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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Philippines Calls for Prudence Amid Allegations on Human Rights Record

Secretary Martin Andanar Facebook Page Photo

GENEVA, Switzerland -- The Philippines urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to reassess baseless claims made against the government on the alleged impunity and human rights violations, and exercise due diligence in dealing with terrorist groups masquerading as human rights defenders.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar delivered the Philippine dignitary statement at the High-Level Segment of the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council on Wednesday, February 26, highlighting the Duterte administration’s policy on media freedom and human rights.

“We repeat the call for prudence in assessing claims particularly from sources who have enjoyed the hallowed status of human rights defenders while waging the longest insurgency in Asia and terrorizing communities in the Philippines,” said Secretary Andanar, who is the first Philippine Communications Secretary to speak before the Human Rights Council.

Secretary Andanar stated that discussions on the human rights situation of the country have been influenced by the same organizations that have been labeled as terrorists by the EU, US, UK and Canada and that these groups claim legitimate anti-insurgency actions as red-tagging, curtailment of civic space, and weaponization of bureaucracy against their armed struggle.

“That actors who profess terrorism are able to exploit the mantle protecting human rights defenders is a failure of due diligence on the part of the UN system. This can be rectified,” he added.

Sec Martin Andanar Facebook Page Photo

Secretary Andanar said that while the Human Rights Council remains vital in promoting human rights across the globe, it had to be free of politicization to preserve its credibility and integrity.

“The Philippines speaks from experience as a victim of arbitrary action by the Council. We regret that discussions on the human rights situation in the country have been swayed by baseless allegations, and that the Council has failed to exhaust mechanisms for constructive, reasonable, and fact-based discourse,” Secretary Andanar said.

Secretary Andanar noted, for instance, the unsubstantiated claims from civil society and non-government organizations that the Duterte administration has committed 30,000 extra-judicial killings related to the anti-illegal drug campaign, and said that the Council cannot base its actions on unfounded claims but to look instead to the tangible accomplishments of and the strong public support for the government

The Communications chief also highlighted the Duterte administration’s policy to expand and strengthen the space for a free and empowered media, evident in two of the first orders the President issued when he assumed office in June 2016.

He cited the creation of the landmark issuance of the Freedom of Information (FOI) program— now being pushed in Congress by the PCOO to have it widened and institutionalized— which discloses all government records of public interest; the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), which is mandated to protect the life, liberty, and security of media workers, considered to be the first of its kind in Asia; and the government’s push for the Media Workers’ Welfare Act, in order to improve the working conditions of media practitioners in the country.

Sec Martin Andanar Facebook Page Photo
Secretary Andanar also noted the verdict of a local Philippine court in December 2019, in favor of 32 media workers slain in the Ampatuan massacre, leading to the conviction of 43 individuals including police officers, local officials, and members of the Ampatuan political clan.

“The Philippines has always valued press freedom. We are deeply conscious that having a plurality of voices, including critical ones, is essential in the healthy functioning of our cherished democracy. Its relationship with other human rights is deep, intricate, and abiding,” Secretary Andanar said.

The Presidential Communications Secretary further said that being a former media practitioner he can reject criticisms that cases involving media personalities and outlets are attacks on press freedom and that said criticisms are false and self-serving because the cases involve criminal and constitutional violations.

“Thus, allegations of restrictions of media space in the Philippines do not find anchor in such a landscape that is driven by a vision to address impunity, preserve press freedom, and promote the welfare of media workers,” Secretary Andanar said.

Moreover, the PCOO Secretary lauded the tens of thousands of Filipino civic leaders and organizations whose works embody lawful, free, and empowered social activism, affirming the government's recognition of their indispensable role in nation-building.

“In conclusion, the accomplishments of the Philippine government under President Duterte stand solidly on an agenda of social inclusion, just and sustained peace, good governance, as well as a strong tradition of human rights and social justice, under a democratic system of government. Protecting freedom of the press and other fundamental freedoms will remain at the heart of this agenda,” Secretary Andanar said as he ended his speech.

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