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on the
Philippine presentation at the UPR before the UNHRC

Chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales
31 May 2012

Contrary to earlier reports that the Philippines would be grilled for its human rights record, the Government presentation went rather smoothly, with appreciation from the member countries of the efforts of government but also with reminders and recommendations to improve on its human rights record.

The Philippine delegation presented the human rights situation with emphasis on the efforts made by government to address the economic and social needs of the citizens, based on the argument that violations of civil and political rights derive substantially from unmet economic and social needs.

While this argument makes sense, there was rather a lack of a more comprehensive explanation that the historical roots of rebellion result from the absence of good governance and the lack of adequate delivery of basic and social services at the citizen's doorstep.

NEDA for instance is hailed as the only development authority in the world that has framed its development program on a human rights-based perspective. Yet a year-and-a-half later, nothing more is said of translating this program down to the village level. Hence, with the continuing absence of grassroots governance that delivers basic and social services to the sitio residents, rebels will almost always be around to exploit the situation and advance their political agenda. Inevitably, these become contested areas between the rebels and the security forces and extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture are the result with the people of the depressed communities the victims.

While there appears to be sincerity on the part of government in addressing the social and economic rights of the citizens, this commitment is not yet spelled out in clear baselines, indicators and timelines within an integrated, holistic and strategic program with defined concrete and practical goals.

Not much was said in the UPR discussion about the structural reforms that have been initiated by the current administration: an intensive drive to clean government of corruption; the cleansing of the Voters’ List in Muslim Mindanao to pave the ground for the genuine exercise of the right of suffrage by the voters of the area; a strong message calling on public accountability by the highest leaders of government - from the past President to the sitting Chief Justice; and the conviction of some 72 people involved in human trafficking.

While the people hail the government on these concrete gains, it is time that convictions come from the courts of those guilty of extra-judicial killings, torture and enforced disappearance. The government has yet to spell out a concrete program of action for the investigation and successful prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of these crimes.

This was reflected in the question and answer portion, with each country asking questions quite diplomatically. On the one hand, there was in large part an appreciation of the 16-point agenda of the Aquino government that underscores larger public spending for its social contract agenda with the people, and of the number of international human rights instruments passed recently including their domestication in statutes.

On the other hand, there was a clear pattern of questions regarding impunity, the failure as yet to eradicate extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, especially from the military and police forces; the failure of the military to control paramilitary forces like the CAFGUS; the sorry state of detainees in detention and the delay of the judicial process in addressing concerns within the jail system.

There were also a number of questions that addressed the need to strengthen the CHRP as an institution and, in this regard, (although not mentioned) to pass the Charter Bill of the CHR in order to give it the teeth needed for the increasing demands on human rights protection and prevention of violations. There were several questions on reproductive health and gender equality alongside protection of LGBT rights. There were several suggestions to mainstream human rights in the state agenda.

Positively, the Philippine delegation under the DOJ leadership committed to studying the recommendations and, where these are feasible, to get on board civil society groups like the Human Rights Watch and the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) like the CHR in collectively working out the process of implementing the recommendations for the enhancement of human rights on the ground.

What is little known is the fact that the UPR is a universal and holistic mechanism whose over-all aim is to work for the actual implementation of human rights on the ground. The review process, the reporting, the dialogue are simply tools to realize this end, as underscored by experts on the field. Thus, the responsibility to enforce human rights anchored on human rights instruments to which the Philippines is a state party is the primary obligation of the State. The Commission on Human Rights and the civil society groups take independent positions but must cooperate in helping government enforce its human rights agenda. #