No easy way out for PH government during UN rights review: Showcasing Cannot Conceal Impunity

GENEVA- It may not be smooth sailing for the Philippine government when it faces the United Nations Human Rights Council to defend the country’s rights record on May 29.

Based on information obtained by the Philippine UPR Watch, many of the questions that would be asked by the foreign missions will center on the prevalence of extrajudicial killings and the inability of the Philippine government to bring the perpetrators to justice. Members of the UNHRC are also expected to ask for a quantitative assessment of the human rights programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  Economic rights issues such as land reform and human trafficking  are also expected to be raised.

“In a way, this is a time for reckoning for the Philippine government. During the last Universal Periodic Review in 2008, the Philippines made several commitments to eliminate extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. The European Union put up a program for the Philippine government to  address the killings, but from what we’re seeing, the results have been very disappointing and frustrating to say the least,” said Fr. Jonash Johohoy of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, who is the co-head delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch who are in Geneva.

“We believe that many EU members have taken note of the dismally low conviction rate in cases of extrajudicial killings. Many foreign governments and international human rights watchdogs recognize extrajudicial killings and other rights abuses persist. Even the US State Department in a recent report recognizes this. The Philippine government has not done enough to address these problems,” Johoyhoy added.

From October 2009 to April 2011, the European Union allotted nearly 4 million Euros for the European Union-Philippines Justice Support Programme or EPJUST. The programme was meant to improve the Philippines’s criminal justice and human-rights monitoring systems in line with the PH government’s pledge to put an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

“It is understandable that many EU member states would now be asking the Philippines to present tangible results especially in the prevention of rights abuses and the prosecution of rights violators. The Philippine country report submitted to the UNHRC presented trite statements. The glaring fact is that former  General Palapran has been eluding arrest. The torturers of the Morong 43 have been promoted. No case has been filed in court against soldiers suspected of killing the country’s top botanist and taxonomist Leonard Co,” said Marie Enriquez, Karapatan chair and also co-head of delegation for the Philippine UPR Watch.

“We expect the PH government to say that the number of killings has gone down. However, this is not due to any meaningful reforms instituted by the Aquino government. The decline in numbers, relative to its peak in 2006-2007, happened because of intense domestic and international pressure on the previous Arroyo government. This does not necessarily mean that the Aquino government has stopped the practice of targeting unarmed activists,” she said.

The Philippine UPR Watch observed that the PH government report was heavy on domestic laws, issuances and orders along with the creation of task forces and offices supposedly to address human rights issues.

“We do not need those fancy and sophisticated schemes, bureaucratic agencies and mechanisms and even grandiose structures and plans (purportedly aimed at addressing the continuing violations.) It’s not just about having laws. We want justice. And we want it now,” said Atty. Edre Olalia, Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and who is also in Geneva.

The Philippine government will also be quizzed regarding its refusal to formally invite UN Special Rapporteurs on various issues despite several pending requests. The PH government’s refusal to be scrutinized under UN Special Procedures is an indication of the Philippine government’s lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to human rights, the PH UPR Watch said.

“The Aquino government has made a lot of hullabaloo about its so-called campaign to hold accountable corrupt officials. It is lamentable however that while Aquino moves heaven and earth for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, he has shown very little interest in going after the many human rights violators in the AFP and other state agencies.  His government has not even filed a single human rights case against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The glaring omission tantamount to condonation is too obvious to ignore,” remarked Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. ###

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