Over reacting
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2019 - 12:00am

For the first time perhaps, many Filipinos became aware there is a country named Iceland. Its existence came to high public awareness in our country when Iceland sponsored last week the approval of a controversial resolution calling to attention allegedly more than 20,000 cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines.

Acting on the endorsement of Iceland, the 47-member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved the resolution that calls for a “comprehensive report” on the human rights situation in the Philippines, including alleged EJKs related to the Philippine government’s anti-drug war. Specifically, the UNHRC resolution referred to the anti-drug war that was first launched in June 2016 when former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was installed President of the Philippines.

The UNHRC resolution also calls upon the Philippine government to work with the UN rights body’s High Commissioner, including facilitating country visits and refraining from intimidation or retaliation. Likewise, they expressed concern over alleged threats, intimidation and attacks against UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard.

The resolution – the first ever addressed to the Philippines – requires UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to prepare the “comprehensive” report on her findings to the council’s 44th session set in June 2020.

Immediately after the Resolution was passed last Thursday in the Geneva-based UNHRC, the Philippine government denigrated the approval that had only 18 member states, led by Iceland, along with mostly European nations voting for it. A total of 14 UNHRC member states, including China, voted “No” while 15 others abstained. 

Human rights activists claimed that the UNHRC resolution has been watered down as it only sought a report instead of an inquiry.

But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted the resolution did not even muster a “simple majority” of at least 24 votes, adding that the “No” votes and abstentions outnumbered it. Nonetheless, Panelo disclosed over the weekend that the President has an open mind to allow UNHRC representatives to come here in our country for a visit.  

Panelo quoted the President as saying that he would welcome their visit “if their purpose is legitimate.” Panelo echoed the President’s laments in the past, especially on Callamard who surreptitiously flew into the country last year. Panelo described her as “so biased and believes in false news” about the 20,000 alleged EJKs by the police in the conduct of their anti-illegal drugs operations.

Naturally, it raised the hackles of President Duterte to go into high drive in mocking Iceland in particular for the UNHRC resolution. The Chief Executive bashed Iceland for blindly endorsing the UNHRC resolution without benefit of checking the true situation of the illegal drug problem in the Philippines.

“Anong problema ng Iceland? Ice lang,” the President facetiously quipped. (What’s the problem of Iceland? Ice only.)

“That’s your problem, you have too much ice and there is no clear day or night there. So you can understand, there is no crime, there is no policeman,” he rued.

Before we get lost in the President’s diatribe against Iceland, it caught my interest to look for a map or globe to locate where Iceland is. A Nordic island country, Iceland is located in the North Atlantic. The capital and largest city of Iceland is Reykjavík, home to over two-thirds of its population of 358,780 as of latest data. Google.com says Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second-largest island after the United Kingdom.

Aside from being a member of the EU, Iceland now has a special place in the “hate list” of President Duterte.

The EU has been in the recent past at the receiving end of the public tirades of President Duterte when its official development assistance and loans were tied to human rights issues against the Philippines.

But the people and government of Iceland could not care less if they got on the wrong side of the Philippine President. Iceland is ranked as the sixth most developed country in the world by the UN’s Human Development Index in 2018. For the same year, Iceland also was ranked first on the Global Peace Index (GPI). Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world – a position it has held since 2008. The Philippines ranked 134th out of 163 countries, up three places from 137th in the previous year’s GPI.

Released by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the GPI ranks countries according to their level of peacefulness based on three domains: level of safety and security, extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict and degree of militarization. At least, the noted improvement in the peace and order situation in the Philippines got validation from this Australian think-tank.

On their official record, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Albayalde cited the continuing decline in the country’s crime index, which could be a result of the unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs. On the alleged EJKs, Albayalde cited only 6,600 drug-related killings and more than 257,000 arrests. He pointed out that policemen implicated in alleged EJKs are going through administrative proceedings and some are charged in courts.

In fact, three Caloocan policemen were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder in November last year of teenager Kian delos Santos.

Actually, there should be no issue or quarrel at all if only our Philippine government authorities would be more open and welcoming to prove its detractors wrong. Ex-PNP chief and now Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who led the “Tokhang” anti-drug campaign again dramatically reacted in saying he would have his head cut off if the alleged EJKs are proven to be state-sponsored. Sadly, this does not address the issue directly.

Whenever facts and figures are challenged, there is so much overreaction when a simple gesture of transparency could kill it, metaphorically speaking.

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