Sunday, April 06, 2008


A new coalition formed to observe the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) deliberation on the Philippines is calling for the termination or suspension of the country’s membership in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Vol. VIII, No. 9, April 6-12, 2008

A new coalition formed to observe the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) deliberation on the Philippines is calling for the termination or suspension of the country’s membership in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

At the very least, the Philippine UPR Watch –- which is sending to Geneva a six-member delegation composed of National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary Fr. Rex Reyes; Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teddy CasiƱo; Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez; International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president Edre Olalia; Jonathan Sta. Rosa, brother of slain Methodist pastor Isaias Sta Rosa; and Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos –- is urging the UNHRC to issue a “subtle yet diplomatic” critique on the Philippine government.

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...”

The 47-member UNHRC is slated to hold its UPR deliberation on the Philippines this coming April 11.

Already, the Arroyo government’s preparations for the defense of its human rights record in Geneva –- where the UNHRC is based -– are in full swing. In fact, it had reportedly sent representatives to Geneva as early as last February. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita himself -– who also chairs the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) -– is set to head a 44-member Philippine government delegation to Geneva.

In an e-mail interview with Bulatlat, Olalia said the Philippine government’s sending a 44-man team to defend its human rights record reflects an attempt to “hoodwink the international community” and cover up its “dirty” human rights record.

“They should not pollute the clean air and surroundings and sully the elegant and imposing UN halls and buildings here in Geneva with their pack of lies and hypocrisy,” Olalia said. “Geneva is too tranquil and idyllic for them to send this big roving band. General Ermita leading the contingent with almost the same number of members as the country-members of the UNHRC is the ultimate insult to the victims of the horrors of the government's dirty war where he is a leading player.”

Civil and political rights

In the Philippine National Report submitted to the UPR, the Arroyo administration states that the government “has taken firm measures” to address the issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. This is among the claims which the Arroyo administration intends to put forward as proof of its supposed compliance with its obligations in the area of civil and political rights.

It cites among other supposed achievements the creation of the Melo Commission to investigate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Measures implemented by the Arroyo administration supposedly in response to the Melo Commission’s recommendations are cited as follows:

· The President issued A.O. 181 Creating a Task Force on Extrajudicial Killings, a special team of prosecutors from the DoJ (Department of Justice);

· Issuance of Administrative Order No. 181 (July 2007) strengthening the coordination between the National Prosecution Service and other concerned agencies of government for the successful investigation and prosecution of political and media killings;

· In October 2007, the President of the Philippines ordered the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to take active steps to prevent human rights violations by men in uniform. This includes instructions and training designed to reiterate to all PNP and AFP personnel that human rights abuses will not be tolerated;

· The President issued A.O. 211 creating a multi-agency Task Force against Political Violence, Task Force 211(November 2007) to increase coordination between the Department of Justice, the Department of National Defense, the Presidential Human Rights Committee, investigative and national security agencies, and civil society for speedier solutions to such violence.

“This is hogwash,” Olalia said when asked to comment. “The facts speak for themselves. No conviction involving any military or security forces credibly implicated. The killings and disappearances continue. Where are our colleagues, clients, friends, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who have been taken away?”

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.

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines late last year, 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.

The issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have brought the Arroyo administration criticisms not only from local groups but also from international organizations – among them the World Council of Churches (WCC), Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Uniting Church in Australia, and Human Rights Watch.

In its submission on the Philippines to the UPR, Amnesty International aired concern on the non-conviction of state forces involved in extrajudicial killings.

“Amnesty International is concerned that the failure to deliver justice to the victims of such killings reflects a reluctance on the part of the government to fulfill its obligation under national and international law to protect the right to life of every individual within its jurisdiction,” the Amnesty International document submitted to the UPR reads. “The organization is also concerned that these killings have played a major role in the break-down of the protracted peace process and an accompanying human rights agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front (which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army).”

The London-based Nobel Prize-winning organization cited the Summit on Political Killings and Enforced Disappearances initiated by the Supreme Court last year, as well as the promulgation of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo.

But Amnesty International also voiced fears that the imposition of Administrative Order No. 197, which urges “legislation for safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security,” endangers the implementation of the writ of amparo. “This may be an attempt by the government to counter amparo writs by invoking national security or confidentiality of information,” Amnesty International stated.

Economic rights

In the area of economic rights, among the points emphasized in the PNR is that the Philippines has a “comparatively respectable” Gini coefficient, or Inequality of Income Index, compared with other countries in the “developing” world.

“That is ridiculous,” Olalia said. “It is like saying that we are lucky to be less miserable, despondent and hungry even if a few of our own countrymen are into ostentatious living because of massive graft and corruption, anti-people policies, and serving as willing slaves to foreign greedy interests.”

Based on the UN’s Human Development Report 2007/2008, the Philippines has a Gini coefficient of 44.5 –- with 0 representing absolute equality and 100 representing absolute inequality. This was cited in the PNR.

Among the 177 countries ranked in the Human Development Report 2007/2008, there are only 37 countries with higher Gini coefficients, meaning having more inequality, than the Philippines: Argentina, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Malaysia, Venezuela, Colombia, Dominican Republic, China, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Jamaica, Honduras, Bolivia, Guatemala, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Nepal, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Togo, Uganda, Cote d'loivre, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone.

Arroyo has made much of the economic growth posted by the country under her administration. In a speech on Jan. 11, she said:

“Today, the Philippines is on a path to permanent economic growth and stability. We’ve created seven million new jobs in seven years... We’ve achieved 28 consecutive quarters of economic growth in the last seven years. And that’s something that even our neighbors cannot say. There were times during this 28 quarters that the… Singapore for instance, experienced negative growth and many of our neighbors and even the United States, there were quarters when they experienced negative growth.

“And in the last, in the three quarters of 2007 for which we have had our accounting completed, our economy rose 7.3 percent and this is the fastest growth in more than a decade, in a very, very long time.”

This economic growth, however, has been criticized by no less than the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as “among the most inequitable” in Southeast Asia. The ADB also noted that the Philippines has one of the highest Gini coefficients in Southeast Asia.

The ADB’s findings on inequality of income distribution are bolstered by data recently released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), which show that the number of poor Filipinos increased by 3.8 million from 2003 to 2006. Even with its low poverty threshold of P41.25 ($0.988 at an exchange rate of $1:P41.76) for each individual Filipino –- which is much lower than the living wage estimates of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) –- the rise in poverty rates from 2003 to 2006 is visible.

Based on February 2008 data from the NWPC, the national average family living wage stands at P767 ($18.37) a day.

The highest regional minimum wage at present is P362 ($8.67) for the National Capital Region (NCR), which has a regional daily family living wage of P853 ($20.43). The region with the lowest minimum wage rate is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), with only P200 ($4.79) even as it has a regional daily family living wage of P1,185 ($28.38). Bulatlat

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