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No justice, no peace under Marcos Jr.

Groups, victim to UN: No justice, no peace under Marcos Jr. government

Philippine UPR Watch Press release –

March 27, 2023

Rights group Karapatan, local and international lawyers, and an
abduction survivor belied assertions by Philippine government that the
human rights situation in the Philippines has improved under the
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

In an oral statement at the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the United
Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva Switzerland, Karapatan
secretary general Cristina Palabay said that while the Philippine
government has accepted about three-fourths of the recommendations made
in the Universal Periodic Review last November 2022, there remains no
substantial improvement on the state of civic and democratic space in
the country.

Palabay, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and the International
Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) that counts National Union of
People’s Lawyers (NUPL) as its Philippine affiliate, and recent Cebu
abduction and enforced disappearance survivor April Dyan Gumanao spoke
as the human rights situation in the Philippines is again on the global

“Government policies on the counterinsurgency and drug war have not been
rescinded, resulting in continuing extrajudicial killings, including
those of human rights defenders,” Palabay told the international body.

Palabay added that government task forces or panels created to look into
reports of human rights violations failed to investigate and
successfully prosecute perpetrators and senior government officials who
ordered the killings.

She added that the Joint Programme the Philippine government entered
into with the UN also lacks the necessary accountability tools that can
deliver justice to the victims.

Instead, Palabay said that the Marcos government continues with the
persecution and criminalization of human rights defenders, political
dissenters, even journalists, including acts that incite violence
against them through red-tagging, vilification and the use of laws on
terrorism and libel.

Even social service providers are not exempt from the attacks, Palabay
said, citing the case of community doctor Naty Castro who the government
designated as “terrorist” without evidence and jeepney drivers who
recently went on a national strike and were red-tagged.

Palabay reported that the number of political prisoners have risen while
members of many community organizations face intimidation and threats of
arrests and abduction.

“We call on the Philippine government to stop the persecution of
defenders, journalists and dissenters, and to enact the Human Rights
Defenders Protection Bill,” Palabay appealed.

She added that the Philippines’ laws on terrorism and libel violate the
right to due process, free expression, press freedom and freedom of
association, among other constitutional rights.

“We renew our call to the (UNHR) Council for an independent
investigation into the cases of extrajudicial killings and other grave
rights violations in the Philippines,” she said.

‘Cease the vilification and killings of lawyers’

In a separate oral statement, LRWC and the IADL called for a stop the
vilification and extrajudicial killings of lawyers and human rights
defenders in the Philippines.

“We are gravely concerned that lawyers and human rights defenders
continue to be arrested or killed with impunity. Vilification and
political persecution of defenders are facilitated by false claims by
the government that human rights issues are a result of competing human
rights or insurgency,” Erin Riley-Oettl of the lawyers’ groups said.

The lawyers said that rights defenders in the Philippines are
criminalized using the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, which fails to
conform to international law due to its vague definition of terrorism.

“The law’s processes allow the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council to
declare individuals as “terrorists” with no evidence and a de facto
presumption of guilt, Riley-Oettl said.

“The administrative remedies to allow individuals to challenge their
‘terrorist’ status are ineffective and even illusory. This has
facilitated government use of red-tagging resulting in hundreds of
extrajudicial killings. Lawyers and defenders who advocate for those
accused of terrorism or drug offences have been attacked, killed, or
subjected to bogus charges, she added.

LRWC and the IADL revealed that since 2016, potentially tens of
thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed, including dozens
of lawyers, rights defenders and indigenous peoples’ advocates. It added
that there are currently 819 political prisoners in the country.

The lawyers said the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings or other
human rights violations rarely face charges, resulting in an ongoing
climate of impunity.

They added that the Interagency Review Panel created to review the
anti-drug killings under former President Rodrigo Duterte has failed to
result in any prosecutions. Documentation of violations by the
Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and UN agencies is
hindered by lack of adequate access to information.

“We call on the Council to insist that the Philippines immediately halt
the political persecution of lawyers and human rights defenders, the
impunity for killing defenders, and to adopt the Human Rights Defenders
Bill. We urge the Council to create an adequately resourced, independent
investigative mechanism to investigate extrajudicial killings and other
serious human rights violations in the Philippines,” Riley-Oettl said.

Speaking for other enforced disappearance victims

Meanwhile, Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Region 7 coordinator, abducted
in public and broad daylight with partner Armand Dayoha, took the floor
of the UNHRC session through an oral statement.

“We were abducted by men who introduced themselves as policemen last
January 10, in Cebu City, in full view of other passengers, port
workers, and even port security. We were brought to numerous places,
interrogated relentlessly, and made to sign documents to become state
agents. We were held for five days until we were rescued on January 16.
Prior to our abduction, we also experienced a series of tailing,
surveillance, and red-tagging,” Gumanao said.

Gumanao added that there had been twenty-two other victims of enforced
disappearances but, unlike them, remain missing. Two of the victims were
abducted under the Marcos Jr. presidency.

“We call on this Council to urge the Philippine government to accept UPR
recommendations pertaining to the adoption of legislation establishing a
national preventive mechanism on torture, to strengthen the mechanisms
to end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,” she appealed.

Palabay’s oral statement was on behalf of the global alliance of civil
society organization Civicus while Gumanao spoke on behalf of The
Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council
of Churches. #

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Edre Olalia and Mervin Toquero, PH UPR
Watch convenors

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