UN report says PHL gov’t targeting women defenders of human rights

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WOMEN HUMAN rights defenders are being targeted in the Philippines, a United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur said in his report to the UN Human Rights Council.

The 20-page Jan. 10 report by Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, reviewed the obstacles women human rights defenders face around the world. In the Philippines, the report cited the situation of Senator Leila M. De Lima, ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, and Rappler chief executive officer Maria A. Ressa.

“Women leaders who represent their groups and speak out on issues tend to be targeted for their visibility — not only to silence them but also to discourage broader dissent,” the report stated.

The Council, which will hold its 40th session on Feb. 25 to Mar. 22.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo has yet to respond to queries for comment as of this reporting. However, Mr. Panelo pointed out in an interview with ANC on Monday that there are still many critics of President Rodrigo R. Duterte who are not being charged.

“Even if those persons were not subject of criticism of the President, if the evidence shows they committed a crime, they will be facing charges in court. Like (Ms.) Sereno, it was a case of… nonfiling of the SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth). With respect to (the) former Justice Secretary, her case is different, drug involvement. The President has nothing to do with it,” Mr. Panelo said.

Asked about a common denominator in the respective cases of these women, Mr. Panelo said, “They (are) perceived to have committed crimes, (regarding) which,…as far as the prosecutor is concerned, there is probable cause. And as far as the court is concerned, there is probable cause….There are so many people critical of the President who are not being sued.”

The UN report noted that Ms. De Lima has been in detention for almost two years for denouncing the President’s campaign against illegal drugs.

“She has been held on politically motivated, non-bailable charges for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002; while in detention, she has been subject to restrictions,” the report stated.

It also pointed out that Ms. Sereno was removed as Chief Justice after she objected to Mr. Duterte’s policies on illegal drugs and martial law.

Ms. Ressa has been charged with tax evasion, which the report cited as “political persecution in response to critical reporting on the government.”

In his report’s recommendations, Mr. Forst called on UN member states to protect the rights of women defenders, “by taking a stand against all State and non-State actors who violate” their rights.

Another UN panel has also raised concerns on the government’s treatment of Ms. De Lima. Last year, the UN Human Rights Council-Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNHRC-WGAD) called on the Philippine government to free the senator. It also referred Ms. De Lima’s case to three UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, violence against women, and independence of judges and lawyers. — Camille A. Aguinaldo





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