Callamard: New US admin may still tone down stance on PH human rights

United Nations Special Rapporteur for summary executions Agnes Callamard said that even under a new president the US may still tone down its position on human rights problems in the Philippines to maintain its place in the global play for power.

"The US may be prepared to tone down its scrutiny over the human rights record of the country so as to keep the Philippines within its field of influence. While China – which has never really cared about the human rights record of any country – may in fact embolden the country's human rights violation for the same purpose which is to bring the Philippines within its field of influence," Callamard said at a virtual forum held by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Friday, January 29.

"The competition between China and the US has not favored human rights protection and is unlikely to favor human rights protection," Callamard said. This geopolitical reality remains even with a "change in the US administration."

During the term of former US president Donald Trump, the two superpowers engaged in a bitter trade war. This geopolitical rivalry simmered with the dispute in the South China Sea, putting the Philippines and other Southeast Asia nations in the middle of the squabble.

The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte wanted to be left alone when dealing with its own domestic problems, like human rights violations, and was hostile towards overseas intervention. (READ: Biden’s opportunities in PH and how Duterte can gain from them)

Commitments for De Lima, Ressa

The victory of Biden in the last elections raised the hope that the US would do more to uphold human rights in the Philippines. Part of the optimism was because Democratic Party leaders in the US Congress have consistently supported the causes of jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima and embattled journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

"I have no doubt they will act on their previous commitment regarding Maria Ressa and the seach for accountability," said Callamard.

"[But] from a longer-term standpoint, how far will that commitment unravel? How far will it go when confronted with your government's responses which may be to say, that if you're pushing too much, we will seek China's friendship which we are already doing anyway," said Callamard.

Callamard said that the way for the Philippines to encourage US to support human rights efforts is for the country to do it itself.

"This administration should release political prisoners, beginning with Senator De Lima, but not only, there are many others..... the government should drop charges against Maria Ressa," said Callamard.

Callamard said that more than the Duterte government, this falls upon the justice sector, specifically the independent judiciary branch.

"The justice sector of the Philippines should play a stronger role, should demonstrate its commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law," said Callamard.

This way, Callamard said, the Philippines can "incite" the US to stand more strongly for human rights, and eventually play a pivotal role in a "global configuration" that would hopefully make human rights an asset, and not a liability. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.