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Not enough int'l pressure on Philippines over rights issues — group

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Not enough int'l pressure on Philippines over rights issues â group
“I’m protecting my country. It is my duty as President to protect and serve the people of the Republic of the Philippines. So in obedience to that mandate, that is how I interpret it, do not. If you want, do not,” he said.
Noel Celis / AFP, File

MANILA, Philippines — A global panel investigating human rights abuse in the Philippines urged world leaders to ramp up the pressure on the Duterte administration in the face of the chief executive's defiance towards international probes. 

At an online press briefing Monday afternoon, commissioners of Investigate PH called on international bodies including the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to authorize investigations on violations of international humanitarian law under the Duterte administration. 

In particular, the group urged the ICC to expedite the recommendation of former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate “the crime against humanity of murder [which] has been committed on the territory of the Philippines."

Investigate PH in its reports called on all states with cooperation agreements with the Philippines to "suspend all military and police aid [and] training and arms and equipment sales until respect for human rights and international humanitarian law is restored and felt on the ground in the Philippines."

The Philippine government has stressed that it upholds human rights and that concerns from abroad over the rights situation in the country is outside meddling on domestic issues. It is also working with the UN on capacity-building projects on the protection and promotion of human rights.

The panel also called on member states of the UN Human Rights Council to "conduct study tours with labor unions and peasant communities in the Philippines and report on their conditions to the international community."

Australian Senator Janet Rice, who is Investigate PH High Commissioner, said that the documentation of human rights abuses in the report was "part of prompting action both in the country and globally."

"The world is not taking sufficient action to pressure those governments to uphold human rights principles," she said. 

RELATED: With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines

'Victimization of the Filipino people'

The pronouncements were made at the release of Investigate PH's third report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, which focused on the socio-economic effects of the Duterte administration's militarized policy decisions, which in turn affected human rights in the country. 

Earlier reports of the investigative panel focused on what it said was the systematic cover-ups of killings over the Duterte administration's crackdown on insurgency and flagship campaign on illegal drugs, which police figures say has led to over 6,000 deaths in official operations. 

"Duterte’s COVID-19 response has focused on militarization rather than providing adequate healthcare and economic relief," the report reads. 

"The Duterte administration’s combined priorities have resulted in entrenched poverty alongside growing inequality, and continued neocolonial relations, imposed with increased state terror. Its policies are violating peoples’ rights to equitable development, peace with justice, and self-determination."

Dr. Chris Ferguson, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and a commissioner of Investigate PH, said that the third report was written to "make clear the victimization of the Philippine people [who] have suffered under COVID-19 and the policies of the Duterte administration."

"Let's not focus on the narrow concept of victimhood. The cost to human life and freedom is so immense that it's so difficult to exaggerate...victimhood, in this case, is the repression of an entire group of people," he said. "They will use the mechanisms of the state to deny, cover-up, and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions."

Ferguson earlier said that the Philippine government should not and cannot investigate itself on what he said was the "victimization of the entire Philippine people."

"Simply put, I think we all have to be very clear and insistent in having the international mechanisms [be] serious in taking this. We've heard about the methodology [and] there is no doubt that the information presented is based on the reality of the suffering of the people, and this cannot be denied."

"The international community needs to end the impunity and stand behind solutions that lead to people's participation to exercise their rights to development and peace...we call for everyone to join this seeking of peace."

RELATED: ‘Less than 30% of 2021 budget disbursed for pandemic’

'Global issue'

Investigate PH said that President Rodrigo Duterte was likely to "use all the mechanisms that [he has] created to repress dissent, which would apply to this report itself."

"Any truth-telling mechanism is met with a militarized, highly ideological response to suppress the truth coming out," Ferguson said. 

The Palace has said that it had no intention of cooperating with any probes that materialize, whether from the International Criminal Court or the United Nations.

Investigate PH Commissioner Lee Rhiannon, a former Australian senator, said that Duterte was "fundamentally failing" to address very serious charges by leaning on "being abusive" in his responses.

Asked about Duterte's response to existing calls for investigations, Rhiannon said: "It's a reminder for us that we need to make this a global issue."

Rhiannon pointed to the South African anti-apartheid movement, which she said "started with a few people [but] became so big that the world could no longer turn its back on South Africa."

"The world eventually, especially international foreign institutions, all eventually saw that this was abhorrent and could not continue. I think that's the point we're in now," she also said. 

READ: Militarization in Philippines has 'damaging effects' on civic space, democratic freedoms — think tank

'There is so much at stake'

Until then, the country continues to grapple with a third resurgence in coronavirus cases driven by the hyper contagious Delta variant, which has ravaged neighboring countries. To date, the country has recorded 2,248,071 infections of the pathogen. 

Investigate PH wrote in its report that even children are victims of killings and sexual abuse perpetrated by the police and military, even as their development is harmed by economic neglect.

"Duterte’s policy priorities and violent misogyny have contributed to increased gendered, homophobic, and sexual violence perpetrated by armed forces; domestic abuse; as well as poverty for women, girls, and LGBTQ people," it said. 

The report, which cited news pieces and government data, also pointed out that the Duterte administration cut education spending even as the pandemic hurt poor students, and is persecuting teachers, schools, and universities known for progressive politics.

"Especially during the pandemic, the hunger has been very widespread, and malnutrition is very badly affecting children," Investigate PH coordinator Peter Murphy, who chairs the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, said. "That's before we even talk about that many of them don't have schools to go to."

"It's important to see the big policy systems at work and how cruel they are and in fact, how much they breach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...the whole direction of the Philippine government is in the opposite direction."

Rice for her part urged the international community to support the efforts of the Philippine government and population to secure adequate income support and access to free vaccines, testing, and treatment.

She also called for international support for solidarity efforts to operate community pantries and kitchens amid the coronavirus pandemic, both of which have also been accused by the government of communist influence. 

READ: NTF-ELCAC admits to 'monitoring' community pantries but not profiling

"Of course, he's going to [want] to hide the truth about these vicious, brutal attacks on the people of the Philippines," she said. "I've got no expectation that this report is suddenly going to change Duterte's ways of operating."

"Other countries do have power. There are leaders that can be used. It's a matter of how those countries choose to use it, and we are imploring leaders across the world to be using those leaders, because there is so much at stake."

COVID-19 HUMAN RIGHTS INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE UNITED NATIONS
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