Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

MANILA — Amid allegations of human rights violations in the Philippines, a Palace official on Wednesday urged top officials of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to be more cautious about claims made by critics and detractors of the Duterte administration, particularly those belonging to terror groups.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar made this remark during the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, High Level Segment in the United Nations in Geneva where he described the administration as a “victim” of arbitrary action made by the council.

“We repeat the call for prudence in assessing claims particularly from sources who have enjoyed the hallowed status of human rights defenders while waging the longest insurgency in Asia and terrorizing communities in the Philippines,” Andanar said in a speech delivered before officials of the UNHRC.

He lamented that discussions on the human rights situation in the country have been swayed by “baseless allegations” and that the Council has “failed to exhaust mechanisms for constructive, reasonable, and fact-based discourse.”

“A credible Council cannot base its actions on such inscrutable claims. These claims do not hold their truth against the well-founded accountability mechanisms in the country, the tangible accomplishments of the anti-illegal drug campaign, the growing investors’ confidence in the Philippine economy, and the high level of public support for the leadership of President (Rodrigo) Duterte,” he said.

Counterinsurgency issues

Despite being tagged as a terrorist organization by several countries, he said the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) has continued to criticize government’s legitimate anti-insurgency actions as red-tagging, curtailment of civic space, and weaponization of bureaucracy against their armed struggle.

“That actors who profess terrorism are able to exploit the mantle protecting human rights defenders is a failure of due diligence on the part of the UN system,” he said, though stressed that it is not too late to rectify this.

Andanar said the Philippine government remains convinced in the UNHRC’s contributions to the promotion of human rights in all parts of the world, however challenged the council to “preserve its credibility” and “uphold the highest standards of objectivity and integrity.”

“Institutionalizing more rigor in assessing information should help the Council successfully navigate a milieu under the strain of politicization, polarization and – outside these halls – skepticism in multilateralism,” he said.

He added that outside terror groups and organizations affiliated to it, the government respects all Philippine non-government organizations (NGOs) and civic leaders whose express support for lawful, free and empowered social activism.

In 2019, the UNHRC voted to adopt a resolution seeking to look into human rights violations in the country in relation to the administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

Out of the UN body’s 47 members, 18 countries supported the proposal to look into the administration’s drug war, 14 countries including the Philippines voted against it, while the remaining 15 abstained.

Press freedom a priority

Andanar, a former media practitioner himself, meanwhile rejected allegations that there were restrictions of press freedom in the Philippines, stressing that they were “false and self-serving.”

He said strengthening the space for a free and empowered media is a “priority” of the Duterte government.

Citing strides made to benefit media professionals, he said two of the first orders signed by Duterte after assuming office in 2016 involved media freedom namely Executive Order No. 2 on Freedom of Information and Administrative (FOI) and Executive Order No. 1 creating the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS).

The FOI requires disclosure of all government records involving public interest and upholds the constitutional right of people to information on matters of public concern, he said.

On the other hand, he said the PTFoMS is tasked to ensure the safety of media workers and address the distinction attached to the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

He said his office is working with members of Congress on a Freedom of Information Act that will have a broader scope and a measure that would improve the working conditions and swages of journalists, towards enhancing the environment for a free, empowered, and productive Philippine media.

Moreover, he said gains made by the PTFoMS helped improve the Philippine ranking in the 2018 Global Impunity Index and delisted the Philippines from its Top 5 most dangerous countries in the world for journalists according to the 2018 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report.

He also boasted of the conviction of the principal suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, dubbed as the world’s worst killings of journalists in history where at least 32 media workers were murdered.

“Allegations of restrictions of media space in the Philippines do not find anchor in such a landscape that is driven by a vision to address impunity, preserve press freedom, and promote the welfare of media workers,” he said.

Media institutions facing charges before the courts, he said, meant that they involved in criminal and constitutional violations. (ia/sovereignph.com/PNA)

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