“They [the international community] know that the Philippine government has not lived up to its commitment to completely eliminate extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.” – Fr. Jonash Joyohoy of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and co-head of delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Several countries expressed alarm, during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland May 29, over the unabated extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines
The UPR is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council to review compliance of all 192 UN member states to international human rights agreements. The first UPR in the Philippines was in 2008.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, head of the 29-member Philippine delegation, presented the country’s national report stating the Philippine government’s efforts in addressing concerns on human rights such as the creation of a task force to address extrajudicial killings, enactment and amendment of several laws, human rights education among state security forces, among others.
Sixty-seven countries participated in the discussion on the Philippines. While some countries noted some positive achievements by the Philippine government, many raised the issue of continuing human rights violations under the Aquino administration.
The representative of France said it is “alarmed by extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and continuing violations against journalists and human rights defenders.”
The delegate of Japan said “extrajudicial killings continue as a significant political issue.”
The delegates of the United Kingdom, Spain and the Holy See called on the Philippine government to “completely eradicate extrajudicial killings.”
Citing the report of Task Force Usig from 2008 to 2011, the Philippine government claims that there were only 27 activists and media practitioners killed during the period. The Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was created during the Arroyo administration purportedly to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists. Recently, Col. Domingo Tutaan, head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Human Rights Office said they recorded zero human rights violations during the first quarter of the year.
Reports from independent human rights group Karapatan, however, show that there have been 76 victims of extrajudicial killings and nine victims of enforced disappearances since Aquino took office. Karapatan, and other Church and people’s organizations filed separate submissions to the Council.
A number of countries urged the Philippines to step up efforts to fully prohibit and address cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and ensure that there are mechanisms in place to address such cases.
De Lima said that the “wheels of justice are moving” in the Philippines.
The delegate from the United States, however, said “impunity in human rights violations continues,” citing institutional barriers to the attainment of justice for victims of rights abuses.
Several countries urged the Philippines to end impunity in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture and bring those responsible to justice, including Major General Jovito Palparan Jr, former Governor Joel Reyes and the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre.
Palparan is charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention in relation to the enforced disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan while Reyes is a suspect in the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega.
Others recommended that the Philippine government enhances human rights-based training for all law enforcement personnel.
The Canadian delegate said that despite training programs on human rights for security forces, human rights violations are “still serious and all too widespread.”
The German delegate urged the strengthening of accountability mechanisms and the conduct of impartial investigations in cases involving state forces, reminding the Philippine government of the recommendations of Prof. Philip Alston, former Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions.
The representative of The Netherlands called on the Philippines to address the issue of impunity by prosecuting perpetrators. Denmark called for the full implementation of the anti-torture law, saying that state forces are still involved in abuses.
The delegates of Spain and Canada called for the dismantling of all paramilitary groups and militias.
At least six countries asked the Philippines to consider extending official invitations to UN special procedures. There are 13 pending requests for visits, including that of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. Special rapporteurs could not conduct a visit without the consent of the government under review. De Lima said they are still studying the requests and said the Philippine government cannot act on all requests because of shortage in resources.
Another recommendation raised to the Philippines is to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders and journalists and effectively investigate and prosecute attacks against journalists and to introduce into domestic law strong legislation prohibiting these acts and imposing criminal penalties.
“We view the questions and statements of continuing concern by the different foreign missions as very telling. It shows even greater interest by the international community on the human rights situation. They know that the Philippine government has not lived up to its commitment to completely eliminate extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. The language used may have been diplomatic, but clearly the international community wants the Philippine government to do more,” Fr. Jonash Joyohoy of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and co-head of delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch, said in a statement.
The Philippine UPR Watch is a network of human rights groups that also sent a delegation to Geneva to “expose the real human rights situation in the country.”
Its members include Fil-Am activist and torture and disappearance survivor Melissa Roxas and Aklan municipal councilor Ernan Baldomero, son of slain councilor Fernando Baldomero, the first victim of extrajudicial killing under the Aquino administration.
Leaders from Karapatan, Tanggol Bayi, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp), Moro Christian People’s Alliance-Kawagib, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Defend Job Philippines, Migrante, Cordillera People’s Alliance, Promotion of Church People’s Response, IFI-Ramento Project for Rights Defenders, Migrante International, International Coordinating Committee on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP) and Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines-United Kingdom and CHRP-Switzerland also attended the session.
“It is not enough for the Philippines to merely acknowledge concerns about continuing abuses and impunity raised by UN member states,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a separate statement. “The Aquino administration needs to implement enforceable and time-bound measures to end abuses and ensure that those who commit them are prosecuted.”
“President Benigno Aquino III should make a public commitment that breaking impunity in the Philippines is a top priority,” Pearson said. “He can do that by adopting measures that will ensure that military personnel and police who have so far gotten away with murder, torture and disappearances will be punished under his watch.”
“The government needs to undertake a major and thorough reform of the country’s broken criminal justice system, as many have states recommended,” Pearson said. “It would be tragic to return to Geneva four years from now for the next UPR and see that nothing significant has changed.”