MALAYA: Gov’t says it’s willing to defend human rights record anew before UN

By REGINA BENGCO and
ANTHONY IAN CRUZ
Malaya
March 28, 2008

MALACAÑANG yesterday said the Philippine government is willing to meet with United Nations officials again to defend the human rights record of the country in view of allegations that it has not made any progress in prosecuting those involved in extrajudicial killings since 2001.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), which held a press conference with the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on Thursday to describe the government’s human rights report as replete with “falsehoods and inaccuracies,” has asked the UN Human Rights Council to take the Philippines to task for its alleged failure to prosecute military personnel involved in extrajudicial killings.

The group reportedly said no military official has been convicted for the killings despite the findings of UN special rapporteur Philip Alston and the Melo Commission of military involvement in the death of political activists.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Presidential Human Rights Commission (PHRC) chaired by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita would address the issue and “they are prepared to meet with the international agency.”

Asked if Malacañang would send Ermita again to defend the government’s human rights performance before the UN, he said: “I don’t have the details but this is something we take seriously. I am sure that government will make the appropriate explanation to the international community.”

The UNHRC will review the Philippines’ human rights performance in April 11
.

The Philippines sent Ermita to New York last October to meet with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to defend the country’s human rights record in anticipation of a damaging report by Alston.

Ermita, who was accompanied by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chief Purificacion Quisumbing, told the international body that the government is exerting efforts to solve the cases of extrajudicial killings.

He also said some of the killings were perpetrated by the New People’s Army as part of its internal purge.

HRW deputy director for Asia Elaine Pearson said that “a pause in political killings will mean little in the long run unless those responsible are prosecuted. Of the hundreds of political killings since 2001, not a single military official has been convicted.”

HRW said the Philippine report includes specific measures to address the killings, including the implementation of the findings of the Melo Commission, but the group’s research found the government “has in fact accomplished very little and (its actions) seem designed to merely deflect domestic and international criticism.”

Dismissing the “list of actions” found in the report as “window-dressing,” Pearson said the outcome of the UN review of the Philippines’ human rights record may impact on its standing before the UN and the international community and as well as its chances of getting reelected to the world human rights body.

FLAG’s Cookie Diokno, on the other hand, accused the government of lacking in forthrightness in refusing to say in the report that “different methodologies” were used to calculate poverty and therefore “manipulate poverty data and statistics.”

Diokno said the Asian Development Bank in its January 2005 report on poverty in the country recognized the Arroyo government’s use of “two different sets of data” for poverty measurement. FLAG said this has resulted in “a cosmetic decline in both the poverty and subsistence incidence among Filipino families.”

Diokno also said the report was silent on rising incidence of hunger, rising costs of basic goods and petroleum products, the implications of moves to privatize state hospitals.

Karapatan spokesperson Ruth Cervantes said members of their group have been in Geneva, Switzerland since early this month lobbying for support for the victims of extrajudicial killings. She said their leaders will present their own version of a country report on April 3.

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