Cristina Palabay and Mervin Toquero, Philippine UPR Watch Heads of Delegation
Sonny Africa, Ibon Foundation
Philippine UPR Watch Public Information Team +63 955 653 2100
Geneva, Switzerland – The government tried but miserably failed in convincing the international community that the human rights situation in the Philippines has vastly improved. At the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in this city Monday, many countries expressed concerns about ongoing human rights violations in the country and the Philippine government’s inadequate responses to recommendations made in the last cycle in 2017.
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.
The Philippine government delegation brought nothing but empty words and vague promises to the review. Its presentation did not reflect realities on the ground.
As documented by the University of the Philippines third World Studies Center, there have been 127 deaths connected with the drug war from July 1 to November 7 this year, mostly by state security forces. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s claim that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s directive to only use force when necessary is either being ignored or is simply a blatant lie. Many countries during the review were justifiably skeptical to government’s claims of success of investigating perpetrators of rights violations when there have been zero final and successful convictions. What are a few investigations and dismissal of policemen in the face of thousands of deaths after all?
Of particular concern to countries such as Austria, Costa Rica, Portugal, Ireland, Lichtenstein and others was the Philippine government’s cowardly decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, highlighting its lack of sincerity to exact accountability for the thousands of deaths connected with its anti-illegal drug war program.
Romania pointedly recommended a stop to red-tagging, a criticism of Philippine mission head and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s justification of the practice when he was last here last October. Sierra Leone went further by recommending the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. But in his closing remarks, Sec. Remulla was combative in denying the existence of a government red-tagging policy, alleging it was just an invented word by the Left. Does he not know that red-tagging was the subject of various UN reports and that it is already universally recognized as a dangerous practice in the Philippines?
Sec. Remulla was given a chance to respond to recommendations to decriminalize libel and cyber-libel. His delegation instead chose to make much of an administrative order that was issued by the previous government but that even became a red-tagging weapon against journalists and civil society actors. May we remind him that 23 journalists were killed under the Duterte regime and two have already been killed under the Marcos government?
The world does not need to be reminded about the existence of hundred of media outlets in the Philippines. It wants to be assured that attacks on media outfits such as ABS-CBN, Rappler, Pinoy Media Center, Bulatlat, Altermidya, Kodao and other independent media outfits will stop. The Philippine mission made no such promise.
Rampant economic, social and cultural rights
The Philippine government avoided giving information on the dire social and economic situation of millions of Filipinos especially after the overly harsh COVID-19 lockdowns and continued inaction on vital relief measures. It diverted attention from this 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.
Member states have been constrained in their interventions and mainly commented according to the Philippine government’s selective reporting. The most support was for measures to support vulnerable groups – the LGBTQ, persons with disabilities, women and children, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, and internally displaced persons. These were mainly in the areas of basic education and health, especially reproductive health, and disaster response. Only a handful commented on the need for food security, safe water, and workers’ conditions.
No admission, no accountability
The government hyped its neoliberal Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 and supposed compliance with previous recommendations since the last 3rd cycle of the UPR. Yet it misinformed member states about its impact to divert from its failure to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of millions of Filipinos.
The Philippine government would have shown sincerity if it acknowledged that human rights violations on the one hand and gross poverty and neglect on the other continue. It would have earned respect if it committed to pass law protecting human rights defenders. Sweden said it best: the impunity in the Philippines remains concerning. Switzerland urged it most strongly: Order all state forces to refrain from any action that violates human rights.
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 were 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.