Members of the Philippine Independent Church clergy call for a stop to killings and the pursuit for peace during a protest march in Manila on May 5. (Photo by Mike Taboy)
Several United Nations member states, as well as the Vatican, expressed grave concern this week over the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly with the drug-related killings.
At the U.N. Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, 45 countries recommended that the Philippines conduct a "thorough" investigation into the killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
The Philippines underwent the human rights review, which every U.N. member-country undergoes every four years, before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 8.
International human rights groups have reported that up to 8,000 people, mostly from urban poor communities, have been killed in connection with the government's war on illegal drugs.
In remarks at the U.N. review, the Vatican delegation condemned "the perpetuation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances" that the Holy See described as "deeply troubling."
Vatican representative Mauro Cionini also noted "troubling reports of trafficking of Filipino men and women, and children, for labor exploitation."
Holy See recommendations
In its recommendations, the Holy See urged the Philippines to ensure the "protection of the right to life from conception to natural death."
Cionini also called on the Philippine government "to sustain and promote family-based marriage between a man and a woman."
The Vatican also recommended the continuation of policies that provide the poor access to education.
Growing international concern
Aside from the Vatican, 44 other UN member states expressed concern over drug-related killings in the country.
China, however, stood out for lauding the Philippines' "relentless efforts" to promote human rights.
"The Philippines is facing a growing chorus of international concern at the human cost of President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s murderous 'war on drugs,'" said John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch.
In a statement, Fisher said the Philippine government’s denial and deflection of criticism "shows it has no intention of complying with its international obligations."
The European Union announced this week that a "high-level human rights delegation" will arrive in the Philippines later in May to look into alleged human rights abuse cases.
Franz Jessen, European Union envoy to the Philippines, said the investigation will "find out if indeed the allegations are true."
The Philippine government said it is open to an investigation even as it insisted that the country's war on drugs has been "misunderstood."
Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella blamed "media hype and noise" for what he described as the Philippines' tarnished reputation before the international community.
Grateful for concern
A Philippine bishops' conference official expressed gratitude to U.N. member-countries for their "solidarity" in calling for an end to the killings.
"I hope that [Filipinos] will feel the love and compassion of others to move us to take care of life," said Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose, head of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education.
"If we work together, we will achieve a lot," said the prelate as he urged Filipinos to continue supporting the rehabilitation of drug addicts.
An ecumenical group of church and human rights activists, meanwhile, assailed the Philippine government for "misleading" the U.N. during the review.
The "Universal Periodic Review Watch" said the Philippine report submitted to the U.N. did not reflect the realities on the ground.
"Rights abuses remain unabated due to continuing repressive state policies and counter-insurgency programs and the socio-economic and political ills that plague the country," read the group's statement.
The group said the campaign against illegal drugs and the government's counterinsurgency programs "have resulted in killings, disappearances, torture, and illegal arrests, among other forms of rights abuses."