Last April 11, the Philippines came under a universal periodic review for its human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council. The government was represented by a 40-man delegation headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Cecilia Quisumbing, Chairman and Executive Director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC). The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) attended as a separate delegation, presenting itself as a non-government organization, headed by Chairperson Lourdes Quisumbing.
The Philippine NGOs and international human rights NGOs–some 30 of them–were also present in full force. KARAPATAN and its allied organizations, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and its member-organizations, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), and some sectoral human rights organizations were there to lobby for their positions which they earlier submitted.
Expectedly, the Philippine delegation claimed “success” in defending its human rights record, citing an audience reaction of a “privileged applause” to Secretary’s Ermita’s presentation (as cited in today’s Philippine Daily Inquirer’s editorial). Expectedly, Karapatan’s lawyer, Edre Olalia, was “appalled by the ebullient presentation of barefaced lies, spins and out-of-this-world razzle-dazzle.”
The official Philippine report glossed over the major issues of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances–issues that the Philip Alston report squarely blamed the AFP and the PNP as mainly responsible for. It downplayed the numbers, and even made much of the fact that some of those reported killed were actually alive and that the New People’s Army were responsible for some of the cases.
On the other hand, Karapatan stuck to its claim of nearly 900 victims of extra-judicial killing and 183 victims of enforced disappearance–a figure far above what the Amnesty International and other human rights groups had confirmed.
To be sure, everybody acknowledged the abolition of death penalty as a step forward. However, this has been done already by the 1987 Constitution. When GMA did it, it was only to correct a Ramos law on death penalty for heinous crimes. It was also basically to correct an untenable policy in the face of government’s efforts to prevent executions of overseas Filipino workers. Some would even claim it was a self-serving decision because the Plunder Law allows death penalty.
However, in one crucial respect, all the reports were one in acknowledging the Philippine government’s incomplete implementation of international human rights agreements. The Philippines is not a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT) and the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court, and that it has not recognized the provision in the CAT on individual complaints. The Philippines has not also ratified the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Apart from these, the government is also suspect in the eyes of the NGOs in actually implementing those agreements it has signed, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Electoral cheating, corruption, breaking up of peaceful rallies, development aggression, degradation of health and education, pervasive poverty, assaults on informal sectors, and the like are not exactly the proper actuations of a pro-human rights regime.
In fact, human rights in the Philippines–an issue since Marcos–are still to be correctly institutionalized and properly implemented. The GMA administration still has a lot to answer for. Polite applause cannot trump the real record.