Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the Government of the Philippines of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the Government of the Philippines of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

International human rights treaty bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, are important spaces where civil and constructive dialogues can take place towards helping States, such as the Government of the Philippines, improve its capacity in satisfying its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of all persons in their jurisdictions.

The concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the Philippines is best viewed as an objective assessment of the country’s strides, but also a strong reminder of the commitments of the government where it falls short.

We wish to echo the positive aspects raised by the Committee, including, among others, the passage of legislative measures prohibiting child marriage (Republic Act No. 11596); anti-age discrimination in employment (Republic Act No. 10911); anti-bullying (Republic Act No. 10627), and the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act (Republic Act No. 10368). The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has similarly and continuously acknowledged initiatives and policies of the Philippine government that are consistent with human rights standards and principles.

At the same time, the observations for improvement expressed by the Committee are consistent with the recommendations of the CHR to the Government of the Philippines, in view of our mandate as the country’s independent national human right institution (NHRI), where we build on our mutual goal of improving the way Filipinos and all persons in the country enjoy their rights.

CHR underscores the primacy of the rule of law and demanding accountability for all instances of human rights violations committed in the country—may they be for the alleged cases of extrajudicial killings linked to the previous administration’s campaign against drugs; instances of gender-based violence, including those against women and members of the LGBTQIA community; sexual exploitation of children; violations of the freedom of expression; aggressions against indigenous peoples and their communities; and threats and violence experienced by human rights defenders among others.

We highlight the role of an independent judiciary, including ensuring the fair and speedy disposition of cases and due process, so that “all violations are promptly, thoroughly, independently, and impartially investigated” and that victims receive justice as perpetrators are held to account.

CHR have also long stressed the value of dissent as means to challenge acts and polices that repress our rights and diminish the place of democratic values in our society. We reiterate our call for the passage of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, including an end to the practice of “red tagging” of human rights defenders, activists, and other advocates. We cannot and should never construe activism as an act of terrorism, but take it rather as sign of the rich tradition of democracy that needs protection. Similarly, we have raised concerns on the weaponisation of law to silence critics and perpetuate injustices. In our 2020 Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines, we have documented the aggressions and challenges experienced by lawyers, church groups, civil society organisations, and human rights defenders alike. The report also outlines recommendations to the government towards acknowledging the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and means on how to better protect and promote their rights.

We hope that the report of the Human Rights Committee helps the government in focusing its efforts and resources in building and implementing a more meaningful human rights agenda. Such call includes recognising and strengthening the work of CHR in the country as an embedded check-and-balance mechanism found in the 1987 Constitution against abuse of power. We continue to campaign for the passage of a CHR Charter fully compliant to the Paris Principles outlining the mandate and resources needed to operate as an independent and credible NHRI. CHR have also communicated with the Palace and have informed the Office of the President that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Sub-committee on Accreditation is expecting an open and transparent process that will be applied to the appointment of next CHR Commission en banc (CEB). We have also expressed that it is in the advantage of the government if there would be an issuance in the form of an executive decree or a legislation that will highlight the existence of an open, transparent, consultative, and participative process as we await for the remaining appointments to the CEB.

CHR remains faithful to its constitutional mandate with the delivery of its protection, promotion, policy, and prevention services. We continue to work with vulnerable sectors in addressing and forwarding their human rights concerns. More importantly, we continue to view the government as a valuable partner in improving the human rights situation in the country. Human rights, after all, is primarily a State obligation. CHR is ready, willing, and able to engage with the government, as well as civil society, in realising our collective goal of a just and humane society where the rights and dignity of all are upheld at all times. ###