PH Justice chief lists down reforms initiated
MANILA — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Wednesday made clear before the United Nations Human Rights Council that even as the country is initiating reforms in its justice and correctional system, it will not tolerate “external interference.”
“We draw the line, as any sovereign state must, when an international institution overreaches and departs from the boundaries of its creation. Upon this context, the Philippine Government rejects the ICC’s decision to resume investigations over alleged crimes committed during the anti-illegal drug campaign,” he said before a gathering of representatives of UN-member states in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The Philippines has a fully functioning justice system. Under the complementarity test, the ICC, therefore, has no jurisdiction over Filipino citizens whatsoever,” he asserted.
The International Criminal Court recently resumed its probe on the thousands of drug war killings in the Philippines, although the Philippines is appealing the ruling.
Citing the Philippines’ “tradition of open, constructive and active engagement on human rights” with the UN and the international stakeholders, Remulla enumerated several instances when the country has discussed the issue of accountability for the killings, such as during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council where it accepted 215 out of the 289 recommendations from UN member-states.
“Let me assure this Council and partners and civil society and reiterate: there is no culture of impunity in the Philippines. We are doubling our efforts in ensuring individuals who have breached the bounds of law, state actors included, meet justice,” he said.
“We make clear, extrajudicial killing has never been and will never be state policy. Indeed, the killings have occasionally attend the conduct of police operations. However, we submit that it is most unfair for anyone to think that all such deaths are state-sponsored EJKs,” he added.
The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber, in allowing the resumption of the ICC Prosecutor’s drug war probe, said Philippine domestic initiatives and proceedings “do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation.”
Among the reasons mentioned — the small number of cases being investigated by the Philippines compared to the thousands killed under the drug war. None of these involve high-ranking officials, according to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber.
But Remulla insisted: “We have a working justice system that is a cornerstone of our accountability mechanism. Our prosecutors and courts are ready, able and willing to prosecute anyone if the evidence so warrants.”
He added, the DOJ has a witness protection program ready to protect witnesses of violent crimes, including alleged extrajudicial killings.
Recognizing critcisms from the international community, Remulla appealed for respect for the country’s sovereignty.
“National sovereignty and international solidarity, go hand in hand, complement each other and create the fertile ground in which human rights can truly flourish. Let us uphold sovereignty and harness solidarity to promote and protect human rights and dignity for all,” he said.
Remulla warned “unjustified external interference” “very rarely” served the cause of human rights in the past.
Instead, he suggested that the international human rights architecture focus more on capacitating states to fulfill their obligations.
Remulla recently invited to the Philippines forensic expert Dr. Morris Tidball-Binz in the hope of setting up a training program for Filipino doctors, prosecutors and other stakeholders to capacitate them in forensic pathology.
Tidball-Binz, who is also the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, met with Filipino forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun to discuss holding classes in the coming months with a select team of 35 individuals, whom Remulla said, would later on act as trainors to other forensics practitioners.
“We exhort the United Nations Human Rights Council to make capacity-building on forensic pathology as a program to afford all countries the same science-based investigations,” he told the UN HRC.
‘BOLD AND TRANSFORMATIVE’ REFORMS
Despite his rhetoric on the ICC, Remulla took the time in his speech during the 7th meeting of the 52nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council to tout the reforms his department is pursuing, in compliance with international conventions.
Calling them “bold and transformative,” these reforms include raising the quantum of proof for filing of criminal cases in court to “probable cause with reasonable certainty of convictions” and a closer coordination and cooperation between prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in gathering evidence and preparing witness to ensure only quality cases will be filed in court.
Remulla also mentioned the immediate fixes and long-term solutions to jail congestion.
Since July 2022 when he took office, the Philippine justice chief said the government has released an average of 500 inmates a month or a total of 4,124 inmates who have been convicted and have fully served their sentence.
Meanwhile, some 51,796 detainees awaiting sentencing have also been released, after having completely served the imposable penalty or through other means.
Remulla also recently lowered the bail amount for indigents who could not afford to post bail to a maximum of P10,000.
Long-term programs for jail decongestion will involve regionalization of jail facilities and the transfer of the New Bilibid Prison.
He touted the same achievements in Geneva on Tuesday, during a panel discussion on Prison and Justice System Reforms and Human Rights along with panelists from Norway, Thailand, Indonesia and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“A strong justice system is vital to the protection of human dignity,” Remulla said Wednesday.
He further pledged to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by UN member nations in 1948, to “uplift all peoples’ sacred freedom and strengthen democracy.”
“Under the leadership of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the Philippines reaffirms its solemn and continuing commitment to human rights and human dignity for all,” he said.