Victims' kin lament lack of 'strong action' in UN rights resolution on Philippines
This photo shows a memorial with the names of the victims of extra-judicial killings.
Karapatan, Release

Victims' kin lament lack of 'strong action' in UN rights resolution on Philippines

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - October 8, 2020 - 1:04pm

MANILA, Philippines — The families of those who have been victims of killings and abuses in the Philippines expressed dismay over the failure of the United Nations Human Rights Council to agree on an independent probe into the human rights situation in the country.

The UNHRC adopted Wednesday a resolution that offers the Philippines technical assistance and capacity building to improve the human rights situation in the country.

While it encouraged the government to address the issues raised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the adopted resolution stopped short of establishing an independent, on-the-ground investigation, which many human rights defenders have been calling for.

Llore Benedicto, whose two sons were killed by police in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, said the resolution lacked strong action.

"In the report of United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, there is a clear condemnation of violations of human rights in the Philippines. These abuses are felt by and continue to be felt by most Filipinos, especially the poor," said Benedicto, a member of Rise Up for Life and For Rights. Rise Up is a network of advocates and families of drug-related killings.

Bachelet’s report stated that the government’s war on drugs and incitement to violence from the country’s top officials have resulted in grave human rights violations, including “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings.

"We appreciate that the UNHRC was able to adopt the report. That's why, to some extent, we’re appreciative of the resolution but we feel that technical assistance is not enough," said Lean Porquia, son of slain activist Jory Porquia.

The Bayan Muna coordinator was gunned down on April 30 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines earlier said that programs for technical cooperation and capacity building “would not decisively curb the worsening human rights situation in the country.”

'Loss of confidence, trust'

The 47-member UNHRC stressed the importance for the Duterte administration to ensure accountability for the abuses, to conduct “independent, full and transparent” probes and to prosecute people who are responsible for human rights abuses in the country.

It also recognized the joint initiative of the Department of Justice and the Commission of Human Rights on a data-sharing agreement and the creating of a review panel that will re-evaluate cases of killings during anti-drug operations.

But Benedicto and Porquia said they do not have trust or confidence in the government and its agencies.

“It’s very frustrating that despite the pressure, the government of Rodrigo Duterte makes it like it’s normal, it’s okay, that the killings are just part of the new normal that they want for us to happen. Even the justice department has yet to come up with any process on how to deal with killings. Instead, they would dismiss political killings as simple crimes,” Porquia said.

Porquia said that harassment and killings of activists continue. Critics of the government are still being red-tagged, or labelled as terrorists and rebels.

“We fear our lives are put in danger. We tiptoe every day. When we go out of our home, we don’t know if we will still be able to return because of the continuous red-tagging and vilification,” he said.

Bachelet’s report found that the vilification of dissent and attacks against perceived critics of the Philippine government are being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

Independent probe still needed, victims' kin say

The kin of victims of human rights violations reiterated their call for an independent investigation.

“We still need and hope to have an independent investigation, so that the truth about the killings of our loved ones will come out. One way ahead is to go to different countries, so our stories will be heard. We need help from the international community to stop the killings,” Benedicto said.

She also called on the International Criminal Court and other international bodies to help them end the killings “so that no more families will experience the unbearable sadness and hardships that we have.”

Benedicto and Porquia vowed they would not stop fighting despite threats to their lives.

“We will continue to fight on behalf of all families of all victims of EJKs. We will continue to fight for justice,” Porquia said.  

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