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FOCUS March 2010 Volume 59

Human Rights in the Philippines: Government Response

HURIGHTS OSAKA

The human rights situation in the Philippines became an issue in recent years with reports of rising number of victims of extra-judicial killings, prompting the United Nations to take action. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, visited the Philippines in 2007 and subsequently filed a report with recommendations on how to address the situation.1 The European Union (EU), in seriously considering the situation, launched the EU-Philippine Justice Support Programme [EPJUST] to "help all stakeholders in the Philippines - in government, in the judiciary and in the Commission on Human Rights, and in civil society - to work together to address the critical issue of extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances."2 This project was formally launched on 11 February 2010 in Manila.

Local and international human rights organizations launched campaigns on the extra-judicial killings issue, demanding accountability for those involved in the killings. Media organizations in the Philippines and their international counterparts also campaigned to stop the killing of members of the media.

The Philippine human rights situation is not however limited to the issue of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The country faces problems related to its political, economic, social and cultural conditions that breed many more human rights problems.

Philippine Government Response

The Philippine government created in 20023 the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) as the "advisory body to the President in effectively addressing all human rights issues in the country." Its role and membership were strengthened in 2006.4 The Executive Director of its secretariat, Undersecretary Severo S. Catura, explained the response of the Philippine government to the human rights situation in the country in a study meeting held in Osaka on 5 February 2010.5 Following are highlights of the presentation based on his discussion paper.6

Undersecretary Catura explained that the "Philippine government has clear directions and takes pride in milestones in its human rights advocacy." He explained that, as a matter of principle, while others may look at human rights in the context of violations, the Philippine government looks at it in the context of good governance. He noted that "[I]n essence, as we protect and secure human rights, we create conditions needed to counter the prevailing global recession, attain economic growth, and induce development that would confidently last across generations."

He cited numerous steps to address all allegations of human rights violations, such as the following:

  •  Creation of several investigative groups to work on the issue of unexplained killings, such as the Melo Commission,7 Task Force Usig,8 and Task Force 211.9 In support of this, the PHRC, in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Supreme Court's Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), began the consolidation of all human rights cases under a standard databank.
  •  Engagement of the civil society groups through monthly Human Rights Forums led by the PHRC, which is now on its fourth session. This resulted in the creation of the Philippine OPCAT10 Working Group, Multi-sectoral Partnership Against Disappearances, and the Multi-sectoral Partnership for the Protection of Migrant Workers' Rights. The PHRC also requests appropriate agencies to look into all human rights cases referred to it by civil society groups from around the world.
  •  Continuing human rights education and training for
    - law enforcement organizations in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP). PHRC proposed an assessment of the impact of all on-going human rights education and training activities of the CHRP.
    - lawyers and paralegals by the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) to ensure the effective prosecution of extrajudicial killings.
  •  Support for appropriate legislative actions, such as the enhancement of the CHRP Charter, the anti-torture law, anti-discrimination bill, and other related legislative actions.
  •  Setting up of institutionalized mechanisms, such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL)11 to address human rights abuses reported in relation to the peace process between the Philippine government and the local Communist movement. This is in line with the policy of the Philippine government that human rights shall remain a component of the peace process.
  •  Issuance by the Supreme Court of a Circular in 16 October 2007 ordering judges of the lower courts with pending cases involving unexplained killings to submit information on the status of cases filed before them.
  •  Promulgation by the Supreme Court of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo and the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data immediately after the conduct of the first Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances held in July 2007.
  •  Issuance of Presidential directives to the DILG and Philippine National Police (PNP)
    - to investigate the alleged vigilante killings in Davao as "the Philippine government does not - nor will it ever - condone, abet, tolerate, encourage or sponsor such acts" (13 May 2009)
    - to intensify efforts to stop the violence against members of the media, and to bring the political killings to zero (11 March 2009).
  •  Strengthening of the Regional Units of the Task Force Usig to make them more pro-active, efficient and capable, specifically through the creation of "tracker teams" to go after suspected killers of media personalities and to conduct manhunt operations on every at-large suspect.
  •  Approval by the President of a two-million peso (roughly forty four thousand US dollars) infusion to the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists to help bereaved families seek justice for slain relatives through courts.
  •  Issuance of order for all law enforcement agencies to closely coordinate with media organizations.
  •  Institution of a "reward system" through the publication of "Wanted" posters/rouge galleries to hasten the arrest of suspects through the cooperation of the community (such as for the neutralization of the twenty one Most Wanted Persons relative to media killings and the nineteen Most Wanted Persons involved in the killings of militants/ activists). The total reward now stands at 21.645 million pesos (roughly 468,000 US dollars)
  •  Abolition of the Inter-Agency Legal Assistance Group (Executive Order 808) whose activities have been unfairly criticized as monitoring of groups perceived as anti- government.


In line with the presidential directives, there were seminars held for the security and protection of media practitioners and also the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the PNP and CHRP on 23 June 2009 upholding the visitorial powers of the CHRP over detention facilities operated by the PNP in police camps, stations, and detachments.

He also noted the formulation of the 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan 2010-2014 (NHRAP-2) on 10-11 December 2009 in a National Human Rights Forum in celebration of the International Human Rights Day. This NHRAP-2 includes all policy directions, institutional plans and programs on which to further build a continuing advocacy of human rights.

International Scrutiny

In the first universal periodic review of the Philippine situation in 2008, the members of the Human Rights Council listed a number of recommendations on issues that still needed action:12

  • 1. To continue to develop a gender-responsive approach to issues of violence against women and continue to build supportive environment for women and children within the judicial system; this environment should take into account the special needs f or rehabilitation and post- conflict care of women and children in vulnerable situations and conflict areas (New Zealand);
  • 2. To ensure that members of the security forces are trained on human rights and on their responsibility to protect human rights and human rights defenders (Canada);
  • 3. To enable the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism as soon as possible (Slovenia);
  • 4. To sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (Slovenia, Mexico, United Kingdom and the Netherlands) and the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Slovenia, Mexico);
  • 5. To report regularly to the Committee against Torture (Slovenia);
  • 6. To completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings (Holy See), to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible (Switzerland) as well as to provide a follow-up report 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 (The Netherlands);
  • 7. To protect children in the womb, notwithstanding undue pressure from certain groups (Holy See);
  • 8. To establish an organic legal framework for eliminating gender-based discrimination and promoting gender equality (Italy);
  • 9. To address legislative gaps in the field of children rights in order to fully comply with the 2005 recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Italy);
  • 10. To share with other countries, especially developing countries, its experience in the area of justiciability of economic and social rights (Sudan);
  • 11. To strengthen the witness protection programme and address the root causes of this issue in the context of the reform of the judiciary and the armed forces (Switzerland);
  • 12. While noting the involvement of civil society in the preparatory process of the national report, to fully involve civil society in the follow-up to the review (United Kingdom);
  • 13. To continue its successful policy in combating trafficking in human beings at the national level and to play a leading role at the international level on this matter (Belarus);
  • 14. To step up efforts to continue to meet the basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable groups (Nigeria);
  • 15. To consider extending a standing invitation to special procedures (Brazil);
  • 16. That the second National Human Rights Action Plan should take into account the recommendations formulated by treaty bodies and special procedures (Mexico);
  • 17. That national legislation and customs and traditional practices should be harmonized with the Convention on the Rights of the Chi l d and t he Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Mexico). 

The Philippine human rights situation still requires a careful monitoring regarding the resolution of specific human rights cases within available limited resources as well as the holistic/comprehensive approach in addressing many other human rights violations.

No country has the capacity to stop all human rights violations but there is justified expectation
that any government has enough resources to do substantial measures to address the situation as long as it has the political will to do so.

For further information please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

Endnotes

  • 1. See the Addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions submitted by Philip Alston to the Human Rights Council , A/HRC/11/2/Add.8, 29 April 2009. For more United Nations reports on the human rights situation in the Philippines visit: www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PHIndex.aspx
  • 2. Formal launching of the EU-Philippine Justice Support Programme (EPJUST), European Union Press release, 11 February 2010. Under the agreement, "?3.9 million (approx. PhP 250 million) [will be provided] to cover the cost of technical assistance services, advice and training, intended to strengthen the criminal justice system (investigation, prosecution, and judiciary), to support the Commission on Human Rights as well as civil society groups working in this area, to enhance human rights awareness among the uniformed services, and to establish a credible and effective National Monitoring Mechanism, which will bring together all Philippine stakeholders to help track the nation's progress in addressing this issue."
  • 3. Administrative Order No. 29, dated 27 January 2002.
  • 4. Administrative Order No. 163, dated 8 December 2006.
  • 5. The Osaka University Global Collaboration Center (GLOCOL) and the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) jointly organized this study meeting.
  • 6. Undersecretary Catura prepared a discussion paper entitled Current Efforts in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Philippines.
  • 7. This Commission was created through Administrative Order No. 157 entitled "Creating an Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings" (21 August 2006). This Commission was tasked to "prioritize and focus investigation of media and activist killings and thereafter to submit recommendations to the President on policies and actions, including prosecution and legislative proposals, if any, aimed at eradicating the root causes of the extrajudicial killings and breaking such cycle of violence." Visit www.ops.gov.ph/records/ao_no157.htm
  • 8. Task Force Usig was established in May 2006 by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and supervised by the Philippine National Police, to investigate alleged killings of militant leaders and activists, as well as media personalities.
  • 9. Task Force 211 was established in November 2007 by virtue of Administrative Order No. 211, Creating A Task Force Against Political Violence (26 November 2007), and placed under the Department of Justice's supervision. Task Force 211 was established to investigate the killing of political personalities, regardless of motive. See www.taskforce211.com.ph/tf211_sub/ ao211/ao211_sub.htm.
  • 10. Optional Protocol To The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)
  • 11. This is the full title of the agreement: Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, 16 March 1998.
  • 12. Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review - The Philippines, A/HRC/8/28, 23 May 2008.
     

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