Human rights ‘exercised freely’ in PH — gov’t

Human rights are “exercised freely” in the Philippines under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, a Palace official said on August 28, 2020.

Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat Severo Catura said there is no truth to claims that human rights have been breached in the country.

“The Philippines takes pride in a sovereign democratic society where rights and freedoms are exercised freely,” Catura said in a statement.

Catura’s statement was in response to the allegation of around 62 civil society groups that “extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations” in the context of Duterte’s war on illegal drugs still persist in the Philippines.

The civil society organizations on Thursday claimed the unlawful acts were triggered by “incitement to violence and discrimination by the highest levels of government with near-total impunity.”

To address the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, they asked the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to “urgently launch an international investigative mechanism on the human rights situation in the Philippines.”

Catura said the call was “obviously timed” for the 45th UNHRC session on September 14.

He said the UNHRC has always been open to receiving petitions like the one submitted by the civil society groups, but its member-states such as the Philippines also have the responsibility to “protect the body from being used as a platform for vilification if only to preserve its integrity as an overseer of States.”

“Given that the country’s human rights situation has already been laid out for scrutiny at the UNHRC and a majority of its member-states have spoken, we advise interest groups to respect the outcome of that UNHRC process,” Catura said.

Catura also noted that during the 44th UNHRC session in June this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet already made a report on the Philippines’ human rights situation.

He said 24 out of the 39 member-states of UNHRC “lauded the Philippines’ human rights record, with most criticizing the highly politicized charges of human rights violations against the Philippine government.”

“These countries that came to the Philippines’ defense were China, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Belarus, Indonesia, Lao DPR, Japan, Cambodia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cuba, and Nicaragua,” he said.

Catura, nevertheless, said the Philippine government remains open to engagement with “any and all organizations on all matters of human rights.”

He also encouraged the civil society groups to involve the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in their efforts in making sure that human rights in the Philippines are protected.

“The call for an international investigative body demeans as it disregards the value of the CHR as the country’s independent national human rights institution,” Catura said.

In his fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address delivered on July 27, Duterte said his administration will not dodge its obligation to fight for human rights.

Catura ensured that the Philippines would continue to take “significant steps to further its human rights work despite the systematic vilifications that are aimed to undermine this pursuit.” (Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos, PNA)