This year, the Philippine Government will undergo another review during the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. Ten civil society groups in the Philippines, belonging to the Philippine UPR Watch, submitted separate alternative reports in November 2011. The organizations are Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Ibon Foundation, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples Organizations in the Philippines (KAMP), Moro Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), the Philippine Independent Church’s Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (PIC-RPRD) and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR).
The submissions reveal that after the first UPR Review of the Philippines and despite its promise to implement the recommendations put forward by 14 countries, the human rights situation in the country has not improved. The submissions contain various types of human rights violations that occurred after the first UPR under the government of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and which continue on until the administration of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
Violations of civil and political rights
At the end of the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June 2010, she left a total of 1,206 victims of extra-judicial killings and 206 cases of enforced disappearances as documented by the human rights group Karapatan. Most notorious of the killings was the massacre of 58 individuals which included journalists in Maguindanao.
There were 2,059 persons illegally or arbitrarily arrested by Arroyo’s military and police forces, among them the 43 health workers attending a medical training in Morong, Rizal. The release of the Morong 43 came after 10 months of incarceration after the charges against them were withdrawn by the government prosecutors. MCPA also reported that some 125 Moro (the Muslim national minority) civilians from Basilan, 106 from Sulu and 36 in Zamboanga City were arbitrarily arrested, detained without the privilege of writ of habeas corpus, accused of multiple crimes in court without preliminary investigation, and illegally detained. Most were tortured.
It has been four years since the first UPR on the Philippines and the human rights situation in the country manifests little or no improvement. The climate and culture of impunity still reign.
Since the assumption of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as the 15th President of the Philippines, there has been no significant change in the human rights situation in the country. Much was expected of him being the son of two democracy icons in Philippine society. But to the disappointment of many he has not exhibited political will to ensure justice for the victims of human rights violations under the Arroyo regime. Instead he extended his predecessor’s bloody anti-insurgency plan, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) until the end of 2011.
In 2012 he announced his own version, Oplan Bayanihan. It is Oplan Bantay Laya all over again, but this time wrapped in a deceptive package of “peace and development.”
Thus, the wanton disregard for human rights remains unabated. The Children’s Rehabilitation Center reported a total of 1,205 cases of child rights violations from 2001- 2010. Together with KAMP, they report of attacks on schools in indigenous communities by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Moreover, both children and adult members of indigenous communities are being recruited to join the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), to help augment military forces in their fight against insurgency in the countryside.
Karapatan, NCCP, PCPR, RPRD and NUPL have taken note and continue to monitor and document cases of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention and various other violations of human rights under the Aquino government.
Five days after Aquino’s oath-taking ceremony as president, Fernando Baldomero, a Bayan Muna coordinator and municipal councilor of Lezo, Aklan, was shot dead in broad daylight in front of his horrified son by two motorcycle-riding men. Only four days later, Pascual Guevarra, a farmer from Nueva Ecija, was gunned down in his house.
More killings ensued. There was the fatal shooting of leading botanist Leonard Co in Kananga, Leyte in November 2011. Radio Broadcaster and anti-mining activist Gerry Ortega was killed in Palawan. Antonio Homo, an urban poor leader in Metro Manila opposing the demolition of their homes and community likewise lost his life due to political killing. And finally the brutal killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest well-loved by the communities he helped through scholarships and setting-up of schools and his strong opposition to the militarization of rural villages, in October 2011 in Arakan, North Cotabato. As of November 2011 Karapatan has documented 67 victims of extrajudicial killings nationwide.
Enforced disappearances continue with the abduction of nine individuals from June 2010 to December 2011 under the Aquino government. Arbitrary arrest and detention continue as well with a total of 356 still detained in various jails across the country. Most were psychologically and physically tortured and charged with trumped up charges. Majority of the cases show criminalization of offenses to hide the existence of political prisoners.
Under Oplan Bayanihan, the Philippine government tries real hard to erase the violent and cruel image of the soldiers of the AFP. Their presence in the community is justified and “deodorized” through their engagement in livelihood and infrastructure projects, medical and dental missions, circumcision campaigns etc. Yet no amount of deception can deny the fact that their presence and regular combat operations result in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, forced evacuations and other human rights violations.
Violations of economic, cultural and social rights
Violations of civil and political rights are perpetrated alongside violations of economic, social and cultural rights to stem people’s resistance to government policies and programs in violation of their rights and interests.
Control of the economy is still monopolized by a few. In 2009, the poorest half (50%) of Filipino families accounted for just 19.8% of total income compared to the 51.9% income of the richest families which make up only 20% of families. The income of the richest 10% of households is 18 times that of the poorest 10% of households.
Net income of the Top 1,000 corporations in the Philippines meanwhile rose more than six and a half times from Php116 billion in 2001 to Php756 billion in 2009 in contrast to the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers which only rose 31% from Php222 (US$5.05) in 2001 to Php291 (US$6.60) in 2009.
In 2011, total interest and principal payments on public debt (Php750.5 billion) were more than double the combined education, health and housing spending (Php315.6 billion). Yet backlogs in education due to financial straits remain considerable as in 2011: 104,000 teachers, 152,569 classrooms and 13.2 million desks.
Government’s thrust is still promotion of a labor-export policy instead of generating jobs at home. About 4,030 Filipinos went abroad each day in 2010 to find jobs. There are an estimated 8.6 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in 192 countries worldwide. This is equivalent to 25% of the country’s labor force. Stories of violations of contracts, physical and sexual abuse and even deaths affecting them continue to fill newspaper accounts. A glaring example of a violation of the country’s right to self-determination is the Senate ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) in October 2008. JPEPA gave Japanese investors “national treatment” while prohibiting performance requirements including technology transfer, local content requirements, and preference for Filipino labor, among others.
Meanwhile, attempts to amend the 1987 Constitution to fully liberalize investment and eliminate legal challenges to deals like the JPEPA persist. Lifting of constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, mass media, educational institutions, and exploitation of natural resources, among others are being pushed by proponents of constitutional reforms.
It is likewise alarming that eight out of nine key industries identified by the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016 correspond to the industries specifically identified in a 2009 lobbying document of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines. Large-scale mining by multinational corporations (MNCs) is a major threat to the right to ancestral land and to self-determination of indigenous peoples. For indigenous peoples, large-scale mining activities are threats to their survival and bring about irreparable damage to the environment. In some cases, mining activities impinge on sacred sites, burial grounds and cultural beliefs and practices. It can be said that ethnocide is an impact of large-scale corporate mining.
The inherent right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral land and natural resources are undermined by jurisprudence, the Mining Act of 1995, regressing interpretation of the IPRA, weakened implementing rules & regulations, Administrative Orders and several other domestic laws and national policies. The right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) legally protected under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), the UNDRIP and other UN instruments are manipulated, either blatantly or through subtle means, and in many cases, through coercion and use of force by the military and its paramilitary arm.
The Center for Trade Union Rights reports 14 cases of forced eviction and demolition of houses of so-called informal settlers from 2010-2011. Affected are 27,233 families or an estimated 103,555 individuals. About 152 people were injured during these violent demolitions. The National Housing Authority failed to complete its resettlement and slum upgrading targets, having accomplished only 76% in 2010 and 73% for the first three quarters of 2011.
Despite government claims
The Philippine government may have enacted an Anti-Torture Law and may have signed and endorsed to the Philippine Senate the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, but these have not prevented the torture of political prisoners and civilians accused of supporting Philippine liberation movements.
The Aquino government remains amiss in ratifying the Convention on the Protection of People against Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. As expected, the bill criminalizing enforced disappearance has not been passed. It is still pending in Congress and is not among those considered by the President as urgent.
No step has been taken by the Arroyo and Aquino governments on the resolutions and recommendations to the government of the UNHR Committee on the complaints filed on behalf of Eden Marcellana, Eddie Gumanoy and Benjaline Hernandez, human rights defenders killed during the term of Gloria Arroyo.
Aquino’s promise to seek justice for the victims of human rights violations remains unfulfilled as cases remain unsolved and perpetrators still at large like the much despised “Butcher” and Arroyo’s main military henchman, General Jovito Palparan. With Aquino government’s inaction families of the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance and victims of arbitrary detention and torture took it upon themselves to file civil and criminal charges against the military HR violators.
The Anti-Terrorism Law or Human Security Act remains enforced.
Government inaction with regards to the 1st UPR recommendations
A total of 36 recommendations by 11 countries were accepted by the Philippine government during the first UPR. Among those accepted but remains unaccomplished or marginally accomplished are the following as noted by UPR Watch:
58(1) To continue to develop a gender-responsive approach to issues of violence against women and continue to build supportive environment for women and children within the judicial system; this environment should take into account the special needs for rehabilitation and post-conflict care of women and children in vulnerable situations and conflict areas (New Zealand);
58(2) To ensure that members of the security forces are trained on human rights and on their responsibility to protect human rights and human rights defenders (Canada);
58 (6) To completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings (Holy See), to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible (Switzerland) …
58 (4) To sign and ratify…the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Slovenia, Mexico)
The submissions also took note of the “Recommendations That Do Not Enjoy the Support of the Philippine Government”:
58 (3) To enable the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism as soon as possible (Slovenia).”
58 (6)…as well as to provide follow-up reports on efforts and measures to address extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, taking into account the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (the Netherlands).
58 (11) To strengthen the witness protection programme and address the root cause of this issue in the context of the reform of the judiciary and the armed forces (Switzerland).
58 (15) To consider extending a standing invitation to special procedures (Brazil)
Recommendations by UPR Watch
The November 2011 submissions of the member organizations of UPR Watch specify the following recommendations:
• Put an end to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture and other human rights violations.
• Discontinue the internal security plan, Oplan Bayanihan, that targets civilian population.
• Render justice to victims of human rights violations by providing adequate compensation, indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation and establishing mechanisms for this purpose.
• Institute special laws, procedures, remedies and courts that would effectively prosecute cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests, detention and torture carried out by state forces.
• Enforce the implementation of the Anti-Torture Law.
• Enact the Anti-Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance Bill.
• Reform the criminal justice system to address the pervading climate of impunity centered in particular on the enhancement and protection of human rights through the speedy investigation, arrest, prosecution, trial and conviction of perpetrators.
• Protect indigenous peoples’ inherent, prior, existing and inalienable right to their ancestral territories and its indivisible, inter-related and interdependent right to self-determination, rights which are already integrated in the domestic law and several international declarations and conventions.
• Review the broadened definition of “child soldiers” under the Paris Principles and Paris Commitments which, in the context of the Philippines, is used by State armed forces to further violate children’s rights.
• Issue invitations to UN special procedures mandate holders, including that of the pending requests from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). Their visits will help provide a healthy atmosphere for the promotion and protection of human rights.
• Repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law or Human Security Act of 2007.
• Resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
• Investigate and file appropriate charges for cases of human rights violations by U.S. troops; scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA); and pull out U.S. troops in the Philippines.
UPR Watch is committed to the monitoring, documenting and reporting of the state of compliance of the government of the Philippines to human rights standards. Its member organizations will continue to advance, protect and defend human rights in the country.