PH report on rights improvement not convincing, UN review shows

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 15 2022 06:11 AM | Updated as of Nov 21 2022 02:04 PM

MANILA—The Philippines fell short in convincing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that the human rights situation in the country has drastically improved. 

On Monday, Nov. 14, the Philippines records were examined by the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review for the fourth time. The last time the country’s records were examined was in 2017 — thus the fourth UPR will delve into the majority of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. 

According to Justice Secretary Boying Remulla, the Philippines has so far accepted and implemented 103 out of the 257 recommendations from the 3rd cycle of the UPR.

While member-states welcomed the reforms the Philippines reported, they also called on the government to step up its efforts on several issues.

Most of the leaders called on the Philippines to investigate alleged extrajudicial killings and ensure accountability for former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. 

Among the countries that encouraged the Philippines to impose more “prompt, impartial and thorough" investigations were Germany, Australia, Croatia, Canada, and Brazil. Several member-states like Cyprus, France, and Austria, and Costa Rica meanwhile urged the Philippines to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Remulla, however, explained the administration is still studying the matter.

“The ICC should probably concern itself more with failed states, states at war, and states with no government in control. We are not closing our door to reviewing our position as a country in consultation with the civil society,” he stated.

A number of countries such as Iceland, Belgium, and Ireland also moved the Philippines to adopt a more comprehensive SOGIE law. Better protection of journalists, rights defenders, and those expressing their freedom of expression were also among the most common concerns among member-states. 

Greece encouraged the Philippines to take urgent measures against the crackdown on media entities and practitioners. Canada, on the other hand, pushed for the country to decriminalize libel and cyber libel. 

Austria also recommended the Philippines to impose a human rights defenders protection bill and strengthen mechanisms to prevent violence against activists.

Other concerns were the prevention of exploitation and abuse of children, promotion of PWD rights, decriminalization of abortion, as well as the implementation of an RH law.

During the fourth cycle, Remulla discussed the previous report he delivered and reiterated the four pillars of the country’s human rights agenda.

“Number one transformational reform for justice and law enforcement sectors. Number two, investments in economic, social and cultural rights of our citizens. Number three, protection of vulnerable groups number for constructive and open engagement with the international community,” he said.

Remulla also shared some of the actions the government has taken since the last UPR. Among the reforms he mentioned was the case they are building on the “high-ranking government officials” involved in the murder of broadcaster “Percy” Lapid.

He also reported that the process uncovered” a deeply-rooted criminal enterprise inside the corrections pillar,” which they are currently cracking down on. 

“With the recent discovery of 176 unclaimed and abandoned cadavers of PDLs at the accredited funeral home of our New National Bilibid Prison, I directed the conduct of an inventory and medico-legal investigation. This is to determine the causes of their deaths with the end view of making legally accountable those found responsible for these mysterious deaths,” he noted.

Remulla also said they have begun the streamlining of investigative and accountability processes for better case building and stressed the country is working hard to dispel the notion that there is a “culture of impunity in the country.” 

“The Philippine National Police conducted its own investigations of 17,500 officers in which 27 were dismissed from service, 18 were demoted and 98 suspended. Criminal charges were also filed,” he shared.

“Nine (9) additional cases will be filed with the Administrative Order 35 Mechanism that looks into allegations of extra-judicial killings. This is a fruit of enhanced, secure, and open dialogue I have personally made with civil society leaders who previously did not wish to come forward,” he added.

He also mentioned the government is continually decongesting prions. 

"We are decongesting our correction system by decentralizing our prisons, consistent with the Regionalization of Prisons Act. Plans are underway for the transfer of the maximum security prison from the New National Bilibid Prison to Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, the medium-security prison to Tanay, Rizal, and the minimum security prison to Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija," Remulla said.

Philippine UPR Watch Press, however, argued that Remulla’s report lacked “admission and accountability.”

“The Philippine government delegation brought nothing but empty words and vague promises to the review. Its presentation did not reflect realities on the ground,” the group said in a statement.

“Governments from at least 35 countries called on the Philippines to put a stop on extrajudicial killings and exact accountability on the perpetrators, particularly state security forces, while 38 countries called on the Philippines to protect human rights and indigenous defenders, lawyers and judges, environmentalists, and journalists. This clearly indicates that the world knows the real situation despite lies, empty rhetoric, and distortion of facts by the Philippine government delegation,” it added.

Philippine UPR Watch Press also pointed out that the government avoided giving information on the social and economic situation of millions of Filipinos and instead “diverted attention from the issue by listing laws, policies, programs and other measures that appear substantial but are actually marginal in impact, especially against the true magnitude of socioeconomic distress.”

“The government did not report the unprecedented suffering during the protracted lockdowns and the massive increase in poverty, unemployment, and poor quality work even amid supposed economic growth. It claimed millions of dollars for social assistance while conveniently omitting that the budget for this fell in 2022 and is cut further in 2023,” the statement read.

“We hope that the Marcos government acknowledges the fact that its claim of improved human rights situation in the Philippines is not believed. Behind polite words in which the recommendations is given by more than a hundred countries in the review, they clearly mean that the Philippines has a long way to go in ensuring the human rights is respected and upheld in the country,” it said.