MANILA – Human rights in the Philippines is anchored on the administration’s agenda that seeks to promote and uplift the dignity of all 110 million Filipinos.
This was the assurance made by Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra in his virtual speech during the 44th United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday.
“First and foremost, of these rights is the safety, security and wellbeing of the general public. This commitment has been firm and unwavering; more so now as the nation faces the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Guevarra said.
Though admitting that the Philippines, like many other governments, face problems on drugs, corruption, criminality and terrorism that heavily bear upon efforts to improve the lives of our people and secure their future, the Philippine government cherish its newly won, hard-fought democracy.
“So we are deeply concerned about the inroads made by the drug trade in the subversion of democracies. Our democracy and legal institutions ensure that the national response to these problems, even the gravest of them aimed at democracy, are always within the law and in full respect of human rights,” he added.
An assessment of the human rights situation in the Philippines, he said, can only be credible when it is properly informed by context on the ground.
He added that transparency and constructive cooperation characterize the Philippine engagement with the UN and the international community, including in the area of human rights.
“Human rights is a fundamental national interest, rooted in our recent history as the first country to use People Power successfully to restore democracy by toppling a dictatorship notorious for human rights violations,” Guevarra said.
Faithful discharge of mandate
He added that President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where Filipinos are safe and their rights protected, has discharged the mandate faithfully.
“After four years, the President and his anti-drug campaign enjoy the strong and widespread support of our people. As a democracy, we must continue on a path that has the public’s unflagging support,” he said.
Clarifying claims that there is impunity or near-impunity in the country, Guevarra said the allegations “find no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish and pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a State actor, if such claim is substantiated with facts.”
He said each case is diligently brought before Philippine authorities in the same manner that human rights mechanisms exercise due diligence in validating allegations brought before them by parties.
“The independence of our courts is affirmed by convictions of an Army General in 2018 and of members of a high profile political family and police officials in 2019, and the indictment of a former Police Chief in January this year,” he added.
Anti-drugs monitoring mechanism
A monitoring mechanism called RealNumbersPH, he said, ensures public transparency and full accountability in the drug campaign as it “accounts for, and publishes evidence-based outcomes of the campaign across 42,046 villages across the country, as well as figures on law enforcement actions and drug-related cases in the courts.”
“Our Government has also conducted briefings and dialogues with the representatives of the diplomatic community in the Philippines on human rights issues of concern to them,” he said, adding that more briefings have been planned to provide more transparency and better appreciation of drug issues.
An inter-agency panel, chaired by his office, had been established to conduct a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred, he added.
“This review panel, external to the Philippine National Police, re-evaluates these cases and examines the propriety of re-investigating them or filing appropriate charges against erring law enforcement officers,” Guevarra said.
He said the panel also intends to engage affected families, provide them with legal options and assistance in criminal prosecution of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in their operations.
“It (panel) will present a report on its work by the end of November of this year,” he said.
Regardless of whether there are complainants or none, he said, the Philippine National Police is obliged by its internal mechanisms to conduct motu propio investigations on all law enforcement operations that result in deaths, and take action on this basis.
He assured that the review mechanism will not only reinforce accountability on the drug campaign but will also tighten the web of existing mechanisms to prevent cases of impunity; including the AO35 Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons.
“I chair this mechanism, and have worked closely with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and a university-based think-tank to improve its institutional capabilities,” he added.
He made sure all human rights-related mechanisms in the country will involve an independent monitoring body, Commission on Human Rights.
“The continued, unhampered functioning of the Philippine CHR underpins our strong position against calls for an independent investigative mechanism, including the one made before the International Criminal Court from which we have withdrawn,” he said, affirming that the Philippine government has been sincere in fully engaging all stakeholders, the international community and the UN, including the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, on human rights issues.
He said the Philippines will broaden positive engagement with the UN system, including through an expanded cooperation framework and stronger platform of partnerships which we are discussing with the UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines.
“We are pursuing these directions in line with the government’s determination to protect the public, shield democracy, and promote the human rights of every Filipino, Guevarra added. (PNA)