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Philippine govt comes under fire over new rights panel

Critics dismiss Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination as a 'propaganda' tool as ICC readies drug-war warrants
Father Flaviano Villanueva, who runs a Church-backed non-governmental organisation helping relatives of the Philippine drug war dead, gestures during an interview on Aug. 3, 2023. The campaign from 2016 to 2022 killed 6,241 people in the Catholic-majority nation.

A Catholic woman and her grandchild light a candle beside a mock chalk figure representing an extra-judicial killing victim during a prayer rally condemning the Philippine government's war on drugs in Manila on Feb. 22, 2017. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 13, 2024 09:55 AM GMT
Updated: May 13, 2024 10:30 AM GMT

A new “super body” set up by the Philippines government to tackle human rights violations has been dismissed by rights groups as a “propaganda” tool to counter widespread abuse allegations.

“The criticism against the ‘super body’ — that it is window-dressing, superfluous, unnecessary, etc. — has a basis,” said Carlos Conde, senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Philippine government does not need another agency on human rights, especially one that will only serve a propaganda purpose, Conde observed while talking about President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s creation of a Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination.

The special committee will include people and agencies that have no proven track record on human rights, Conde said.

“Some of them were responsible in one way or another for the rights abuses in recent years,” Conde told UCA News on May 13.

It is meant to mislead the public and the international community, Conde said.

The government says Marcos Jr. ordered the formation of the special committee to “enhance human rights in the Philippines.” The order establishing the body was signed by executive secretary Lucas  Bersamin on May 8.

The special body will deal with initiatives and accomplishments of the United Nations Joint Program on Human Rights. The Philippines, a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in May 1987.

The Philippines and the United Nations signed a three-year joint program in July 2021 which expires on July 31, 2024. Under the program, the UN will engage in six capacity-building areas with the Philippines.

Marcos Jr. set up the special committee, to be headed by the executive secretary, to look after the implementation of counter-terrorism measures and the war on drugs campaign, started by former president Rodrigo Duterte.

The “super body” will become operational as the International Criminal Court (ICC) plans to issue arrest warrants against officials associated with the war on drugs, which killed 6,241 people from July 1, 2016, to March 31, 2022, in the Catholic-majority nation. The killings have been widely condemned by the Philippine Church.  

The Marcos government is not cooperating with the ICC probe, saying the country's own legal system can probe alleged rights violations.

If Marcos Jr. is serious about human rights, he should cooperate with the ICC, Conde told UCA News.

He should start an initiative for the Philippines to return to the ICC by re-ratifying the Rome Statute,” Conde stressed.

"It is a tactic to evade accountability for the rights violations committed during the previous and the current regimes,” Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, told UCA News on May 12.

She said the “super body” is “a desperate attempt to window-dress.”

"Marcos Jr.’s counter-insurgency program, draconian policies and counter-terrorism steps are being implemented in full swing, resulting in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention,” Palabay said.

According to Karapatan, the “super body” will meet the same fate of former agencies created by the government.

An  Inter-Agency Committee and a task force to probe labor-related violations vanished without achieving anything, Karapatan noted.

Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said a “super body” with no decision-making power will create “bureaucratic confusion.”

“It is a superfluous addition to an already convoluted justice system,” Olano said in a statement on May 12.

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