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Palace looks at ‘positive aspects’ of US report on human rights

Relatives of victims of government’s deadly drug war gather at the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) in August 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA – Malacañang is looking at the brighter side of a United States report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, which found that killings, human rights violations and threats against the media had persisted last year. 

In a statement Saturday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said “we prefer to see the glass full and focus on the positive aspects of the report.” 

“We urge the public to read the report in its entirety that they may not be deceived by intended negative and false commentaries,” he said in a statement. 

He cited the “objectivity and balance” of the US report, saying such “reflects” the US government’s appreciation of the Duterte administration’s governance agenda anchored on fighting corruption, criminality and illegal drugs.

 ‘Developments’

Panelo pointed out that the report mentioned “developments” in the Duterte administration’s drug war. The assessment, he said, is “respectful of the government’s deeper challenges.”

The report acknowledged that the government investigated reported human rights abuses, but only in a “limited number.”

“Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of police killings, but he said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures,” it stated. 

‘Civilian control’

Panelo said the report cited that “government civilian control over its law enforcers is exercised” in the country.

The report recognized that civilian control over police had “improved,” adding however that it “was not fully effective.”

“The government confirmed a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service in December 2016, after an eight-year hiatus,” the report noted. 

 ‘Surrenderees’

Panelo said the State Department reported the millions of individuals surrendered under the anti-illegal drugs campaign.

But the report raised a lot of concerns about this:

“There were reports that some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the violent antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor, exercise, or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law.”

“Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender due to fear for their lives.”

“The PNP’s Women and Children’s Protection Center reported in late 2016 that approximately 38,000 minors surrendered to authorities in response to the antidrug campaign. As the legal status of those voluntarily surrendering remained ambiguous, it was not clear that these minors were being treated as required by law.”

‘Speedy trial’

Panelo said the report acknowledged “government’s efforts to promote speedy disposition of inmate cases.”

The report noted the continued efforts of the Supreme Court “to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary.”

It said the government implemented several requirements during trial procedures for the benefit of persons accused, “except for the right to a speedy trial.”

‘Assist children in conflict’

Panelo said the State Department recognized the government’s assistance to children in conflict with the activation of 16 rehabilitation centers nationwide as well as the mobilization of local government unit’s youth centers to provide protection, care, training and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth. 

It was indeed mentioned in the report. But it also noted that police stations in some cases “ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly.”

‘Free, fair and well-organized elections’

Panelo said the report cited the “free, fair and well-organized” conduct of the barangay or village-level elections in May 2017.
The report did not describe the elections as “well-organized,” citing instead that the village polls originally scheduled for October 2016 were twice postponed and rescheduled.

It said that there were reports of widespread vote-buying and that “dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices.” 

At least 50 people were killed from 28 incidents of election-related violence during the campaign and on election day, it added.

The US State Department has been producing annual human rights reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states since 1977.