Fact-checking various claims about UN rights body’s reso on Philippines killings

July 13, 2019 - 10:54 AM
A flag is pictured outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva
A flag is pictured outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 7, 2019. (Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s statement following the approval of the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution were rife with inaccurate details.

The council voted in favor of the resolution pushed forward by Iceland during its 41st session in Geneva, Switzerland on July 11.

A total of 18 countries of the 47 members voted in favor of it, 14 were against it while 15 abstained from voting.

With the two-page resolution, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is required to prepare a report on the human rights crisis in the Philippines. She will present this to the council’s 44th session by midyear 2020.

Panelo, however, denounced this decision and the resolution itself for allegedly being “partisan” and invalid while providing scant evidence for his observations.

Panelo’s claims

Number of killings

Panelo asserted on July 12 that there are no state-sponsored killings in the Philippines despite the alarming number of deaths in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.

In 2018, New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that more than 12,000 drug suspects have been killed the year before.

In December of that year, the Philippines’ own Commission on Human Rights estimated the total death toll to be as high as 27,000 since the campaign started in 2016.

So far, CHR is investigating some 1,500 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.

Validity of the resolution

Panelo and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. rejected the resolution because it is not valid.

“We question the propriety of the resolution as well as its validity. The subject resolution not only was not unanimously adopted, but it didn’t even get a simple majority of the 47 countries,” Panelo said.

Locsin, meanwhile, noted that the countries that supported it do not represent developing countries such as the Philippines.

“It does not represent the will of the Council, much less that of the developing countries who are always the target of such resolutions,” the top diplomat said.

Before making a decision, the 47 countries took more than two weeks, from June 24 to July 12 to thoroughly discuss the resolution.

Reports and documents produced from these meetings are also made available on the council’s website.

Therefore, the deliberate, lengthy process validates the ruling even if it was not a unanimous vote for all member-states.

Partisan and one-sided

Panelo denounced the resolution as biased and dismissing the bigger drug problem in the country.

“The resolution is grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow and maliciously partisan. It reeks of nauseating politics completely devoid of respect for the sovereignty of our country, even as it is bereft of the gruesome realities of the drug menace in the country,” Panelo said.

Philippine National Police General Oscar Albayalde also suggested that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army could be behind the resolution.

“Possible, it’s because it’s part of propaganda. Also, and you know, ‘yung CPP-NPA is so against the Duterte administration now,” Albayalde said.

During the council sessions, representatives of each country, including those from the Philippines, are provided with opportunities to make their statements and arguments according to a provided schedule.

As stated on their website, the resolution was just one of the many reports the representatives discussed on the latest session.

Albayalde’s and Panelo’s claims, therefore, were not coupled with evidence tracing the resolution to Duterte’s political opponents. The statements could also put independent human rights workers and international observers in a position of vulnerability, red-tagged as enemies of government.

The country’s sovereignty, moreover, is not violated when fundamental human rights of individuals, as members of the human race and independent of their status as citizens, are sought to be protected by local or international bodies from violations by agents of their own government.

UN’s nod

The resolution, which was mostly backed by countries from Europe, necessarily pushes the Philippine government to prevent more extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

It also hopes the government will allow its representatives to visit the country without acts of intimidation.

The local human rights agency said government officials should cooperate with the council rather than threaten it.

“The Philippine Government must open spaces for dialogue with other nations that have expressed their concerns about the human rights situation in the country to show resolve that we can most certainly improve,” the CHR said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, meanwhile, said that the future investigation will not prosper.

When asked if UNHRC representatives will be allowed to investigate, Duterte gave a vague answer: “Let them state their purpose, and I will…”