GENEVA, Switzerland – The Philippine government grossly misleads the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about the state of social and economic rights in the country in the report it belatedly submitted for the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), according to the Philippine UPR Watch network. The network of advocacy and human rights organizations scored the official report for its selectivity and hiding serious violations of millions of Filipinos’ social and economic rights.
“The UPR is a unique venue for the global community to discuss human rights conditions and the compliance of the Philippine government to its obligations under important agreements such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, the Philippine government has reduced the process to a mere public relations exercise for image-building,” said Philippine UPR Watch.
The Philippine government claimed “inroads in socio-economic development anchored on social justice [that] are enriching the human rights environment” in its submission for the UPR. Countering this, the Philippine UPR Watch highlighted the perfunctory tokenism of government measures that seek to paint a rosy picture that is vastly different from the realities of poverty, underdevelopment and gross inequality persistent in the Philippines today.
The network raised several violations by the Philippine government where it failed in its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil social and economic rights. These include violations stemming from the Duterte government’s disastrous and fiscally conservative COVID-19 response which is being continued by the current Marcos Jr government. The Philippine lockdowns, which were among the longest and harshest in the world, were especially damaging to the poor and marginalized sectors.
Among the State violations intentionally omitted from the government’s official report but which are the direct result of ill-suited policy choices are:
Right to food
- Causing 15.5 million households to go hungry in 2020
Right to health
- Causing a 37% reduction in healthcare utilization and foregone care for infectious and non-communicable diseases in 2020
- Having the 5th most COVID-19 cases per capita (35,495 per million) and the 2nd most COVID-19 deaths per capita (569 per million) in Southeast Asia to date
- Underfunding of public health with capital outlays falling from Php27.6 billion in 2017 to Php27 billion in 2022
- Allowing health care to be increasingly privatized where over two-thirds of hospitals (66.4%) and the majority of bed capacity are private; the average cost of confinement in a private facility is three times that in a public facility
- Allowing the average cost of confinement to increase by 67% in private facilities and by 57% in public facilities between 2008 and 2017, according to the latest government data; as it is, 44.7% of total health spending are still household out-of-pocket payments, and 4 out of 10 Filipinos who die are not medically attended
Right to education
- Causing enrolment in basic education to fall by 963,727 (formal and alternative learning systems) between school years 2019-20 and 2020-21, aside from severely disrupting the education of 26.8 million other enrolled students with the longest in-person school closures in the world
- Forcibly closing 216 Lumad (Mindanao indigenous peoples) schools with over 10,000 students as part of its so-called counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign
Right to adequate standard of living
- Causing official poverty to increase by 2.3 million poor Filipinos to 20 million or by and 492,000 families to 3.5 million in 2021
- Causing the number of households without savings to increase by 3.7 million to 19.4 million or 73% of all households from before the pandemic to the 3rd quarter of 2022
- Failing to let 17,067 Bangsamoro families (85,335 individuals) displaced by the attack on Marawi City return home
Right to social security
- Failure to give sufficient emergency assistance to compensate for the impact and persistent economic scarring of the harsh lockdowns – with the government budget for all COVID and non-COVID assistance drastically falling from Php436 billion in 2020 to Php262.7 billion in 2022 and proposed to be cut further by Php33.3 billion in 2023
Right to work
- Letting real wages fall even further from before the pandemic to be as low as 18% of the family living wage in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) or only as high as 50% in the National Capital Region (NCR) as of October 2022, quite insufficient for decent living
- Worsening informality in employment wherein 3.4 million or 68% of net employment creation since the pandemic as of September 2022 is in irregular low-paying informal employment which includes large numbers in unpaid family work (25%) and self-employment (38%); over one-third of employment (35.2%) is merely part-time work
- Lower employment which fell by 287,000 between August and September 2022 to 47.6 million despite the reported 7.6% economic growth in the third quarter of 2022
Environmentally destructive projects
- Recanted the moratorium on open-pit mining which is proven to cause massive biodiversity loss and toxic pollution – resulting in the reopening of 28 mining operations with records of environmental and human rights violations
- Allowed the proliferation of dirty fossil fuel power plants (inaugurating 15 coal power plants in 2016-2020), big corporate mining (26 new mining permits as of July 2021 and 35 exploration permits so far under Marcos Jr.), mega-dams, agro-monocrop plantations and coastal reclamation (187 big reclamation projects just under the current administration) that drive climate change and human rights abuses
The Philippine government did not take sufficient measures to fulfil its obligation to uphold economic, social and cultural rights. The violations of the rights of millions of Filipinos also occur amid growing prosperity for a few including close oligarch allies of the previous and current administrations.
The Philippine government is willfully and prejudicially manipulating information to protect former Pres. Rodrigo Duterte from accountability and to rehabilitate the justifiably tarnished family reputation of the current Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, said Philippine UPR Watch.
“The international community should take a closer look at the real situation in the Philippines and examine the recommendations made by civil society groups who are at the forefront of the struggle for economic, social and cultural rights. The situation is dire and the Philippine government needs to be held accountable. The Philippine UPR Watch is committed to more completely presenting facts against deceptive official State pronouncements,” the group said.