12 October 2020
Europe Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines expresses disappointment at the UNHRC Resolution on the Philippines
The Europe Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines (ENJPP) expresses great disappointment and frustration with regard to the UNHRC resolution on “Technical cooperation and capacity building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines” that was adopted by the UNHRC in Geneva on 7 October 2020. We consider it a matter of deep regret that the resolution failed to make a strong call for concrete measures to address the dramatically worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, but rather placed a focus on technical cooperation, capacity-building activities and domestic accountability mechanisms. Experience has shown that such measures have never proven effective and the Filipino people have long lost trust in them.
ENJPP considers the resolution to be in stark contrast to the damning report presented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michèle Bachelet, to the UNHRC in June of this year, which pointed to the massive and systemic human rights violations that continue to take place under the Duterte regime, in particular the killing of some 248 human rights defenders and over 8000 drug suspects between 2016, when Duterte came to power, up to 2019.
Furthermore, it in no way reflects the tenor of the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 17 September 2020, which also expressed deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating human right situation in the Philippines and called on the EU and its member states to support a UNHRC resolution establishing an independent international investigation into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016.
For the ENJPP, one of the biggest disappointments is the fact that the resolution did not include a call for such an independent international investigation or provide for visits by the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the UN Special Procedures to the Philippines. Instead, it requests the UNHRC to “provide support for the country in its continued fulfilment of its international human rights obligations and commitments”. But how can there be question of “continued fulfilment” given the Duterte regime’s disastrous performance on human rights? After all, it was precisely because of the “seriousness of the human rights violations in the country and the lack of any substantial improvements or willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities” that the European Parliament in its September resolution called for the immediate start of a procedure to temporarily withdraw the Philippine’s trade benefits.
ENJPP is particularly enraged at the disinformation methods used by the Government of the Philippines in the months leading up to the UNHRC 45th session, in particular with regard to the document “The Philippine Human Rights Situationer” that was distributed in Geneva in a bid to discredit human rights defenders and their groups who have worked tirelessly for years to inform the UNHRC members of the full extent of the human rights violations taking place in the Philippines. By presenting the country as “a healthy democracy with a working system for checks and balances among the branches of government” and having a “well-functioning justice system”, that document can only be described as a cleverly composed piece of propaganda which must have had some influence at the UNHRC.
Tragic evidence that the justice system in the Philippines is far from “well-functioning” emerged just days after the UNHRC resolution was adopted, when a political prisoner, arbitrarily arrested in November 2019 on dubious charges, was prevented from being with her critically ill three-month-old baby girl. An urgent petition to the Supreme Court in April for her humanitarian release in view of the increased vulnerability of pregnant women to COVID-19 as well as a final plea for her to be temporarily released to be with her dying child had been callously ignored by the courts.
ENJPP shares the dismay of the families of the victims of the atrocities perpetrated under Duterte at the resolution’s failure to call for meaningful actions to be put in place to bring justice for their loved ones and to end the climate of impunity that makes these human rights abuses possible. The resolution can, however, be seen as a clear signal to the Duterte administration that the international community is not oblivious to what is happening, calling on the Philippine government to address the issues raised in the Bachelet report and to ensure accountability for human rights violations.
After the adoption of the resolution, Duterte’s Spokesman, Harry Roque, said that the Philippine government would “fully cooperate” with the UN human rights system. In that connection, the ENJPP warmly welcomes the reaction of Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, who demanded that the government show through concrete actions that it is serious about this commitment. She added that the Human Rights Commission intended to track progress on the basis of a list of clear indicators.
Civil society in the Philippines and abroad will also be sure to closely monitor the extent to which the Duterte regime honours its commitments. The pursuit of justice for the countless victims of extrajudicial killings, arrests and all forms of human rights violations will continue in every forum possible, including the UN and other international bodies, as well as the International Criminal Court and national governments.
Bishop Antonio Ablon, IFI