Latest UN visit confirms gov’t HR efforts sorely lacking

February 5, 2024

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) welcomes the recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Ms. Irene Khan to the Philippine government. Particularly notable are those on stopping red-tagging, the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL), and support for the Human Rights Defenders Law. 

The UN SR’s recommendations resonate with the urgent calls of civil society organizations (CSOs). 

Ms. Khan acknowledged what she said were positive steps taken by the Philippine government to improve the human rights situation including openness to reviving the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, setting former Senator Leila De Lima free and dismissing charges against Rappler’s Maria Ressa.  

Irene Khan UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression presenting her report on February 2, 2024 (Image: RAPPLER)

However, she noted that the Philippines still ranks among countries with a high index of impunity. In November 2023, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that, for the 16th consecutive year, the Philippines ranked eighth in the global impunity index. The report emerges amid unresolved cases of journalists Renato Blanco, Percy Mabasa, Cris Bundoquin, and Mario Sy. Ms. Khan reminded the Philippine government of this report and urged the Philippine government to ensure accountability for human rights violations against the Filipino people from the past administrations to the present.

In her departure report on February 2, 2024, Ms. Khan raised how civil society organizations (CSO) and journalists complained of red-tagging and state harassment that hampers freedom of expression. She alluded to how the narrowing of civic spaces hinders advocacies and organizing to respond to people’s needs and raise awareness on issues, programs and policies that severely impact on marginalized and vulnerable groups. CSOs have long called out increasingly stringent government measures against them.

Red-tagging is akin to disinformation to tarnish the reputations of CSOs, individuals, rights defenders and their families. It creates a chilling effect not only on red-tagged CSOs and individual rights defenders and activists but also on communities. It hinders the people’s exercise of their constitutional rights to freely express their discontent on governance, policies and programs that disenfranchise them, including their right to organize themselves into associations to strengthen their voices.

The State’s affirmation of the critical and legitimate role of human rights defenders, journalists and activists in society is essential for creating the safe space they need to work effectively.

Irene Khan on Civil Society and Freedom of Expression

The projects of development CSOs are hindered when they are accused of terrorist financing and their assets and bank accounts frozen even without hard evidence. CPDG members have been subjected to such attacks, the latest being the case of the Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) based in Cebu province with beneficiaries in communities across the Visayas region.

See: CSOs call for an end to impunity on violations of Filipino people’s human rights

CPDG takes cognizance that the country currently chairs the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and, has various laws and mechanisms providing venues for women to participate in development and governance. Yet, women’s assertion of their political rights and freedoms remains weak. Women both young and old comprise 20% (162 of 819) of political prisoners detained on trumped up charges, many of whom are ill. Journalists among the include Frenchie Mae Cumpio who is jailed on unfounded charges of terrorism financing under the ATL.

CPDG says Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s promise to uphold and respect the Filipino People’s human rights and his vow to ensure a high level of accountability are ringing hollow.

CPDG Spokesperson Liza Maza says: “This promise will only be realized if the president heeds the calls of the Filipino people and the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteurs Ian Fry and Irene Khan.” She reiterated calls for just peace, rescinding EO No. 70 creating the NTF-ELCAC, repealing the so-called Anti-Terror Law, and implementing human rights-based and people-centered development policies.

See: CSOs call for urgent review and repeal of ATL

“We reiterate our call for the Marcos Jr administration to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation of former President Rodrigo Duterte and others accused in the bloody war on drugs. We likewise call on Pres. Marcos Jr. to sincerely pursue the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to genuinely address the root causes of the longest running armed revolution in Asia,” adds Maza.

“The national liberation movement revived under the president’s father, flourished during the dictatorship, and has persisted because of unresolved deep social, economic and political problems,” Maza recalled. “Addressing the root causes of armed conflict requires strong political will and decisiveness to take the side of the majority of Filipinos over a few vested interests,” ends Maza.#eof#