UN told to pressure Philippines on media deaths

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE UNITED Nations (UN) Human Rights Council should put pressure on the Philippines to do something about recent journalist killings in the country, especially after its prison chief was implicated in one case, political analysts said at the weekend.

“These rampant killings of media practitioners tell the international community about the bleak human rights situation in the country, contrary to the pronouncements of the government,” Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He added that the UN should also seek updates on the government’s efforts to probe wrongful deaths in ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

Last week, Philippine police filed a complaint against suspended Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Q. Bantag for allegedly ordering the murder of radio broadcaster Percival C. Mabasa.

Mr. Bantag had denied involvement, saying he had nothing to gain from it.

The broadcaster’s YouTube channel, which had more than 200,000 subscribers, showed that he had been critical of Mr. Duterte and some officials.

The Justice chief left for Geneva last Friday to lead a team that will participate in the UN’s periodic review of the country’s human rights situation.

He said they would talk about government reforms for the justice system, including law enforcement and human rights, with UN member states on Nov. 14-16.

The Justice chief told the Human Rights Council last month the government plans to change the culture of the justice system, which he said was prone to delays.

The Philippines remained the seventh worst country in the world where journalists killers get away with murder, New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report on Nov. 2.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has said the Marcos administration would continue its probe of journalist murders and harassment.

“This will not stop the new administration from bolstering and strengthening our mechanisms,” DoJ spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV said in a Viber message on Nov. 3. “In fact, it will motivate us to investigate and prosecute with more vigor.“

In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the embassies of the Netherlands, Canada and France said journalist killings “curtail the ability of journalists to report the news freely and safely.”

Marlon M. Villarin, who teaches political science at the University of Santo Tomas, said the preliminary probe of Mr. Mabasa’s murder would test President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s human rights stance.

“UN member states assessing the country’s rights situation is significant because this gives the government the right platform to show the world that it is capable of respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and holding officials accountable for human rights abuses,” he said in a Viber message.

The Human Rights Council dealt victims of human rights violations in the Philippines a serious blow by failing to pass a resolution last month to ensure continued scrutiny of the country’s rights situation, Human Rights Watch earlier said.

In September, the global watchdog said rights abuses in connection with the Philippines’ deadly drug war continue under the Marcos administration.

Continued UN scrutiny of the Philippines is important because drug war killings are still common and police impunity for rights violations remained the norm, it added.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the government’s probe of human rights violations in connection with its anti-illegal drug campaign lacked transparency.

“The real challenge here is not only making international actors more forceful in scrutinizing the Philippine government, but also in using this visit as an opportunity for domestic actors to make the government and the public more willing to acknowledge and address the situation,” Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, said in a Messenger chat.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra in September said the country would block an investigation by the International Criminal Court of the war on drugs and ensure suspects are tried by local courts.

At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June last year. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

“The UN Rights Council can only rely on international acceptance of norms so much,” Mr. Juliano said. “If countries know they can persist in their anti-democratic course without massive impact on their economies and authority, these inquiries and international shaming will not matter much.“