By Arjay L. Balinbin
ANALYSTS sought for comment on Sunday bared options for the government in responding to the call of the United Nations’ (UN) human rights experts for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.
“For the moment, the government should take the call for what it is. The human rights experts are simply expressing an opinion. As I understand it, there is no official declaration yet from the UN. Hence, there is no need on the part of the administration to be alarmed or be defensive about it,” lawyer and senior research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco of the Ateneo Policy Center said in an email.
He added that the government, instead of “immediately expressing aversion” to the call, should “point out” that there is an existing office, which is the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), responsible for the issues being raised.
Also in an email, University of the Philippines Political Science professor Maria Ela L. Atienza said the government and President Rodrigo R. Duterte “may once again ignore this strongly-worded call from the UN human rights experts due to the high popularity ratings of the President and the recent success of senatorial candidates he endorsed in the May elections, which the government interpreted as people’s continued support for the war on drugs.”
She further said, “But the Philippines cannot stop the UN and other human rights bodies to have an independent probe into the killings as a result of the war on drugs.”
“With the UN and international media’s eyes on the Philippines, local rights groups, the Commission on Human Rights, and those who oppose the war on drugs have some external support for their continued work and advocacies.”
In a statement on Saturday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo slammed the said 11 UN experts, saying that the Philippine judiciary “sees to it that the law is applied equally to all.”
He said the call by the UN special rapporteurs is an “outrageous interference on Philippine sovereignty.”
Mr. Yusingco said being “overly sensitive” on the matter makes the administration “look like it is hiding something and is afraid of being found out.”
He further said the Palace’s “quick reaction to reject the proposal does not portray an administration that has nothing to worry about.”
“The administration should have reserved its indignation against an investigation on the high number of drug war-related deaths when the UN itself calls for it. It is only in this instance when Philippine sovereignty is under threat.”
Also sought for comment, UP Political Science assistant professor Perlita M. Frago-Marasigan said via chat: “The administration has three possible options: first, it can subject itself to such investigation and, in the process, it can put to rest all claims that the Duterte government is above the law; second, it can reassert the sovereignty of the state and continue acting as though the government is above the law; and third, it can ignore it and create an alternative truth to tell.”
Ms. Atienza noted that despite the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Philippines remains an active member of the UN and is a “signatory to a number of declarations on human rights.”
For that reason, she said the “UN and other human rights groups, including groups in the Philippines, continue to express concern about the country’s human rights record.”
For its part, the CHR said in a statement on Saturday that the government should “give serious attention” to this move. “We believe that this call by the UN experts is the good opportunity for the government to address questions on the human rights situation in the country, instead of dismissing it again as propaganda. Let now an independent probe test the government’s commitment to the respect and protection of human rights, as well as international human rights standards, in the interest of the welfare of every Filipino,” it said.