Update on the Philippines at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Update on the Philippines at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

lease find below an update report on the Philippine review at UNHRC by Bulatlat, an independent online weekly news-magazine.

An update report on the Philippine review at UNHRC by Bulatlat, an independent online weekly news-magazine.

By Alexander Martin Remollino
Human Rights Watch
Vol. VIII, No. 10, April 13-19, 2008

Representatives of 17 countries – including four of the country’s main aid donors – raised questions on the Philippine government’s human rights record in Geneva, Switzerland on April 11 as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who also chairs the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), led a 44-man delegation in delivering a presentation on the human rights situation in the Philippines before the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Ermita delivered his presentation during the deliberations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines.

The UPR is a new mechanism that was established under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the UNHRC on March 15, 2006. The said resolution provides that the UNHRC shall “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies…”

Ermita drew the material for his 38-minute presentation from the Philippine National Report (PNR) submitted to the UNHRC. The PNR emphasizes the creation of the Commission of Human Rights under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which Ermita noted antedates the Paris Principles on Human Rights. Ermita also stressed the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman, also under the 1987 Constitution, which is tasked to investigate high government officials. He noted that both chambers of Congress have Committees on Human Rights; and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) all have Human Rights Offices.

Ermita also talked about the existence of inter-agency councils tackling various human rights issues. He was referring to agencies like the Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Inter-agency Council on Violence Against Women and Children (IAC-VAWC), Inter-agency Council on Children Involved in Armed Conflict (IAC-CIAC) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC).

“The Philippine report, presented by no less than Secretary Ermita with his extraordinarily large contingent of bureaucrats flown in from Manila, was a self-serving, selective and totally one-sided depiction of the Philippine human rights situation,” said Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teddy Casiño in a statement sent to media. Casiño is a member of the six-man Philippine UPR Watch delegation observing the proceedings in Geneva – together with Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez; National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary Fr. Rex Reyes; Jonathan Sta. Rosa, brother of slain Methodist pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa; International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president Edre Olalia; and Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos.

Representatives of 17 states – France, Norway, Slovenia, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Algeria, North Korea, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Mexico, and the U.S. – questioned the 44-man team led by Ermita on the issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. “This sizable number of states sends a strong message that the GRP human rights record is both in the microscope and within the radar of the international community,” Olalia said in a message received by Bulatlat.

Four of these states – Japan, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. – are among the Philippines’ major aid donors, based on data from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Also identified by AusAID as major aid donors to the Philippines are the European Union and Germany.

The questions particularly focused on the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston, who went on a mission to the Philippines in late 2007 to investigate extrajudicial killings and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.

Karapatan has documented 902 cases of extrajudicial killings and 180 enforced disappearances from January 2001 – when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to March 2008.

“Canada is encouraged that the Philippine authorities have expressed their commitment to end extrajudicial killings, but remains concerned that there may have been few convictions,” Canada’s Terry Cormier said. “What is the Philippine government doing to address extrajudicial killings and ensure the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators?” asked Anna Chambers of the U.S. “How is the Philippine government ensuring human rights compliance among the police and security forces?” Australia’s Jihan Mirza asked for specific updates on the Philippine government’s compliance with Alston’s recommendations.

The Ermita-led delegation was also questioned on the rights of migrant workers, women and children; and the Philippine government’s non-signing of international instruments against torture and enforced disappearances.

In a press statement, the members of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation said of Ermita’s presentation: “His statement that ‘there is an open and vibrant democracy in the Philippines’ and that the government is “a human rights defender” is the height of distortion and sends a chilling indication that impunity will continue to be the policy of the Arroyo regime. “Ermita’s statements were a callous disregard to the fact that more than a dozen countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, took the Philippine government to task for its failure to address the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, especially in the prosecution of perpetrators. His statements ignored the fact that several countries also scored the Philippine government for its failure to address equally important issues such as the protection of migrant workers, the trafficking of women and children, and corruption. If the Philippine National Report was that good, the Philippines should be a paradise, whose people need not line up for rice, seek jobs abroad and would not be named one of the most corrupt countries in Asia. If the Report was that honest, countries would not have raised questions on the foregoing which are the core issues surrounding human rights violations in the Philippines.”