, ICC membership restoration and weaponization of laws against human rights defenders, activists and critics.

The previous and present Philippine governments sound like a broken, nay discordant, record before the world when they turn upside down and distort basic legal principles to fit their sectarian interests. But many other UN member states have clearly made up their mind about the Philippine government’s culpability in many human rights violations committed against the Filipino people.

The Marcos Jr. government should begin earnestly committing to full justice and complete accountability that would make the country respected in the eyes of the world. A State that runs away from justice and accountability is a pariah, deserving of being called out by the rest of the civilized, decent world. #

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A PH UPR WATCH delegation would be attending the ongoing 52nd UNHRC Regular Sessions in Geneva at the latter half of this month when the Philippine human rights situation is against tabled for discussions during the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcomes.