THE Philippines came under global pressure after 45 out of 47 countries which participated in the Philippines’ universal periodic review before the United Nations Human Rights Council questioned the spate of extrajudicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war and his proposal to reinstate death penalty in the country.
Despite denials by the Philippine delegation in Geneva on Monday that there is a new wave of killings under Duterte, the 45 countries expressed concern about the extrajudicial killings, suggested an investigation into them, or recommended that the Philippines refrain from reinstating capital punishment.
These countries included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Mozambique, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, and Zambia.
While dozens of countries slammed the Philippines over drug-related killings, China hailed Duterte for his “relentless efforts” to promote human rights and the anti-drug campaign. Saudi Arabia which chaired the session, abstained.
Canada urged Manila to “end extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture and harassment,” with similar comments made by delegations from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany and Ghana, among many others.
The United States said it was crucial for the Philippines to “investigate the allegations of the more than 7,000 deaths associated with the counter-narcotics campaign since July 2016, including over 2,600 killings by security forces and 4,000 by unknown assailants.”
“We ask the Philippine government to investigate these crimes, hold accountable those who are responsible, and bring justice to the victims,” the American delegate added.
Ten states recommended that the Philippines invite the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard to look into human rights violations in the country.
The United Kingdom also expressed concern over the number of deaths in the drug war and Duterte’s plan to reinstate the death penalty.
“We remain concerned about the high number of people killed in the campaign against illegal drugs, [and] plans to reinstate the death penalty,” the country’s representative said.
The Holy See asked predominantly Catholic Philippines to “maintain the protection of the right to life from conception to natural death,” adding that reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are “deeply troubling.”
China’s representative, Ma Zhaoxu, however, offered support to the Philippines, declaring drugs “the public enemy of mankind.”
“China highly appreciates the relentless efforts made by the Philippines for the promotion and protection of human rights, and the remarkable achievements it has made,” Ma said.
The Philippines was facing its regular review at the Geneva-based UN human rights council, where each country’s record is scrutinized every four years.
On Monday, the Palace said the Philippine delegation would “demolish” the negative perceptions about the administration’s war on illegal drugs.
But on Tuesday, the Palace backtracked on its promise amid the international flak it received following the Geneva review.
“We are not attempting to change anybody’s minds about these things. We’re just simply pursuing our own direction regarding the dismantling of the illegal drug apparatus,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing.
Abella also said that the alleged extrajudicial killings will be investigated.
“Everything is subjected to due process. We will investigate everything that needs to be investigated,” he said.
Abella added that there was no “apples-to-apples comparison” between the number of killings during the past and present administrations.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who led the Philippine delegation, blamed critics and the media for supposedly changing the definition of extrajudicial killings, aimed at “deceiving the world” on the war on drugs.
He said the government’s enemies were using “a political tactic” of manipulating figures on extrajudicial killings to undermine the fight against a scourge that has poisoned Filipino society.
Cayetano also said that there was an attempt to include all homicides as drug killings.
“Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much. However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs, and that these are state-sponsored, which is simply not true,” he said.
The rising number of deaths at the hands of police was the result of the huge number of operations conducted against illegal drugs, Cayetano said.
He also slammed western media for “inaccurately” reporting on the drug war happening in the Philippines by making use of the “alternative facts” of critics.
In an unprecedented move, Cayetano also showed a video clip of Duterte vowing to put “drug lords... below [the] ground”, an unusual move at the UN council where governments do not typically publicize death threats by their heads of state.
Human Rights Watch applauded the “growing chorus of international concern at the human cost of President Duterte’s “murderous war on drugs” in a statement from the group’s Geneva director John Fisher.
He said the UN rights body should consider expelling the Philippines, which currently holds one of 47 rotating council seats, “if killings without accountability continue.”
Duterte was elected largely on a law-and-order platform in which he promised to eradicate illegal drugs by killing tens of thousands of people.
Since then, police have reported killing 2,692 people in anti-drug operations.
They say unspecified parties have murdered another 1,847 people in drug-related incidents, while 5,691 other violent deaths are under investigation.
In a major report on the drug war in February, Amnesty International accused police of shooting defenceless people, paying assassins to murder addicts and stealing from those they killed.
Duterte has previously boasted of taking part in killings.
Cayetano earlier urged members of the UNHRC to recognize the relationship between illegal drugs, especially methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, and violent crimes and poverty to understand the Philippine situation.
He also showed video clips and news reports of gruesome crimes where the perpetrators were high on illegal drugs.
“There was impunity during the previous administration, but it was from the criminals and from the drug lords,” Cayetano said.
The senator pointed out that in many cases of heinous crimes in the country, the suspects were usually confirmed users of shabu. He further cited a technical brief by the World Health Organization, which cited violence as among the physical consequences of the use of amphetamine-type stimulants like methamphetamine.
“The Filipinos have witnessed how the use of illegal drugs like methamphetamine led to violence and destroyed the lives of many,” he added.
Cayetano was reacting to a recent statement delivered by an American doctor during a drug policy forum in the Philippines, saying there was no evidence that shabu causes violence. The statement was reposted by UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard in her social media account.
“Illegal drugs can easily destroy a whole generation,” Cayetano said in his opening statement before UNHRC members.
He said young people are the most vulnerable to the temptation and evils of prohibited drugs.
“It is projected that we will have 32.7 million Filipinos aged 14 and below, or 31 percent of our population,” Cayetano said, citing Philippine Statistics Authority data.
The senator reiterated that the people’s campaign against illegal drugs is pursued to preserve the lives of the Filipino people and prevent the country from turning into a narco-state.
An official of the Justice Department told the UNHRC that a number of cases categorized as extrajudicial killings were already being tried in various courts.
In a report to the UNHRC, Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo revealed that 1, 089 incidents had undergone validation by an inter-agency.
“Since its creation in 2012, the committee has processed 1, 098 incidents for validation, while 30 cases are currently undergoing trial,” Orceo said in his report. He did not mention the nature of these EJK cases, however. With Sandy Araneta, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo
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