By PhilRights Staff

Welcome to HR Insights, a weekly roundup of human rights news in the Philippines. This week…

US State Department Report and European Parliament Resolution Express Grave Concern on PH Human Rights Situation

The US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2017 for the Philippines noted that extrajudicial killings are still a chief human rights concern in the Philippines.  Rappler reports that the US State Department has monitored that EJKs saw a “sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, [and] they continued in 2017.”

Only a day earlier, the European Parliament issued a resolution calling for the end to the bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign, the release of jailed senator Leila de Lima and the removal of human rights defenders from the government’s list of terrorists. Rappler quotes the Party of European Socialists on the voting turnout for the resolution describing European lawmakers having voted for its passage “by a large majority.”

Predictably, the government’s responses to both have been swift and combative. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano framed his response, saying “We do not need others who think they know better than us Filipinos to tell us what to do,” further adding that Philippine sovereignty deserves respect. Cayetano also insists on the noxious claim that the government’s bloody policy on drugs “seeks to promote the welfare and protect the human rights of all Filipinos – to save lives, to preserve families, to protect communities, and to stop the country from sliding into a narco-state.”

The Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, said that the Philippines should view the US State Department report as constructive criticism. In an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel, CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said that “There is a golden opportunity for the Philippine government to show that indeed our criminal justice system is working. It is important that we show our investigations are moving towards accountability.”

Rights group Karapatan criticized the government’s response and accused them of whitewashing human rights violations in the Philippines. Karapatan also applauded the European Parliament resolution denouncing the Philippines’ bloody drug policy.

Bulacan Anti-Drug Operations Yield 14 Dead

CNN Philippines reports that 14 suspects were killed and 91 were arrested after a series of police operations in Bulacan. The Bulacan Provincial Police Office, markedly transparent and proud with their kill record, shared via a press release that 67 people have died in anti-illegal drug operations in the province since December 2017. The report also recalled how President Duterte praised Bulacan police’s notorious August 2017 killing spree, then saying “Makapatay lang tayo ng [If we kill] another 32 every day, maybe we can fix what ails this country” last August 2017.

PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde was quoted by Manila Bulletin saying that the Bulacan operations were normal, even praising Bulacan’s police commander as “hardworking.”

Presidential Spox Harry Roque has Own Human Rights Investigation

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who rose to prominence with his human rights work as a lawyer, has announced that he is “halfway done” working with the police to collect information about the killings resulting from anti-illegal drug operations.

Roque’s investigation stems from his concurrent capacity as the presidential adviser on human rights. The Philippine Star quotes Roque: “So, in a few months, I will have a file each for every killing reported by the PNP, indicating that there was no excessive use of force; and if there is a reason to file charges against the killers, then I will encourage the filing of charges to put an end to criticisms that nothing is being done.”

And yet, he seems to have already made up his mind on police accountability. In the same press briefing, Roque also had this to say: “We will reach the point when we will confidently say, ‘We have the data. We have the facts,’ and we are confidently able to say, ‘All the killings were done in a legal manner.’”

BI Cancels Sr. Pat’s Missionary Visa

The Bureau of Immigration has cancelled the missionary visa of Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun and missionary who has lived and worked in the Philippines for 27 years, according to a report by SunStar Manila.

The order requires Sr. Pat to leave the Philippines within 30 days.

Rappler reported on Sr. Pat’s reaction to the order, quoting her as saying “I am still hoping for a chance to explain how I see my mission as a religious sister and maybe the decision can be reconsidered.”

It can be recalled that Immigration officials apprehended Sr. Pat earlier this month for alleged violations of her stay by engaging in what the government calls partisan political activities. She is known as a staunch ally of farmer and indigenous peoples’ groups.

In an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel, Commissioner Chito Gascon of the Commission on Human Rights said that foreign nationals should have the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly while here in the country.

PH Ranks 133rd in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index

Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), a Paris-based press freedom watchdog group, placed the Philippines at 133rd in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, dropping six notches from its 127th place in 2017. The group noted that President Duterte’s verbal attacks on the press as well as other examples of harassment contributed to the lower score.

Reporting on the ranking, the Philippine Star also listed the government’s moves that were meant to curtail press freedom in the country, including the revocation of Rappler’s licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the barring of one of Rappler’s reporters from covering the Malacanang beat, and President Duterte’s threat to block the franchise renewal of television network ABS-CBN.

Read the 2018 World Press Freedom Index report on the Philippines here.

MUST READ: SunStar Cebu’s Reporting on Cebu’s Oplan Tokhang Implementation  

Sunstar recently released a four-part special report detailing Oplan Tokhang’s implementation in Cebu.

The first part of the special report reveals serious gaps in the Cebu community-based treatment (CBT) programs, noting that over 40,000 drug users have not undergone rehabilitation.

Part two looks into the role of the Catholic Church in Cebu in rehabilitation of drug users. It notes that at least 10 parishes in Cebu are providing rehabilitation to over 100 drug users.

Part three covers the challenges faced by former drug users in seeking sustainable employment. It reports on the “aftercare” phase of rehabilitation where former drug users are referred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and a few other government agencies for skills training and livelihood opportunities.

The series ends with a much needed look into who are the most vulnerable populations for drug abuse. It notes that “knowledge about the ill effects of drugs won’t be enough to keep people away from them,” adding that factors such as mental health and growing up in marginalized communities have a way of making drugs an attractive option for people.

The entire series is worth a read, offering a fairly balanced look into the drug problem, acknowledging the government’s many lapses in policy and implementation, while introducing some much needed nuance in the discourse of drug abuse.

Read the series: part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4.

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