Rights groups score gov't for ‘whitewashing’ abuses ahead of UN rapporteur visit

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Rights groups score gov't for �whitewashing� abuses ahead of UN rapporteur visit
Demonstrators hold placards at a rally calling for justice following the murder of a Philippine radio broadcaster, in Quezon City in suburban Manila on October 4, 2022. A Philippine radio broadcaster and government critic was shot dead near his home in suburban Manila, police said October 4, the latest in a long list of journalists killed in the country.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Rights defenders have challenged the government to go beyond welcoming the visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan by acting on past recommendations from international experts to end the practice of red-tagging and other acts infringing upon free speech.

Human rights groups Karapatan and Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for touting Khan's visit as a sign of the country's "open, sustained, and sincere cooperation" with international partners, deeming it "insincere" and "fake" in separate statements.

Teachers’ group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) has also called out the government for using Khan’s visit to “whitewash” human rights violations.  

The DFA earlier said that Khan’s visit will give the Philippines an opportunity to demonstrate its "flourishing democracy …  as seen in the vibrant media landscape and civic space,” adding that the UN rapporteur will see the government’s “respect to the promotion and protection of freedom of speech and expression.

Karapatan said on Sunday that even as the government has publicly welcomed the visit of the UN rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, it has also “disregarded, shrugged off, and rejected” previous findings by UN special rapporteurs on the country’s human rights situation.

“They are faking these all, as the Marcos Jr. government has stepped up its policy of wanton repression against the people, violating rights and basic freedoms including our freedom of expression,” Palabay said.

Palabay added that the Marcos government treats international engagements as “all niceties” and “opportunities merely to boost his tainted image before the international community.” 

To recall, the Philippines last hosted UN rapporteur Ian Fry, who focuses on human rights in the context of climate change. 

Fry's call for the government to dismantle its anti-communist task force, citing rights abuses against environmental defenders, prompted the government to accuse him of interfering with its "internal mechanism." 

Repeal terrorism law, end red-tagging

Similarly, Beverly Longid, national convenor of Katribu, a group focused on the rights of indigenous persons, questioned the government’s claim of “sincere cooperation” with international rights watchdogs.

Longid said that if the government’s “sincerity is genuine,” they must follow the recommendations made by previous UN Special Rapporteurs, one of which is the urgent review and repeal of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 (ATA) 

Meanwhile, ACT, a teachers’ union that has been repeatedly red-tagged by Vice President Sara Duterte and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, said that Khan’s visit is an opportunity to review the cases of violations of freedom of opinion and expression.

The UN special rapporteur’s visit is “not opportunity for the Marcos government to whitewash these cases,” ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio said.

“For the teachers, these violations directly affected our right to freedom of association and collective bargaining,” Basilio said, adding that their group is hopeful for an opportunity to present the cases directly to Khan. 

Khan will be visiting the country from January 23 to February 2 to take stock of the Philippines' state of free speech and press freedom. She will be the fifth UN envoy to make an official visit to study the country’s human rights situation, according to Karapatan.

In 2022, Khan called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to cease all acts of violence and judicial harassment of journalists, citing the need to end his government's "crackdown on press freedom in the Philippines."

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