Phl gov’t demands apology from UN special rapporteur

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

SINGAPORE – The Philippine government is demanding an apology from United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard over what it described as “arbitrary findings” on the reported human rights abuses related to President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

While the President’s invitation for the UN representative to visit the Philippines stands, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Callamard should abide by the terms set by government and also withdraw her supposed findings due to their “tremendous” impact.

Yasay said the “findings” of Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, became the basis for the US-led Millennium Challenge Corp. to suspend funding grant for the Philippines over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under the Duterte administration.

Yasay had said Callamard must comply with conditions set by President Duterte in allowing her to come to the Philippines to look into the human rights issues.

“But first, she must apologize for the arbitrary findings that she has made. She must withdraw the findings immediately and admit it in public before the international community, because she has unfairly damaged the country,” Yasay said in a press briefing at the Orchard Hotel here.

According to Yasay, people jumped to conclusions that extrajudicial killings were perpetrated in the Philippines, “that there is rampant violation and state-sponsored violation of human rights” because of Callamard’s pronouncements that were based on unverified reports.

“The damage that she has wrought on the basis of her responsibility is so great. It demands no less than an apology,” Yasay said.

With regard to Callamard’s visit, Yasay noted that the Philippines might accept or reject her depending on how she would deal with the conditions set by the government.

“The President’s (invitation is) on condition that she will make her findings under oath, and her declarations under oath and then will be subject to a scrutiny and debate by the President in public so that we will be able to validate her findings,” Yasay explained.   

By allowing public scrutiny, Yasay said Callamard would be able to defend her findings. “Now, Callamard said that she cannot comply with these conditions, so the question whether or not she can comply with these conditions is her own decision,” he said.

Sen. Leila de Lima has urged President Duterte yesterday to withdraw the “inflexible” conditions it imposed on Callamard before she could visit the country to investigate the summary executions of alleged drug suspects.

De Lima said it was imperative for Callamard and her delegation to be allowed to discharge their duties effectively and unhampered to show to the world that “we are still a nation that observes the rule of law, honors the dignity of life, respects the basic human rights and remains committed to the democratic values of transparency and accountability.”

Vice President Leni Robredo also cited the need for the special rapporteurs’ visit to push through as this would help ensure an unbiased investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.

“We would have preferred that the matter be investigated internally but if there are allegations that the probe was not fair, I think we need the help of others to find out what really happened,” Robredo said.

In August, Callamard and UN special rapporteur on the right to health Dainius Puras urged the Philippines to stop unlawful killings of drug suspects in the country.

Callamard said the claims to fight the illicit drug trade would not absolve the government from its international legal obligations and would not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings.

Puras added the responses to the illicit drug trade must be carried out in full compliance with national and international obligations and that the government “should respect the human rights of each person.”

The foreign affairs secretary also rejected a proposal from Callamard that she and the President conduct a joint press conference instead of a debate.

He lamented that if the UN representative “is not amenable with these conditions,” then she would need to go back to the protocol available under the UN.

Yasay also frowned on Callamard’s request that she be allowed to work with some confidentiality to ensure the safety of the people she would interview related to her investigation. 

Yasay was quick to say that Callamard violated this confidentiality clause when she made public results of her investigation early on.

“So, it is so hypocritical for her to say now that she would come to the Philippines and investigate and preserve the confidentiality that she needs, arriving at the conclusions, when she in fact has made the conclusions and was not very confidential in announcing the conclusion (that was not) based (on facts), simply on media reports,” Yasay said.

In October, Callamard and Puras asked the Philippines for them to conduct a joint fact-finding visit to the country in the first quarter of 2017 to examine issues related to the special rapporteurs’ mandates and to identify good practices and challenges, as well as the most effective ways to assist the country in guaranteeing the protection of the right to life and the right to health, particularly in the context of the anti-drug campaign.

The government granted the request but said the visit must be conducted under certain conditions set by Duterte himself.

Did he or did he not?

Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar joined the President’s allies in defending him over his statements that he personally killed drug suspects when he was still mayor of Davao City.

Interviewed on the sidelines of the arrival honors for Duterte at Singaporean President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s official residence and presidential palace Istana, Andanar echoed the statements of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II that Duterte was prone to exaggerating his own statements.

“You know very well the President speaks bravely since he was mayor. He speaks like that, but not all should be taken literally. That’s the style of the President – to instill fear in the minds of criminals,” Andanar added.

Andanar said he reviewed the tapes, noting that Duterte did not have any admission that he killed criminals. “He goes around Davao looking for encounter. If there are encounters, if you are mayor based on laws, if your life is in danger, you can defend yourself,” he added.  – With Paolo Romero, Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda

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