PHILIPPINES: UN General Assembly must reject the Philippines’ Human Rights Council bid

April 25, 2006

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: UN General Assembly must reject the Philippines’ Human Rights Council bid

On April 19, the government of the Philippines joined other Asian countries applying to be members of the new UN Human Rights Council. It also issued a pledge on human rights (which can be found at: Like some other Asian candidates for the council, there is a world of difference between the Philippines’ human rights pledge and human rights reality. The government talks up its ratification of seven international human rights treaties and a number of protocols, yet its record for implementation is dismal. Like other countries from the region, it purports to uphold human rights simply because of having agreed to do so–conveniently ignoring the fact that international laws are only meaningful when given effect in domestic law and practice. 


A look back at the concluding recommendations of UN Human Rights Committee to the Philippines in 2003 shows how little interest the government actually has in its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although the Committee raised concerns at the country’s “lack of appropriate measures to investigate” and “lack of measures taken to prosecute and punish the perpetrators” in killings of human rights defenders and journalists, the government has done nothing in response. On the contrary, recent times have seen an alarming increase in the number of activists killed, abducted and forcibly disappeared. Few perpetrators have been arrested, let alone identified. There is also no law enabling the families of disappeared persons to obtain any redress.

One of the main reasons that these incidents continue unabated is that there is no protection for witnesses and victims from further violence and killings. In other parts of Asia, the Philippines’ Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981) is sometimes held up as a good example of a law to give security to witnesses. But Filipinos know differently. For all practical purposes, the families and witnesses of killings in the Philippines get no security. As a result, the witnesses to killings and families of dead and disappeared victims refuse to cooperate with the authorities for fear of their own lives. Even immediate relatives who have witnessed the murder and abduction of their loved ones have kept silent for fear of the consequences if they seek redress.

These consequences are very real. Take the killing of activist Joel Reyes on 16 March 2005 in Panganiban, Camarines Norte. The lone witness to his case, Dario Oresca, was also slain before he could testify in court. Even though the local police were aware of threats against Oresca, he was not given any protection. In a letter to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the special investigator of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) at its regional office in Naga City, Raymundo de Silva, admitted as much. More recently, labour leader Rogelio Concepcion was forcibly disappeared on 6 March 2006. Despite the severity of this case and the serious ongoing threats to the lives and security of his family, they too have had no protection. 

The government’s failure to move RA 6981 from paper into reality flies against the UN committee’s concluding observation urging the Philippines “to adopt legislative and other measures to prevent such violations, in keeping with articles 2, 6 and 9 of the Covenant, and ensure effective enforcement of the legislation”. Apparently even existing legislation cannot be enforced. 


The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines, a body established under the Paris Principles, has also failed to intervene effectively to address the killings and other gross abuses there. When the government mentions in its pledge that the CHR is a constitutional body, presumably it is trying to impress the reader of the agency’s importance. In the Philippines, this means nothing. The CHR is a weak organisation which lacks power to effect its decisions. It has failed to push for implementation of important laws, such as RA 6981. Its personnel are political appointees who lack resources and training and have little notion of even basic human rights principles. 

For instance, when the regional office of the CHR in Tacloban City identified four military men allegedly involved in the brutal killing of peasants in Palo, Leyte on 21 November 2005, they gave assurances that the “appropriate charges” would be filed in court and that the victims would get financial assistance. Nothing has happened. And even if the case is filed in court, it will probably be dragged on for years, without any effective guarantees for the safety or future wellbeing of the victims and their families. In short, such commitments by the CHR, like those by the government of the Philippines to the UN, are empty. They have no basis in reality. 


The pledge to “improve access to justice of the poor and other vulnerable sectors of the society” is likewise highly questionable. The government acknowledged the need for judicial reform when the Supreme Court adopted the provisions of the Action Programme for Judicial Reform (APRJ). The APJR aims to eliminate judicial delays, a lack of court judges and prosecutors, inadequate resources and inadequate compensation for court personnel, among other things. But it has been implemented at a snail’s pace. Public lawyers and public prosecutors still fail to perform their jobs to a minimum standard: the people who suffer most are the poor and vulnerable. Again, the government appears to have no genuine interest in addressing the problem.  

This is evident in the case of three victims in General Santos City who were allegedly illegally arrested and subsequently tortured by police on 24 April 2002. Despite a strict order from the head of the Public Attorney’s Office that District Attorney Yolanda Ogena must provide legal assistance and look into the allegations of torture, Ogena has failed to meet the victims or do as instructed. The victims have had to shoulder high legal costs, and meanwhile their complaint has not been investigated. The case has been pending for three years due to procedural delays, mostly caused by the prosecutor and judge failing to conduct hearings on scheduled dates.


Although the Philippines has acceded to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) it has failed to enact an enabling law to criminalise torture in conformity with the CAT. A proposed bill is facing undue delays. In this light, the government’s pledge to “strengthen domestic support for the ratification of the Optional Protocol on CAT and Second Optional Protocol on ICCPR” has no meaning. What is the point in ratifying protocols to international laws that are not themselves enforced? If the government is really committed to eliminating torture, why not start with a domestic law and an independent investigative agency to enforce it? Torture victims have long been denied the possibility of having their complaints investigated, perpetrators prosecuted, adequate medical rehabilitation granted, security guaranteed and compensation awarded. Why not look into the endemic use of torture by the country’s police and military? 

Even attempts at protesting against torture in the Philippines meet with a stiff response. On 21 April 2006, 20 youths had their placards and leaflets confiscated outside the headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City. The protestors, who were calling for an end to police torture and an investigation of the alleged brutal torture of 11 peers detained in La Trinidad, Benguet, were told by arrogant police officers that they were acting illegally. Such is the commitment of the Philippine authorities to the rights of torture victims and freedom of expression. Two of the victims in this case who are minors are reportedly also still being held in custody together with adults, breaching domestic law and going against the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to the Philippines on 21 September 2005, which urged the government to ensure that such illegal detention of children with adults does not occur. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the UN General Assembly to reject the candidacy of the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council. Ratification of international laws means nothing if not made real through domestic laws, agencies, arrests and prosecutions. The government of the Philippines has done none of this. It shows no genuine intent in implementing international human rights standards. Its commitments are meaningless. They cannot be believed. Its record is stained with the blood of victims. Its only achievement has been to deepen frustration and distrust among ordinary Filipinos. 

The election of the Philippines to the Human Rights Council would run contrary to everything for which the council should stand. It will be a farce and an injustice, and serve only as an obstacle to the effective functioning of the council. No, the Philippines does not deserve this seat. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-076-2006
Countries : Philippines,