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. ###

Rights victims recount ordeal before Philippine review by UN

GENEVA– They could not hold back tears as they recounted their experiences before a crowd of international human rights organizations and representatives of foreign missions.

Ernan Baldomero, a municipal councilor in Aklan and son of Fernando Baldomero, the first victim of extrajudicial killing under the Aquino regime in 2010, recounted his last days with his father. He spoke of how his father was repeatedly tagged by the military as a communist rebel before he was gunned down by two men riding on a motorcycle. He broke down as he recounted how the military had even insisted that his father was killed by the New People’s Army in an alleged “purge”. He laments to this day that justice has not been fully served.

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For Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas, her abduction and torture was also painful to recall. She spoke of being abducted in La Paz, Tarlac along with two others, then being subjected to torture and other forms of indignities while in detention. Throughout her detention in what she believed to be was a military facility, she was blindfolded and handcuffed and forced by her captors to “return to the fold of the government”. She laments how none of the perpetrators of her abduction and torture have been held to account.

Baldomero and Roxas spoke at a side-event at the United Nations in Geneva that was organized by the Philippine UPR Watch and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), Asia Pacific Form on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

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The forum comes just days before the UN’s review of the Philippines’ human rights record on May 29. The Philippine UPR Watch is composed of Filipino human rights defenders who traveled to Geneva for the universal periodic review and session on the Philippines. The Philippine UPR Watch has submitted alternative reports to the UN to dispute the Philippine government claims of an improving human rights climate in the Philippines.

For the second time, the Philippines will undergo a process whereby member countries of the UN Human Rights Council will examine the Philippines’ compliance with its human rights treaty obligations. During the first review cycle in 2008, the Philippines came under serious scrutiny for the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Arroyo regime.

Now it’s the Aquino government’s turn to face the UN. The Philippine UPR Watch reports that some 76 cases of extrajudicial killings and 9 cases of enforced disappearances have taken place under the Aquino government. Meanwhile, no convictions of perpetrators have taken place under the Aquino administration, the group said.

Baldomero and Roxas both assert that rights violations continue under the Aquino government.

“The most painful thing right now is not recounting our experiences but knowing that there is still no justice after all this time. Victims live with the pain of injustice every day,” Roxas said.

“We came here to Geneva to tell the international community that impunity and injustice are continuing in the Philippines. We have spoken to different country missions here in the UN and hopefully they would ask the tough questions to the Philippine government,” Baldomero said. ###

UN Foreign Missions Receptive of Reports and Accounts of Human Rights Victims and Defenders

 

May 25, 2012 – Geneva – The delegation of the human rights civil society group Philippine UPR Watch has received a receptive audience among various foreign missions on their visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Switzerland.

The lobbying effort of the Philippine UPR Watch composed of 15 human rights and peace groups as well as church and mass organizations from the Philippines and abroad has been received positively by a diverse list of foreign dignitaries who have commonly expressed their keen interest to know more about the real state of human rights in the Philippines. 

A significant number of foreign missions that have candidly discussed issues and questions with the various teams of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation have signified their concern about the compliance of the Philippine government with its commitment and pledges to the recommendations on the first cycle of UPR in 2008 as well as other undertakings it should fulfill. Seventy one countries have listed up to make statements, ask questions and make recommendations to the Philippine government on a wide array of outstanding human rights issues when the latter comes under scrutiny on Tuesday, May 29. 

The foreign missions have assured the delegation that they will take into serious consideration all the concerns raised by the Philippine UPR Watch and counterpose these with the official national report of the Philippine government. The recurrent points that surfaced through the face-to-face interactions with the foreign missions include the continuing extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture, impunity, the rights of women and children, militarization of indigenous communities and other pressing issues. 

In between bilateral meetings with the foreign missions, the delegation has also been meeting with various representatives of the UN special procedures, rapporteurs and treaty monitoring bodies as well as a diverse array of international NGOs. 

The UPR is a process where all United Nations members are subjected to a review every four years of their compliance with international human rights instruments and their commitments and pledges. 

Marie Hilao-Enriquez, co-head of the Philippine UPR Watch said that after four years since the UPR was instituted by the Human Rights Council in 2008, the Philippine government has largely failed to fulfill its promises in the 1st UPR cycle since various forms of human rights violations continue and impunity still remains, noting that practically no one has been held to account and that the Pnoy administration has remained passive if not indifferent to the demands for justice for the victims. 

Today, May 25, the group will be conducting a forum at the Palais des Nations at the UN as a side event dubbed “Telling It As It Is”: Articulating the Philippine Human Rights Situation in the UPR Process, where human rights victims and defenders will speak about their experiences, analysis and recommendations. 

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation in Geneva is made up of leaders and representatives of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Karapatan, Tanggol Bayi, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Promotion of Church People’s Response, Migrante International, Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubo ng Pilipinas, Kawagib/Moro Christian People’s Alliance, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Defend Job Philippines, and Hustisya. They are joined by representatives from the International Committee on the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines, Bayan-USA, Migrante-Switzerland, and ICCHRP-United Kingdom.