human rights in the Philippines

PH vows ‘real justice in real time’ at UN Human Rights Council meeting

Jairo Bolledo
PH vows ‘real justice in real time’ at UN Human Rights Council meeting

DOJ HEAD. Justice Secretary Boying Remulla speaks during the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council's enhanced interactive dialogue in Switzerland on October 5, 2022.

United Nations Web TV/ Screenshot

Human Rights Watch says the UN Human Rights Council has failed to take action on the Philippines despite 'dire expressions of concern from the UN human rights office, civil society organizations, and families of victims of abuses'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Wednesday, October 5, assured the United Nations Human Rights Council that it is pursuing reforms to provide “real justice in real time.”

PH vows ‘real justice in real time’ at UN Human Rights Council meeting

Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla made the vow during the 51st Regular Session of the UN body on Wednesday, October 5, days after International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan insisted on the probe into the drug war killings during the Duterte administration.

“It makes for a solid foundation of a civilized, democratic society – which is at the heart of Filipino culture, identity and history. We are reforming our system to deliver what our people deserve – real justice in real time,” Remulla said in his opening statement. 

Remulla added that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is “serious” about human rights in the Philippines.

“You see, at the Department of Justice, we are serious about human rights. We want to inject human rights into every step of our law enforcement and judicial processes,” he said.

The DOJ secretary recently lambasted Khan after the latter reiterated that the ICC probe into the Duterte drug war killings should continue. Remulla even said the Khan did the ICC a disservice by challenging the Philippine system. 

Drug war probe  

In highlighting the reforms supposed to be taken by the DOJ, Remulla said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ordered a different approach to the drug war. Marcos Jr. earlier said the campaign against illegal drugs would continue under his watch but “slightly different.

“President Marcos has refocused the anti-illegal drug campaign – tackling the source of the problem…. He has emphasized the need for rehabilitation, prevention, education and assistance to victims and their families,” Remulla told the UN rights council.

Gustavo Gonzalez, UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines, recommended urgency on the “accountability agenda” of the government in the context of the drug war killings. 

“Justice is still needed in thousands of killings in the context of anti-drug operations. I recommend increased urgency on the accountability agenda,” Gonzalez said during the meeting. 

Meanwhile, Remulla also said that based on their recent data, seven incidents involving drug war deaths were filed before the courts, 25 cops have been indicted, eight other cops were dismissed from the service, and five were either suspended or sanctioned. 

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The numbers that Remulla cited only represent a small fraction of the drug war deaths under Duterte. Police said 6,252 were killed in operations, but human rights groups estimate that death toll at over 30,000, if vigilante-style killings were to be included.

Khan, in his latest statement, said even the cases submitted to the ICC were “very few” compared to the total number of recorded killings. Khan said the Philippine government’s cases only focused on low-ranking cops and physical perpetrators without investigating high-level assailants.

Review panel on drug war

Remulla also mentioned the DOJ-led panel review, which reviews drug war killings. “A total of 302 cases have been referred by the Review Panel to the National Bureau of Investigation for case buildup.”

But in his speech, UN Resident Coordinator Gonzalez said the panel and other bodies formed by the government to investigate the killings must produce successful probes.

“We need results in the form of successful investigations and prosecutions trials that conform to international standards. Increased efforts in this area must include increasing transparency on the status of investigations and on any obstacles to achieving justice, and sustained engagement with civil society and victims,” Gonzalez said.

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In his latest comment, Khan also said that the Philippine government has “failed to substantiate any relevant criminal proceedings in relation to events in Davao” from 2011 to 2016 – years when Duterte was either vice mayor or mayor.

Khan earlier said he wanted to resume the probe in the country because he said the DOJ’s review was not enough. The ICC prosecutor said the DOJ conducted a “mere desk review,” and most of the sanctions were administrative.

Release of prisoners 

Remulla mentioned the recent release of over 300 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) from the New Bilibid Prisons and other penitentiaries. 

On September 13, the DOJ submitted names of 300 PDLs as possible beneficiaries of executive clemency, aside from the 371 released from the NBP. The DOJ has yet to announce whether the prisoners were given the clemency to date.

Remulla’s program to release prisoners is part of the government’s plan to decongest Philippine jails. The congestion rate in all jails in the Philippines was at 403% in 2020 – way beyond UN standards.

PH vows ‘real justice in real time’ at UN Human Rights Council meeting
‘Failure to act’

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the UN Human Rights Council failed to take action on the Philippines despite “dire expressions of concern from the UN human rights office, civil society organizations, and families of victims of abuses.”

“The UN Human Rights Council’s failure to act on the Philippines is devastating for both the victims of human rights abuses and civil society groups that seek to uphold basic rights,” Lucy McKernan, Geneva director at HRW, said in a statement on Wednesday.

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HRW cited the 2020 Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines which, it said, “required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the Philippines rights situation through 2022.”

“A September report by the high commissioner’s office highlighted prevailing rights violations and recommended continued monitoring and reporting to the council. However, the council member states and donor countries that supported the 2020 resolution and the ensuing Philippine-UN Joint Program did not press for a 2022 resolution,” HRW said.

Unlike the ICC, the UN Human Rights Council, consisting of 47 member-states, did not open an independent probe into the drug war killings under Duterte. Instead, it adopted a resolution giving technical assistance to address the situation in the Philippines.

The UN council’s move was widely criticized by human rights advocates. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.