We did not expect much from the Philippine government at the adoption of the recommendations made during the 4th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the human rights situation in the country here in Geneva last November 2022. But we were nonetheless astounded by the barefaced lies it presented at the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. If the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is to be believed, the Philippines is a paradise and its government worth emulating by the rest of the world in how it upholds human rights and serves its people through prosperity and social service.
Representing the government yesterday was its permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Evan Garcia who claims that Manila implements “profound and bold reforms” in the Philippines’ criminal justice system. He added that the Philippine government implements its human rights plans and the Joint Programme with the UN as it conducts investigations on human rights violation, extrajudicial killings. He further claimed that the Marcos government protects journalists, human and environmental rights defenders among others. In fact, Ambassador Garcia said, the government is open to engagements with human rights advocates and had been willing to accept fair criticism. Its acceptance of 215 of the 289 recommendations made in the UPR is proof of this.
But the ambassador did not seem to notice that he liberally contradicted himself during his oral statements. While claiming that the Philippines has an “effective and responsive justice system,” he nonetheless divulged that there have only been five recent convictions of police officers amidst the background of tens of thousands of deaths related to the drug killings since 2016, one that is ongoing with 227 such killings under the Marcos Jr. government (per the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center records).
The Philippine government must have counted on the standard practice by the UNHRC of adopting recommendations despite vigorous opposition by local and international civil society organizations (CSOs). In fact, our own Commission on Human Rights pointed out yesterday that human rights violations, extrajudicial killings as well as threats and harassment against human rights defenders, civil society organizations, journalists and critics continue. Chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc added that social and economic problems such as runaway inflation and worsening standard of living still need to be addressed. All NGOs who spoke at Monday’s UNHRC meeting said as much, that the Philippine government’s claims are hogwash.
But the loudest voice at the UNHRC yesterday came from a diminutive young woman who travelled to Geneva for the first time to address the world. A hush fell over the UN hall when abduction and enforced disappearance survivor April Dyan Gumanao addressed the Council and narrated their harrowing experience from men who introduced themselves as police officers last January, a clear case of continuing rights violation under the Marcos Jr. regime.
It must have distressed Ambassador Garcia so much that he was forced to deliver a rejoinder at his closing remarks. He repeated the government’s lies that there is no state policy on red-tagging, one that had already been admitted by no less than Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla in his appearances at the UNHRC just last October and November. The Ambassador repeated that there is no government policy persecuting human rights defenders, environmentalists, the media and other critics and political dissenters. He added that there are available judicial remedies in the Philippines and that there is a most vibrant media practice in the country that belies reports of constriction of civic and democratic spaces. He further tried to explain the Anti-Terrorism Law and called human rights defenders in the Philippines “empowered” and government’s partners.
What a bunch of lies the world heard yesterday. ###