This is the last of a series of columns on the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Report on the Philippines. As I wrote in the first article, this is a great report—factually correct, inclusive in taking in the inputs of government and stakeholders, and comprehensive. It is also constructive in its recommendations.
In its concluding section, the Report highlights the serious gap between Philippine laws and policies on human rights and its implementation on the ground. Efforts to address criminality, the trade and use of illicit drugs and to prevent and counter violent extremism and armed conflict must be grounded in evidence, consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for the human rights of all affected persons. There is also need to enforce accountability of State and non-state violations, giving premium to transparency and respect for due process in order to build confidence and public trust.
By way of specific recommendations, the Report advances the following prescriptive measures for adoption:
On the campaign against illegal drugs, there is need to repeal PNP Command Memorandum Circular No. 2016-16, cease ‘Project Tokhang’ and urgently put an end to extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and other violence targeting suspected drug offenders and people using drugs; Abolish the compilation and publication of ‘drug watch lists’ at all administrative levels.
A comprehensive review of legislation and policies relating to narcotics, including revisiting the mandatory penalties for drug offenses must be conducted; consider decriminalization of personal possession and use of certain drugs; implement alternative measures to conviction and punishment and other human rights-based responses; and ensure adequate assistance to families of victims of drug-related killings, including financial aid, legal support and psycho-social services.
On the national security laws and policies, it recommended the repeal of Memorandum Order 32; to guarantee that emergency measures are necessary, proportionate and time-bound, limited to those strictly required by the exigencies of the situation; disband and disarm all private and State-backed paramilitary groups; and review Executive Order 70 and its implementation to ensure compliance with the rule of law and international human rights norms and standards, and that political and socio-economic grievances are tackled through meaningful, participatory consultation.
For more effective accountability, there is a need to empower an independent body to conduct prompt, impartial, thorough, transparent investigations into all killings, and into alleged violations of international humanitarian law; improve systems to compile and publish consistent, disaggregated data on all allegations of extrajudicial killings.
Concerning civic space, the Report made the recommendation for the government to adopt confidence-building measures to foster trust with civil society organizations and facilitate their engagement with State institutions must be taken without reprisal; halt – and condemn – incitement to hatred and violence and other harmful, threatening and misogynistic rhetoric against human rights defenders and other Government critics – offline and online; drop politically-motivated charges against human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and media organizations, legal and judicial officials, trade unionists, church workers, and others; Take legal measures to ensure their protection.
On the situation of indigenous peoples, the UN Report suggested the full and comprehensive implementation of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and address, together with affected communities, the major challenges impeding its proper functioning, among others.
Finally, the Report strongly advised the Philippine government to cooperate with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights and the various UN human rights mechanisms. These include, among others, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Delivering the government response to the Report before the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 44th session last June 30, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra informed the Council of the creation of an inter-agency body assigned to do a comprehensive and judicious review anti-illegal drug operations conducted by authorities which resulted in 5,655 deaths by the government’s own count. As reported, the Justice Secretary, who as an individual is still perceived by many (including me) as a person of integrity, is chairing this review body and will include, aside from the Department of Justice, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Foreign Affairs, Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, Presidential Management Staff, Dangerous Drugs Board, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation.
This is a welcome development but unfortunately too late to save many lives and to comfort families who lost loved ones in the war against drugs. The cynical observer think that this is just a way of trying avoid an investigation by the International Criminal Court. Whether that is the case we will soon know.
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