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Philippine officials under pressure not to work with human rights orgs — US report

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Philippine officials under pressure not to work with human rights orgs â US report
A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on October 29, 2021.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine government officials were under pressure not to work with international and nongovernmental organizations investigating human rights abuses in the country, the US Department of State said in its annual report on human rights.

The 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted that human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on cases of human rights violations.

“Government officials were under pressure not to cooperate with or respond to the view of international human rights organizations,” the report read.

Statements from international groups on the country’s human rights situation are often dismissed as foreign interference.

The State department cited the refusal of the Philippines to cooperate with an International Criminal Court probe into President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “war on drug” after judges at the Hague-based tribunal approved a formal investigation in September 2021.

Government officials said the government will not cooperate with the investigation, claiming there is a lack of jurisdiction. The ICC, however, had jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the court. 

In November, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan temporarily suspended the probe after Manila filed a deferral request.

Harassment of local activists

“Local human rights activists continued to encounter occasional harassment, mainly from security forces or local officials from areas in which incidents under investigation occurred,” the report also said.

It added that activists continued to report harassment by security forces, including abuse of detainees by police and prison officials.

The State department also stressed the Commission on Human Rights’ lack of sufficient resources to investigate and follow up on cases of human rights violations. 

It likewise noted that NGOs considered the Presidential Human Rights Committee independent, “but with limited ability to influence human rights policy.” The body determines the appropriate mechanisms to solve cases of political violence, and inventories cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations.

Corruption

While there are laws providing criminal penalties to corrupt public officials, the State department said the government “did not implement these laws effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”

It cited the probe into the government-procured COVID-19 personal protective equipment from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and Duterte’s statement on barring cabinet members from attending legislative hearings on the issue.  

Washington also mentioned the claim of Duterte that he fired Bureau of Immigration personnel linked to the “pastillas” scheme. It, however, turned out that the officials had returned to work. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

HUMAN RIGHTS

RODRIGO DUTERTE

US STATE DEPARTMENT

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