UN expert's call to end attacks vs rights advocates irks Palace

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
UN expert's call to end attacks vs rights advocates irks Palace
In this file photo, Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo holds a press briefing with Palace reporters.
The STAR / Joven Cagande, File

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang accused the United Nations of echoing criticisms of local groups critical of the current administration after one of its independent experts expressed concern over the situation of human rights advocates in the Philippines.

In a world report released Wednesday, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst called on the Philippine government to end all forms of violations against human rights defenders.

“(The special rapporteur) urges the government to cease immediately the public stigmatization of human rights defenders, which can incite perpetrators to act against them and instead to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of their work,” Forst said. 

He added: “The state should develop protection mechanisms that protect and support human rights defenders.”

Palace: 'Reckless, irresponsible'

In a statement Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo branded the call of Forst “not only reckless but [also] irresponsible for it not only demeans the integrity of the UN special rapporteur system but the entire UN mechanism itself.”

Panelo went on to claim that the UN has been used by groups critical of President Rodrigo Duterte as a “tool for vilification.”

“We are fed up with this practice of using the UN as a platform to parrot baseless criticism of local interest groups who are supported by politicians belonging to the opposition. UNSRs should be less gullible as this reinforces the president’s contempt for them who have consistently manifested bias against the Philippines,” he said.

The report cited data from various organizations, including local rights group Karapatan, which documented 697 killings since 2001. The group tallied 84 killings under the present administration.

Karapatan is associated with the national democratic activist movement while those in the mainstream political opposition are identified with the former ruling Liberal Party, which Karapatan and its allied organizations also criticized when it was in power.

Panelo, who is also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, dared local groups to submit their alleged cases of violations against their members to proper authorities.

“Unless they can properly do so, we stand by our firm admonition of these groups to refrain from making a fool of these UNSRs, a mockery of the UN, as well as using their allegations as a leverage to secure financial resources from overtrusting funding institutions,” he said, without evidence to back his claim.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said it is seeking clarification on the views of Forst

Stigma on human rights, defenders

Despite Panelo's assertion, human rights and human rights defenders are portrayed by officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte himself, as idiots and as obstacles to progress and peace and order in the Philippines.

RELATED: Duterte's tirade vs Callamard sends 'chilling effect' to rights defenders, says CHR

Included in a list of around 600 people that the government included in a petition asking a court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army as terrorist groups are 46 human rights advocates.

Among them is Joan Carling, a defender of environmental and indigenous rights, whom the UN recognized with a Champions of the Earth award in September. Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, a special advisor to the UN on indigenous rights and who is also on the "terror" list, characterized it as "like a target list basically."

RELATED: Aside from UN expert, activists also on DOJ’s ‘terrorist list’

The Commission on Human Rights—itself a frequent target of Duterte and his supporters—admitted in an interview in June that "it is a challenge for the commission right now to change public perception and to convey that human rights is non-partisan and we are not anti-government nor do we take a contrary stance against the government."

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