BLOG: Activists in Geneva dispute PH govt's claims on human rights, EJKs

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at May 08 2017 09:54 PM | Updated as of May 12 2017 06:35 PM

Activists in Geneva protest human rights violations in the Philippines on the sidelines of the third Cycle of the UN Universal Periodic review of human rights in Geneva. UPR Watch, Handout

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Activists monitoring the Philippine report for the third Cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review in Geneva disputed the government delegation's claims on human rights and the growing problem of extra-judicial killings (EJKs). 

Despite the Philippine government's denial on a state policy on EJKs, 55 political killings have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte and more than 8,000 drug-related killings have been reported, according to Ephraim Cortez, the head of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation.

Activists also pointed out that 334 activists, human rights defenders, leaders and members of sectoral organizations were killed during former President Benigno Aquino III's six-year term. Duterte took office on June 30 last year. The review, which takes place every four years, includes the latter part of Mr Aquino's term.

The critique responded to the Philippine delegation' claim that EJKs refer only to murders of activists and human rights defenders.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte's running mate in the 2016 elections and head of the country delegation, accused critics, including the media, of bloating the numbers of deaths related to the government's clampdown on drug gangs. He also accused critics of changing the definition of EJKs to spur negative international opinion.

“There's no new wave of killings in the Philippines, just a political tactic of changing definitions,” Cayetano said in his opening statement. 

The Philippine delegation cited the Mr. Aquino's Administrative Order (AO) 35, which created an inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, referring to crimes committed against activists.

"Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much," Cayetano acknowledged.

"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 stressed.

Activists, however, said the Aquino AO "cannot be used solely to determine whether there is extra-judicial killings."

"It appears that the existence of such order is being used to provide a legal justification for the Government to deny the existence of drug-related killings," Cortez stressed.

Activists also claimed that "no conviction has been attained" in the cases recorded during the past administration. 

"Nor has there been swift and impartial prosecution and many of the State perpetrators have not been arrested to this day," Cortez added.

He said government accountability "can never be glossed over by task forces that have not rendered justice and have instead acted as elegant smokescreens to absolve the perpetrators."

Defending the government, Cayetano said the number of "homicides" under the current government is well within the annual figures of the past six years, which range from 11,000 to 16,000. 

Latest data from the national police cite 2,717 suspects killed during police operations since July 2016. The PNP states that of the 9,432 “homicide cases under investigation,” only 1,847 are “drug-related.” 

Cayetano stressed the government has nothing to do with these other killings, thus, the rejection of the tag EJKs.

UPR Watch said human rights violations continued during the first two review cycles in 2008 and 2012.

"To this date, no perpetrator of extra-judicial killings committed under present and past administrations (including Pres. Arroyo and Aquino) has been held accountable," the group said.

"Instead, several military and police officials responsible for human rights violations were promoted to higher positions in the military and police," it added.