MANILA – Philippine human rights defenders on Friday submitted their reports to the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on what they call as the “worsening” human rights situation in the country.
“The extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary or illegal arrests and detention and other civil and political rights violations exacerbate the landlessness, lack of job security and gross inequalities faced by poor Filipinos. Such is the situation under the administration of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” Edita Burgos, convenor of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, said in a press conference in Quezon City.
Around 16 faith-based and rights groups under EcuVoice made the submission, in line with the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) July 2019 resolution directing UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to come up with a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The OHCHR set the deadline for submission of reports on Friday, Jan. 31, and will present the report before the UN HRC in June this year.
Among those who submitted their reports were labor groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kilusang Mayo Uno and Migrante who complained against killings of farmers, peasants and labor leaders, as well as the alleged harassment and surveillance of Filipino migrants.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said 15 journalists have been killed under the Duterte administration while environmental group Kalikasan PNE claimed 157 environmental defenders were killed from July 2016 until the end of 2019.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) denounced the government’s alleged profiling of their members while the Save Our Schools Network criticized the forcible closure of Lumad schools and the forced evacuation of their students, allegedly by military forces.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Gabriela, meanwhile, blamed the Philippine government for red-tagging of activists and adopting the “whole-of-nation approach” in combating insurgency under Executive Order No. 70, which allegedly resulted to more killings, harassment and intimidation.
Under EO 70, a national task force was formed to end the local communist armed conflict through cooperation among various government agencies, but rights defenders accused the task force of being behind trumped up charges and a smear campaign against perceived leftists around the country.
“The Duterte administration's anti-narcotics campaign, its counter-insurgency program through Oplan Kapanatagan and its ‘whole of nation attacks’ under Executive Order No. 70, and its rampage against critics and political dissenters have immensely contributed to the hyper state of impunity,” Burgos said.
Economic think-tank IBON Foundation blamed the Philippine government’s regressive tax reforms, agricultural crisis, low wages, limited social programs, privatization of social services and utilities and wrong infrastructure priorities for violating Filipinos’ economic rights under international law.
Rise Up for Life and for Rights, on the other hand, accused Duterte of acquiescence in the killings under the drug war. It lamented the lack of interest by the government to investigate and prosecute the crime and the perpetrators.
'KILLINGS UNDER PH DRUG WAR REMAIN RAMPANT'
EcuVoice’s submissions follow the release of global rights group Amnesty International’s Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific report Thursday, where it claimed that extrajudicial executions in the Philippines continued with impunity in 2019.
“Killings by the police and unknown armed individuals remained rampant as the government’s violent ‘war on drugs’ reached its fourth year,” the group said, citing official figures placing the death toll in police operations in the Philippines at 6,500 since Duterte took office in July 2016.
Human rights groups, it said, have much higher figures and the government’s own records show more than 20,000 other deaths were classified as homicide cases under investigation, mostly related to the drug war.
“Victims continued to be overwhelmingly from poor and marginalized communities, and often were part of unsubstantiated ‘drug watch lists’ that police continued to use in their operations. Police continued to allege that victims fought back requiring the use of deadly force, despite witness accounts that they were killed in cold blood,” it said.
“Families were unable to obtain justice for their loved ones, due to enormous obstacles to filing cases against perpetrators, including fears of retaliation. There remained no meaningful accountability for the killings at the national level,” it added.
Aside from killings under the drug war, AI also echoed concerns over the rise in the number of killings activists aligned with the political left and repression of human rights defenders citing the cases of detained Sen. Leila de Lima, former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Vice President Leni Robredo.
De Lima is currently facing 3 drug charges while she, Trillanes and Robredo await the Justice Department’s resolution of sedition and other complaints against them. Trillanes is facing a separate kidnapping complaint and a list of other cases in court.
The rights group also noted attacks against journalists like Rappler’s Maria Ressa, who are perceived to be critical of the administration.
PH RIGHTS RECORD UNDER REVIEW
Aside from the UN HRC directive for a comprehensive report on the human rights in the Philippines, EcuVoice said the Duterte administration’s policies would be scrutinized before a UN Human Rights committee while the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor is set to finish its preliminary examination on alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines.
The country is also facing mounting criticism from international organizations and other countries over its human rights record. The latest of them, a United States Senate resolution calling for sanctions against government officials responsible for extrajudicial killings and the detention of De Lima.
A separate measure included in the US 2020 budget directed the US State Department to ban government officials behind De Lima’s arrest from entering the US.