UN special rapporteur to visit Philippines

Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — It’s all systems go for the visit of United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan to the Philippines next week, President Marcos’ media security task force said yesterday, as it expressed confidence that the event would reaffirm the country’s standing as a “strong advocate” for free expression and human rights.

In a statement, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) described the visit as a welcome opportunity to showcase the nation’s commitment to openness and transparency and its “vibrant” media community.

“The Presidential Task Force on Media Security is fully prepared for the forthcoming visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, to the Philippines next week,” it said. Khan’s visit to the Philippines will take place from Jan. 23 to Feb. 2.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the official country visit will be undertaken to examine – in the spirit of cooperation and dialogue – the situation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the Philippines.

The task force said its executive director, Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez – in collaboration with various agencies – has “diligently” worked to accommodate Khan’s requests for meetings with her chosen state institutions and government bodies.

It is not clear if it includes her request for a meeting with former senator Leila de Lima, who is out on bail after close to seven years in detention for drug charges, that her supporters said were trumped up.

The task force said as primary coordinator for the visit, it has actively facilitated several meetings across different areas, including Baguio City, Cebu, and Tacloban to ensure a broad representation of the Filipino’s diverse voices.

According to the task force, numerous meetings have been arranged with key institutions to ensure that her visit would be aligned with her mandate and objectives.

Among the agencies that will meet with Khan are the Presidential Human Rights Committee, Anti-Terrorism Council Program Management Center, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Supreme Court, House of Representatives, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

Gutierrez expressed optimism that the visit would “reinforce the country’s standing as a strong advocate for the respect for human rights, freedom of expression and international humanitarian laws.”

“The government remains steadfast in its efforts to foster an environment where anyone can freely express their opinion without fear,” he said.

Khan has invited civil society, human rights organizations, media organizations, experts and academics and other interested stakeholders to share any information or insights on national laws, regulations and policies regarding freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to information, regulations related to disinformation and hate speech and their implementation; freedom of the media; internet freedom; and freedom of expression of specific groups, including civic organizations, religious groups, indigenous peoples and marginalized communities.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), for its part, said Khan’s visit is an “opportunity” for her as a UN representative “to appreciate the well-rooted and flourishing democracy of the Philippines, as the oldest democratic Republic in Asia, as seen in the vibrant media landscape and civic space.”

“The government is confident that through meaningful dialogues and meetings with government, media, civil society organizations and other stakeholders, Ms. Khan will see for herself the transparency and progressive agenda of the government with respect to the promotion and protection of freedom of speech and expression,” the DFA said in a statement.

Khan is the third UN special rapporteur to visit the country in over a year. Special rapporteur on the sale and exploitation of children Fatimah Singhateh visited the country in November 2022, and special rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights Ian Fry was in the Philippines in November 2023.

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