Politics

Philippines downplaying rights abuses — groups

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PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

HUMAN rights groups on Tuesday accused the Philippine government of downplaying rampant human rights violations in the country before the United Nations.

“The Philippine government delegation brought nothing but empty words and vague promises to the review,” Philippine Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Watch said in a statement.

More than 30 member-states of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday urged the Philippines to do something about extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations that happened under former President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

The international community during the UN’s periodic review of the “human rights situation” in the Philippines also cited the need to protect human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.

“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 that human rights is respected and upheld in the country,” UPR Watch said.

The government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday called its anti-narcotics campaign “holistic,” adding that billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs had been seized since he took office in July.

The state is committed to improve peace and order by eliminating illegal drugs, the presidential palace said in a statement.

The government is partnering with religious groups to persuade drug suspects to surrender, Acting Press Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil said, citing national police chief Rodolfo Azurin, Jr. 

A Philippine delegation led by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla on Monday told the UN council in Geneva the government would “dispel the mistaken notion that there is a culture of impunity in our country.” The state seeks to punish more erring cops, he added.

At least 25 policemen have been charged with murder in connection to the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, he said.

STATES WEIGH INAt the UN review, France urged the Marcos government to do something about summary executions, while Canada said perpetrators should be prosecuted to give victims justice.

Belgium sought action on the killings of Filipino journalists, while Ireland said it was worried about allegations of murders and forced disappearances.

Austria, Costa Rica, Portugal, Ireland and Lichtenstein questioned the country’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We remind the Philippines of its obligation to cooperate with the prosecutor’s ongoing investigation into alleged international crime commission and ensure access to justice to victims,” Ireland’s representative said.

Mr. Duterte withdrew Philippine membership from the ICC in 2018. Mr. Marcos had said the Southeast Asian nation would not rejoin.

During the UN session, the United States said the government should hold those behind human rights violations during the drug war accountable. It also said the Philippines should stop tagging people as communists.

Estonia urged on the Philippines exact accountability and pay victims and their families. Cuba asked the government to focus its anti-illegal drug drive on prevention, education and rehabilitation.

An inter-agency task force on extralegal killings has investigated at least 17,000 police officers, Mr. Remulla told the council.

Meanwhile, Rise Up for Life and for Rights asked the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct its own probe of abuses committed under Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

In a four-page letter to UN Special Rapporteur Morris Tidball-Binz, the group said drug war victims have limited access to legal remedies.

“There is no genuine investigation into crimes against humanity in the context of the war on drugs in the Philippines,” it said.

The group was set to submit the letter to the UN on Tuesday, Maria Kristina C. Conti, lawyer for the group and secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers in the National Capital Region said in an e-mail.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said the Philippine probe of human rights violations in connection with its deadly drug war lacked transparency.

In a report dated Nov. 13, the UN Human Rights Committee said the Philippines should comply with international human rights mechanisms and cooperate with the ICC’s drug probe.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra in September said the country would block an investigation by the ICC on the war on drugs and ensure suspects are tried by local courts.

At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June last year. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died. — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza