Statement of Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra, Secretary (Minister) of Justice
Madam High Commissioner;
Good morning from Manila.
Transparency and constructive cooperation characterize the Philippine engagement with the UN and the international community. This is no less true in the area of human rights.
Human rights is a fundamental national interest, rooted in our recent history as the first country to use People Power successfully to restore democracy by toppling a dictatorship notorious for human rights violations. Human rights anchor the agenda of the administration which seeks to promote and uplift the dignity of all 110 million Filipinos. First and foremost of these rights is the safety, security and wellbeing of the general public. This commitment has been firm and unwavering; more so now as the nation faces the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment of the human rights situation in the Philippines can only be credible when it is properly informed by context on the ground.
Like many governments, we face problems that heavily bear upon efforts to improve the lives of our people and secure their future. These include drugs, corruption, criminality and terrorism. We cherish our newly won, hard fought democracy, so we are deeply concerned about the inroads made by the drug trade in the subversion of democracies. Our democracy and legal institutions ensure that the national response to these problems, even the gravest of them aimed at democracy, are always within the law and in full respect of human rights.
Our President ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where our people are safe and their rights protected. The President has discharged this mandate faithfully. After four years, the President and his anti-drug campaign enjoy the strong and widespread support of our people. As a democracy, we must continue on a path that has the public’s unflagging support.
A monitoring mechanism called RealNumbersPH ensures public transparency and full accountability in this campaign. It accounts for, and publishes evidence-based outcomes of the campaign across 42,046 villages across the country, as well as figures on law enforcement actions and drug-related cases in the courts.
Our Government has also conducted briefings and dialogues with the representatives of the diplomatic community in the Philippines on human rights issues of concern to them. The aim being to provide more transparency and better appreciation of such issues. Further briefings are planned.
We have also established an inter-agency panel, chaired by my office, that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred. The Philippine National Police is obliged by its internal mechanisms to conduct motu propio investigations — whether or not there are complainants — on all law enforcement operations that result in deaths, and take action on this basis.
This review panel, external to the Philippine National Police, re-evaluates these cases and examines the propriety of re-investigating them or filing appropriate charges against erring law enforcement officers. The panel intends to engage affected families, provide them with legal options and assistance in criminal prosecution of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in their operations. It will present a report on its work by the end of November of this year.
This review mechanism will not only reinforce accountability on the drug campaign. It will tighten the web of existing mechanisms to prevent cases of impunity; including the AO35 Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons. I chair this mechanism, and have worked closely with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and a university-based think-tank to improve its institutional capabilities.
And as with all human rights-related mechanisms in the country, the Commission on Human Rights will be involved in its capacity as an independent monitoring body. The continued, unhampered functioning of the Philippine CHR underpins our strong position against calls for an independent investigative mechanism, including the one made before the International Criminal Court from which we have withdrawn.
Claims that there is impunity or near-impunity in the country find no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish and pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a State actor, if such claim is substantiated with facts.
We take each case brought before our authorities with the diligence it deserves. In the same manner we ask that the human rights mechanisms exercise due diligence in validating allegations brought before them by parties. The independence of our courts is affirmed by convictions of an Army General in 2018 and of members of a high profile political family and police officials in 2019, and the indictment of a former Police Chief in January this year.
The government has been sincere in fully engaging all stakeholders, the international community and the UN, including the OHCHR, on human rights issues. We intend to broaden positive engagement with the UN system, including through an expanded cooperation framework and stronger platform of partnerships which we are discussing with the UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines. We are pursuing these directions in line with the government’s determination to protect the public, shield democracy, and promote the human rights of every Filipino.
Concluding Remarks of Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra, Secretary (Minister) of Justice
The government exhaustively addressed specific cases in the Philippine Human Rights Situationer, which is an official document of this meeting. We encourage concerned delegations to consult this document.
Certain so-called “emblematic” cases have been cited and selectively used to make hasty conclusions about the situation of civic space, press freedom, and judicial independence. There are self-contradictions in these kinds of argument.
While the international community upholds the independence of the judiciary, and welcomes the Court’s decisions on many cases — such as the conviction of 43 personalities (including 25 public officials) involved in the Maguindanao massacre, it regrettably entertains allegations of the Court’s partiality on processes and decisions in specific cases. Logic should be consistent on the principle of the equal application of law, and in making judgments about the independence of the judiciary and the outcomes of judicial processes.
We support and encourage discourse grounded on facts and a diligent assessment of the merits of each case. We should take great care against concluding that certain situations are “systemic” or cases “emblematic”. There should be no moral ambiguity in looking at efforts to strengthen anti-terrorism legislation; as it is the State’s duty to address, within the bounds of law, all threats and challenges to the security and safety of our communities. The Terrorism Index has consistently ranked the Philippines among countries most impacted by terrorism.
In the Philippine situation, where the option of righting every possible wrong evidently and vigorously exists, there is no reasonable basis to allege impunity or lack of accountability for human rights violations.
We are heartened by the wide acknowledgement we heard today from States of our good governance agenda and national accountability efforts, as well as encouragement for constructive ways forward. This manifests the desire of the majority to support effective human rights mechanisms, and a Council that bases its discussions and actions on facts and promotes genuine dialogue with concerned countries.
We underscore our resolve to strengthen our national efforts to safeguard our vast and robust civil society and media space, strengthen the administration of justice, and address all claims and allegations case by case in a transparent and inclusive manner. At the same time, we highlight our commitment to continue to contribute to collective efforts aimed at enhancing and upholding the integrity and objectivity of the Council and its processes and mechanisms, to ensure that its work leads only to transformative and enduring impact on the ground.