Sunday, June 15, 2008


The Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch has assailed the Arroyo administration for being “in denial” about the causes of human rights violations in the Philippines. It also criticized the government for adamantly refusing to heed the recommendations of UNHRC members, which could have helped improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Vol. VIII, No. 19, June 15-21, 2008

The Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch has assailed the Arroyo administration for being “in denial” about the causes of and solutions to human rights violations in the Philippines. This was in response to the Philippine government representative’s statements at the eight session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which began last June 2 and is set to conclude on June 18.

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation to Geneva is composed of Fr. Rex Reyes, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary; Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary-general; Trisha Garvida of Karapatan; Edre Olalia, International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president; Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos; Donnie Mapanao of Migrante-Switzerland; and Ed Cubelo of the Toyota-Philippines union.

The UNHRC is holding the session to tackle the reports of its 47 member-countries to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which held its first session on April 7-18, 2008. The Philippine government’s human rights record was discussed in that session.

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 Arroyo administration has in recent years reaped international outrage over the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under its watch.

Based on data from Karapatan, there have been a total of 903 extrajudicial killings and 193 enforced disappearances from 2001 –- when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising –- to March 31, 2008.

The three regions with the highest number of extrajudicial killings are Southern Tagalog with 163, Central Luzon with 137, and the Bicol Region with 127. Most of the victims are peasants (numbering 419) and indigenous people (85). Among political organizations, the party-list group Bayan Muna (People First) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have the highest number of victims, with 132 and 104, respectively.

Meanwhile, the three regions with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances are Central Luzon with 64, Southern Tagalog with 28, and Eastern Visayas with 24.

Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, and Eastern Samar are all marked as “priority areas” in the government’s counter-insurgency operations dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch).

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to the Philippines in 2007 to investigate the spate of 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.

During the eight UNHRC session this June, Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Erlinda Basilio disputed Alston’s findings.

“The Philippines finds that the report and the recommendations of Professor Alston are inaccurate, highly selective, and biased,” Basilio said in her statement to the UNHRC on June 7. “The report neither provides a complete picture nor a fair assessment of the situation in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the Philippines remains committed to its state responsibility to resolve verifiable and legitimate cases of extrajudicial killings whoever may be the perpetrators, whether members of rebel groups or members of the military and police.”

Alston, however, said he stood by his findings. “I am simply being faithful in playing my role as an honest broker,” he said.

Repeated denials

At the interactive dialogue during the consideration of the report of the UPR’s working group on the Philippines, Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Erlinda Basilio said that the government cannot “provide follow-up reports on efforts and measures to address extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, taking into account the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.”

Basilio also rejected outright the Swiss representative’s recommendation last April to strengthen the government’s Witness Protection Program “in the context of the reform of the judiciary and the armed forces.” Basilio was quoted as saying during the eight UNHRC session that the Philippine government does not support this recommendation. This contradicted the claim of the government as contained in the Philippine National Report submitted to the UNHRC that “the President has certified as urgent legislation to strengthen the Witness Protection Program.”

Basilio was also cold to the recommendation of the representatives of Slovenia and Mexico for the Philippines to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Basilio’s response to this during the eighth UNHRC session was that this recommendation is noted and would be “studied further.”

“This speaks so eloquently of the insincerity of the government to address issues of killings, disappearances and other human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Reyes, who heads the Philippine UPR Watch delegation. “First it paints a glossy picture of the Philippine Government as a ‘rights-based’ State that has signed the UN core documents and has enacted laws that supposedly protect the rights of its citizens; and then in the same breath, they refuse to accept the recommendations of the UNHRC that would help resolve the killings and disappearances and stop the impunity.

“Killings and disappearances continue in a climate of impunity and the Philippine government’s Report hypocritically trumpets its ‘commitment, constructive and consultative approach.’ We urge the Filipino people to remain resolute in exposing human rights abuses and be steadfast in denouncing falsehood and hypocrisy. Let us continue the struggle for peace and justice in our country.” Bulatlat

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