Remulla to UN rights body: PH justice, law enforcement reforming under Marcos

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2022 02:52 AM | Updated as of Oct 06 2022 04:35 PM

Civil society groups maintains PH human rights situation ‘dire’

MANILA — The Philippines’ justice secretary and civil society groups on Wednesday presented to the rights body of the United Nations (UN) contrasting views of the human rights situation in the country during the first few months of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration.

Sec. Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla led a delegation representing the government at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, which tackled the implementation of the UN Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP) in the Philippines that began in 2021.

While not denying cases of human rights abuses in his remarks, Remulla said the Philippine government under Marcos is undertaking a “transformational reform” of the justice and law enforcement sector.

He said this included reminding police to use force only when necessary, enacting an internal disciplinary program for abusive law enforcers, and refocusing the anti-drug campaign toward drug sources over users.

“These targeted and bold measures aim to change the culture of our judicial and law enforcement system, which have produced certain flaws and delays in the carriage of justice. They are also in line and, in some cases, go beyond international standards and best practices,” Remulla said.

“We want to inject human rights into every step of our law enforcement and judicial processes. This assures that no one is left behind and that the wheels of justice truly serve all without distinction.”

The justice secretary also touted his department’s steps to decongest prisons, committing to continue releasing persons deprived of liberty regularly and have 5,000 out of prison by June 2023.

He added that under the DOJ’s review panel to reexamine the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, 25 police officers have been indicted, 8 dismissed, and 5 suspended or sanctioned.

The panel referred 302 cases to the National Bureau of Investigation for case buildup.

Remulla asserted the Philippines would continue working with the UNJP in its remaining 2 years.

“What we ask of you, the Human Rights Council and partners, is to listen to us, to understand the context of our challenges – beside us on the ground, not above us from afar, to trust that we know best what is good for our people and to work with us to realize the vision of human rights and justice for all,” he ended.

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However, civil society organizations who were given slots to speak near the end of the dialogue said continued extra-judicial killings, harassment and arrests of activists and journalists, and red-tagging showed a different picture of the human rights situation in the Philippines under Marcos Jr.

Some mentioned the slay of broadcaster Percival Mabasa this week. 

“The human rights situation in the Philippines remains dire. Domestic remedies remain largely ineffective in pursuing successful prosecution of perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and other violations,” said Cristina Palabay of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.

Inez Feria of NoBox Philippines, which works to reform drug-related policies, said human rights would continue to be violated if government sticks to a narrative of a “drug-free” country.

“How can we move forward and fix things if we are not honest of what has been happening and continuing to happen? We quibble over numbers instead of acknowledging the wrongs that have been committed against Filipinos and where we should be facilitating accountability,” she said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International criticized the UNHRC for not tabling a resolution against rights violations in the Philippines, with Amnesty warning the inaction could affect the council’s credibility.

Carlos Conde of HRW said at least 90 people have been killed in drug-related violence under Marcos from July 1 to September 30.

"That’s one death every day since Marcos became president,” he told ANC. 

The HRW is getting reports that the drug rehabilitation program is still using a watchlist from the previous administration.

“And when you’re using the same drugs watchlist that the drug war of Mr. Duterte was using, we really have a big problem. It’s very punitive, it’s very arbitrary, and people are being practically coerced to join this drug program,” Conde said. 

“Instead of putting the Philippine government on notice, the Council will be handing President Marcos an opportunity to make self-serving claims about his yet unseen commitment to human rights,” he added.

The International Drug Policy Consortium pointed to the lack of progress in the implementation of the UNJP with only 3 technical working groups created for the program.

Other organizations said they feared the UNJP could be used to permit rights violations.

“We remain very much concerned that the UNJP will be ‘instrumentalized’ by government to please the international community, in particular the Human Rights Council, but remain an empty promise,” said Franciscans International.

The groups called on the council to mandate the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue monitoring the UNJP and report back to it.


The interactive dialogue touched on the report the commissioner released in September which said human rights victims, especially in anti-drug operations, still face hurdles in looking for justice.

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif, who relayed the findings in the session, said it welcomed the Marcos administration’s commitment to improve its rights record.

“Numerous victims and their families still await justice. So in the time remaining in the joint program—together with other efforts—concrete progress on accountability is expected to help bring about human rights that will prevent the recurrence of further violations,” she said.

The report also noted Manila’s pledge to work with the UN on rights but urged the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to “adopt a transformative approach” that prioritizes “rights-based solutions” to issues such as drug law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

Gustavo Gonzalez, the UN Resident Coordinator & Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, recommended the Philippine government to increase urgency on making rights violators accountable and strengthen support for victims.

“The new administration has historic opportunity to launch an all-inclusive consultative process to set a transformative milestone in the human rights agenda,” Gonzalez said.

Country representatives reacting to the joint program largely welcomed the OHCHR’s report and the Philippines’ participation in the UNJP.

The European Union added the rights situation in the country remained “concerning”.

Meanwhile, some like the United States and United Kingdom urged the resolution of cases against Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and the release of former senator Leila De Lima. 

The US representative also called for media outlets such as Rappler and ABS-CBN to be allowed to operate without obstruction.

Iceland said the joint program should address the issues both in the commissioner’s report and resolution 45-33, which was the result of Iceland and other nations’ push for the rights council to look into the Philippine situation.

Before the dialogue, Remulla had met Al-Nashif on Tuesday and assured her of the Philippines’ efforts to beef up in-country human rights mechanisms, according to the Philippine Mission to Geneva.

Remulla and the Philippine delegation will be in Geneva until October 14. 

Remulla to UN rights body: PH justice reforming under Marcos 1
Remulla to UN rights body: PH justice reforming under Marcos 2
Remulla to UN rights body: PH justice reforming under Marcos 3

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla meets with acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif in Geneva, Switzerland. DOJ

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla meets with acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif in Geneva, Switzerland. DOJ

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla meets with acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif in Geneva, Switzerland. DOJ

He is next set to attend a dialogue on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from October 10 to 11. 

He will then speak at the 73rd session of the UNHRC’s Executive Committee along with 29 other ministers.

A press release from the Philippine DOJ said Remulla will highlight the country’s “strong humanitarian tradition” of providing safety to refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

—with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

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