Report to the UN CESCR: Philippine government still in a state of denial on human rights issues

Posted: November 12, 2008 in Uncategorized

News Release
November 12, 2008

(GENEVA) The Philippine government remains in a state of denial on important issues of human rights. This was the observation made by the umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and the human rights group Karapatan during the Philippine report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It was the first time since 1995 that the Phililppine government submitted a report, a fact pointed out by the Committee.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by its States parties. The Committee was established under ECOSOC Resolution 1985/17 of 28 May 1985 to carry out the monitoring functions assigned to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Part IV of the Covenant.

All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially within two years of accepting the Covenant and thereafter every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

The Philippine delegation was led by Erlinda Basilio and was joined by Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, Assistant Secretary Evan Garcia of the DFA, Ricardo Gloria of the Department of Labor and Employment as well as representatives from the Department of Justice and the National Economic Development Authority.

When asked on the measures taken by the Philippine government to address issues of extrajudicial killings and abductions, Mr. Denis Lepatan, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippine Mission to the UN, said that many of the figures cited by human rights group Karapatan were fictitious, and that some victims were even non-existent. He said that only 14% of the figures cited by Karapatan were “probable” cases of extrajudicial killings.

When asked if there was a connection between agrarian issues and extrajudicial killings, Lepatan said there were no estabilshed links, but did not elaborate.

“On the quesiton of extrajudicial killings, the standard government reponse is to deny the gravity of the problem and attack the credibility of the human rights organizations and victims. This is being repeated here in Geneva during the ESCR review. The Philippine government is still denying the well-established fact that extrajducial killings are a serious and continuing problem in the country,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

“There have been recent cases of extrajudicial killings, many involving peasant leaders. In fact, 60% of the activists who were killed belong to the peasant movement. It is sheer dishonesty to say that there is no established links between agrarian issues and the killings. It is no coincidence that the farmers fighting for land are being labeled as communist sympathizers and then killed,” said Karapatan secretary general Maria Hilao-Enriquez added.

Committee member Mr. Andrzej Rzeplinski asked what the government was doing to address the murderers of trade union leaders, saying that a major effort is needed to track down perpetrators and prevent crimes. The DOJ representative could only cite the arrest of of the alleged killer of Central Azucarera de Tarlac union leader Ricardo Ramos. This appeared to be the only case that made progress among the many deaths of trade union leaders and union activists.

A day before the scheduled Philippine report, a Bayan Muna coordinator and labor leader in a banana plantation in Davao del Norte was assassinated by unidenfited gunmen. Rolando Antohilao, 39 sustained seven gun-shot wounds.

The Philippine panel also failed to explain why poverty has increased despite claims of annual growth in the Gross Domestic Product. Government data showed a 36% poverty incidence despite a yearly average growth of 5% in the GDP. This phenomenon led Mr. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, a committee member, to remark that it may appear that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

When asked why the Philippine government has not signed the Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, the DFA’s Lepatan said that they found no need to because the Philippines’ Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act is already “superior to Convention 169”. This remark puzzled committee member Mr. Jaime Marchan Romero who thought that the Philippines should all the more sign the convention since it had a domestic law on indigenous peoples.

The session on the Philippines continues on November 12. Bayan and Karapatan were among the Philippine-based organizations present at the Philippine session. They were also able to meet with Committee members to brief them on the NGO reports. ###

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