The state of the country’s civil and political rights (CPR) and economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) has worsened in the last six years of the outgoing administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. The incoming Marcos administration should make the Duterte administration accountable for its grave human rights abuses including its criminal liability for its bloody war on drugs.
Over 70 stakeholders representing various sectors gathered on June 22 and 23, 2022 for the “CSOs Consultation on the UN Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines” co-organized by the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with support from the United Nations (UN) in the Philippines. The consultative workshop is for the upcoming universal periodic review (UPR) of the Philippines before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in November, 2022.
The participating organizations discussed continuing CPR and ESCR violations aggravated by the severe health and economic crisis, and continuing even as the economy reopens. Participants noted the adverse development outcomes because of the government’s persistent neoliberal agenda. They challenged the next administration to adopt and implement concrete recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council to help alleviate the human rights situation of the country.
They affirmed the outgoing Duterte administration’s attacks on civil society organizations (CSOs), including non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs), as well as on media. Participants noted the the groups bearing the brunt of attacks are those most critical of its human rights violations and pushing for genuine civil, political and socio-economic reforms. The National Security Council’s (NSC) recent red-tagging and censoring of websites included CPDG members and alternative media groups.
Alternative media groups attending the workshop-consultation said media censorship may be a trend for the next few years. This is also happening in other countries, e.g. China, Myanmar. Cyber-attacks are also relentless with many traced directly to the Philippine military.
The groups said the recent blocking of access to the websites of alternative media and progressive groups including Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Save Our Schools Network, National Federation of Farmworkers (UMA Pilipinas), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Amihan and Pamalakaya Pilipinas by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) upon the request of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon highlights how civic spaces are being systematically shrunk. This is seen as part of the government’s to stifle opposition to its elite-biased measures and policies which undermine people’s economic, social and cultural rights.
Red-tagging and vilification that often leads to extra-judicial killings, incarceration on trumped charges, and planted evidence is intensifying with the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, EO 70 and its implementing arm the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and other state mechanisms. These repress the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed CPR and ESCR such as the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the right to development and participation in decision making on policy reforms, programs and projects.
The groups said the impact of political repression such as red-tagging and vilification cuts across all sectors, individuals and their families, communities and organizations. It creates a chilling effect with individuals, communities and organizations fearing association with red-tagged rights defenders, humanitarian and development organizations. These are groups with decades of work assisting communities during disasters (including the recent COVID-19 pandemic), advocating for economic rights, and providing education, health, housing, and other social assistance. Even unionizing and holding of pickets at work places to demand for better working conditions and terms of employment are red-tagged and vilified.
The government’s so-called counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency programs target unarmed civilians and civil society groups that have long been upholding people’s rights and welfare and delivering development and humanitarian assistance to disadvantaged communities and marginalized sectors.
Massive disinformation and proliferation of fake-news are also being used to red-tag and vilify groups and individuals which undermines the people’s capacity to exercise their rights, decide, and take action based on correct information.
The groups also scored the Philippine government’s pandemic response which concentrated on controlling the population with the use of state forces. The pandemic was used to heighten red-tagging and attacks in the communities. At the height of the pandemic, the government used the military to go to communities instead of health workers and disseminated information accusing activists and progressive organizations as “communist-terrorist groups” rather than giving information about the COVID-19 and how to combat it.
Given all these, engaging platforms to improve the state of human rights in the country becomes all the more urgent. The on-going UPR, now in its 4th cycle, is one such platform. With the UPR process, the UN Human Rights Council assesses the human rights situation in each UN member state. It is a peer review among the community of nations, with the objective of promoting human rights, sharing best practices and improving the human rights situation of the people around the globe.
The Philippines will undergo the review process in November through an interactive dialogue with the UN Member states in the Human Rights Council. It is a venue to hold the Duterte administration accountable and will show where the incoming Marcos administration stands on human rights.
The recently concluded CSOs consultations is part of a series of activities to increase public awareness on the important benefits of engaging the international human rights mechanisms such as the UPR under the United Nations system together with civil society organizations and national human rights institutions.
The groups reviewed recommendations made so far by UN member states and CSOs in the previous cycles to determine the status of implementation of all accepted recommendations and to formulate the appropriate recommendations that can be proposed in the fourth cycle of the UPR.
The consultation-workshop body put forward multi-sectoral recommendations for CSOs, the government and UN as well as points of unity and action to address short-term and strategic human rights issues. These aim to improve the country’s human rights situation and in push real pro-people development in a less hampered manner.
At the closing of the two-day consultative-workshops, the groups made urgent demands including, among others:
- Ensure enabling environment / safe spaces / democratic participation. Stop red-tagging and repeal laws that inhibit people’s exercise of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly including their rights to participation in governance and development planning.
- Review and repeal laws and issuances such as the Anti-Terrorism Law, EO 70, and related mechanisms that repress Filipino citizens, communities, groups and individuals in the exercise of their CPR and enjoyment of their ESCR.
- Abolish the NTF-ELCAC which has sown disunity, red-tagging and vilification of CSOs, POs, individuals, humanitarian and development wlthrough accusations in the absence of due process and spreading of fake news and misinformation
- End restrictive / repressive policies i.e. SEC memorandum orders, note verbale of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Anti Money Laundering Act that targets legitimate CSOs and POs, account freezing and other added requirements that are intrusive and further shrinks people’s participation in governance and development
- Strengthen our national human rights institution, the Commission on Human Rights – in terms of budget allocation and resources, personnel, as well as capacity to reach out to broader community. Likewise provide prosecutorial powers to the commission.
- Legislate the Human Rights Defenders Bill, the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill, and Environmental Defense Bill
- Allow the International Criminal Court to pursue its independent investigation on the alleged crimes against humanity especially in relation to the Philippine government’s war on drugs. Relatedly, allow all other independent investigation on human rights violations committed by the Duterte administration.
- Render immediate and substantive justice for all victims of human rights violations through adequate compensation, indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation
- Address poverty, which is one of the root causes of conflict and pursue necessary steps towards just and peaceful democratic society.
- Resume peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Communist Party of the Philippines and other belligerent groups in Mindanao, building on previously signed agreements and laws.
- Ensure application of the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 and other similar international and legally binding laws to hold governments and corporations to account for greenwashing, misinformation/red-tagging and other graft and corruption practices
- Stop the continuing implementation of the profit-biased and overly market-oriented neo-liberal development framework. Consider an alternative development framework forwarded by the people that recognizes and upholds various civil, political, economic, and socio-cultural rights in order to genuinely address poverty and inequality. Among others:
- Implement genuine agrarian reform, legislate the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill
- Repeal the Rice Trade Liberalization Law, legislate and implement the Rice Industry Development Act
- Revise the methods of counting the poor, labor force and jobless to include the millions left uncounted
- Improve indicators for monitoring needs and access to services by the marginalized sectors among the elderly, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, women and children, LGBTQ+, informal workers, homeless
- Legislate the security of tenure law
- Implement a national minimum wage
- Abolish the Joint Industrial Peace and Concern (JIPCO) and Alliance for Industrial Peace Program (AIPP) and allow workers in the economic zones to freely associate and organize
- Ensure social protection of all workers, including those in the informal economy. Legislate the Magna Carta for Workers in the Informal Economy/Sector (MCWIE)
- Strengthen the country’s public health system, including the ensuring the provision for sexual and reproductive health care
- Re-align government priorities from debt servicing, mega-infrastructure and security to development of agriculture and strategic industries, public health and social services.
- Support the CHR recommendation on a comprehensive review of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Heed Indigenous People’s (IP) call to abolish NCIP given its record of human rights violations against IPs and violation of the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
- Cancel projects with fraudulent and manipulated FPIC
- Creation and implementation of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. (A NAP-BHR will provide a framework for the State in the appreciation of their duty to protect the human rights of communities and provide for effective remedial mechanisms when their human rights are infringed. The same framework also provides the private sector a blueprint for responsible business conduct and how to address and mitigate the adverse impacts of their business operations in communities)
Amid continuing rights violations, the more than 70 NGOs, POs, and individuals representing farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, Bangsamoro, workers, health workers, development and humanitarian workers, environmental defenders, alternative media, migrant workers, LGBTQ+ community, church, women, children and youth, persons with disabilities, elderly, persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), urban poor, transport sector, research institutions, academe, and environmental and rights defenders participated in the consultation-workshop (both online and face-to-face).
The groups stressed that the incoming government must be independent in taking stock of the previous administration’s compliance with its human rights commitments. It can also strengthen its cooperation with CSOs and other stakeholders, and become accountable, open and transparent in complying with the recommendations put forward by civil society and by UN member countries.
The activity included the country’s most vocal advocates for land and resource rights, poverty alleviation and eradication, job security and just wages, social services including education, health and housing, sustainable agriculture and food security, environment and climate change, women and children’s rights, and elimination of hunger, inequality and discrimination.###
The consultation-workshop body strongly recommended the appointment of a competent and qualified CHR chair who may come from the ranks of the CHR, somebody who has spent years as a human rights advocate with a good track record of working with the CHR itself and collaborating with local and international advocates of human rights.###
Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER)
Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya, Inc. (SIBAT, Inc.)
Assert Socio-Economic Rights Network (ASCENT)
Climate Change Network of Community-based Initiatives (CCNCI)
Defend Panay Network (Defend-Panay)
Council for Health and Development (CHD)
Coalition of People’s Right to Health (CPRH)
Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC)
Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)
Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement)
IBON Foundation, Inc.
Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)
Moro Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA)
Philippine Misereor Partnerships, Inc. (PMPI)
Initiatives for Dialogue & Empowerment (IDEALS, Inc.)
Kalipunan at Damayan ng Mahihirap (KADAMAY)
Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON)
Life Haven Center for Independent Living
Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation
Street Believers / Kariton Coalition
Katribu – Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamayan ng Pilipinas – IPMSDL
ASEAN Sogie Caucus
Youth Alliance for Civilized Attitude towards Prisoners (YACAP)
Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan)
Task Force Indigenous People’s Rights (TFIP)
Center for Women’s Resources (CWR)
Center for Evironmental Concerns (CEC)
Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, Redemptorist Fathers
Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumers para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI)
Phillippine – Palestine Friendship Association
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
UCCP – Integrated Development Program for Indigenous Peoples in Southern Tagalog (UCCP-IDPIP)
Medical Action Group
OutRight Action international
Center for Reproductive Rights
Ligaya L. McGovern, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Indiana University
Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
Philippine Network of Food Security Programs (PNFSP)