MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice’s exclusion of the Commission on Human Rights in its “drug war” review report, and of domestic rights groups in its Human Rights Summit in 2020 only showed the Philippine government does not intend to make itself accountable, international panel Investigate PH said.
Commissioners of the international investigating panel, launched Thursday, pointed out the lack of voice of persons who are most affected of the human rights violations in the country in the DOJ-led summit in December 2020.
International Association of Democratic Lawyers President Jeanne Mirer said the summit was just “people talking to themselves and not raising the issues of the people whose rights the Investigate PH is looking at.”
The three-day summit themed “Peace is the Work of Justice” was one of the projects in a joint program on technical cooperation between the Philippine government and the United Nations pursuant to the latest resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
But local rights groups Karapatan and Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines were not invited in the summit, neither were victims of alleged abuses.
Guevarra said then that these groups “may be invited to participate in future activities.”
Former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon, also part of the Investigate PH panel, said no matter what the Philippine government’s statements, situation in the country is getting worse.
Investigate PH is an international panel conducting an independent probe into human rights violations in the Philippines. They will submit a report to the UNHRC on its 46th session in March 2021.
CHR not included in ‘drug war’ review panel
In 2020, the Philippine government has also told the UNHRC that it will look into more than 5,000 police “drug war” operations that resulted in deaths, but despite a promise to include the Commission on Human Rights in the review, an initial report was released last December with the independent body left out.
Mirer said this was not surprising, as it only again proves that the Duterte government “has no interest in investigating themselves and finding themselves guilty for thousands of extra-judicial killings.”
Rev. Dr. Chris Fergusson, general secretary of World Communion of Reformed Churches, stressed that the “whole framework” of the Philippine government, whether on the “war on drugs,” red-tagging or a change in social movement, must change “for any kind of response… to be meaningful.”
He added that there is a need for independent investigation, such as what Investigate PH intends to do, “simply because the government cannot and should not investigate themselves.”
Fergussion pointed out: “It’s their own failure to protect and defend [the] rights of their own people… This is an exercise in holding a government accountable.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they still intend to engage the CHR in the review. “Our efforts have been severely hampered by current restrictions on mobility and physical access to records. Much collaborative work remains to be done,” the DOJ chief added.
The UNHRC acknowledged the “drug war” review panel in its resolution in October 2020 that only pushed for capacity building to improve human rights situation in the country, short of launching an independent, on-the-ground investigation that rights groups have been calling for.
Rights groups have flagged the “drug war” panel review as an attempt at damage control to avoid international scrutiny and investigation. — with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico