Palace downplays EU report on human rights situation in PH

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2017 05:47 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2017 05:48 PM

Men are pictured handcuffed following their arrest after a drug buy-bust operation in Quezon City on Oct. 18, 2016. Police said drugs and weapons were found inside their house. Ezra Acayan, Reuters

MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday downplayed the latest European Union annual report on human rights and democracy, which said the human rights situation in the Philippines had worsened when President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs.

“The report covers the period of last year’s elections and many of its alleged findings are a rehash of criticisms aired by the political party whose candidate lost to the President," said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a news conference.

The 2016 report covers not only the election period but also the first 6 months of the Duterte administration, when he initiated his fierce anti-narcotics campaign. 

"Despite positive developments in some areas, the human rights situation in the second half of the year has considerably worsened as a consequence of the so-called 'war on drugs,’” the report read.

The EU report added that while there was a decrease in the number of extrajudicial killings under the Aquino administration, there was no follow-up, and key legislative measures were not passed until Duterte assumed office and launched the war on drugs.

The report also said that Duterte's pronouncements on the war on drugs "seemingly encouraged" police to be aggressive in dealing with drug suspects. It also cited human rights advocates' criticism that Duterte's statements encouraged vigilante killings.

Despite the report, Abella noted that the Philippines has already explained itself before the United Nations Human Rights Council during the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.

“We reiterate that the Philippines is investigating allegations of drug-related killings, extrajudicial deaths, and media violence to ensure the accountability of perpetrators,” he added.

“It has to be underscored that all the drug-related deaths arising from legitimate police operations have been done based on rules of engagement. Thus, while they remain as suspects, their violent resistance against police officers whose lives were put at risk are considered actionable offenses," Abella said. 

The administration has several times denied sanctioning summary killings as it faced international criticism over the war on drugs. 

Meanwhile, the report noted the Philippines' gains particularly in peace negotiations with rebels and efforts to eradicate poverty.

"Positive developments under the government of President Duterte include the new momentum provided to the Mindanao Peace Process, peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front and a socio-economic agenda aimed at lifting people out of poverty," the EU report said.

The administration's talks with the Left have been put on hold amid persistent rebel attacks on state forces. 

Duterte has repeatedly blasted the EU in his speeches, saying its members do not understand the magnitude of the Philippines’ drug problem. He has also accused the bloc of undue interference in the Philippines’ internal affairs.

Amid what it believes is the EU’s meddling, the administration in May declined 250 million Euros (P13.89 billion) in fresh grants from the EU.

Despite the Philippines’ rejection of all future aid from the regional bloc, Abella said trade ties between the EU and the Philippines remain upbeat.

The government has many times defended Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed about 3,800 lives in legitimate police operations, according to police statistics. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano recently said all those slain were drug peddlers. 

Human rights groups estimate that the death toll in the war on drugs could be as high as 13,000, a figure dismissed by the government as overblown.

Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign, prompting the Philippine National Police to terminate "Oplan Tokhang," its house-to-house "knock and plead" anti-drug operations.