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The rights of human wrongs


MANILA (UCAN): The Philippines presenting its progress in human rights to the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Paris is a bit like a Dr. Jekyll posing as Mr. Hyde.
Looking good is a tough call for a nation that officially promotes extrajudicial killing, is pushing to reintroduce the death penalty, operates secret detention centres and has a president encouraging his soldiers to use rape as a weapon of war.
Nevertheless, UCAN reported that the delegation from the Pearl of the Orient Seas battled hard at the May hearing to present a picture of an idyllic nation of staunch human rights promoters to the peer review of member states.
"There are a lot of facts that need to be clarified and put in proper context so our friends in the United Nations and the international community understand the extent of the problems of corruption and illegal drugs," the incoming Foreign Affairs secretary, Alan Cayetano, explained.
As chief obfuscator for the mission, he grabbed for the nearest branch, spiritualising the concrete by saying, "Filipinos are a very spiritual people. Regardless of our personal spiritual beliefs, we believe that man was created in the image of God and that there can be no compromise on human rights and dignity of human life."
However, as the peer review states still did not seem to get it, he quickened his stride with an absolute denial that the tough on drugs campaign is a government policy.
A clever distinction, as while the export of human labour is not policy either, it has become such an entrenched government activity that it is in practice a de facto policy.
The president's public praise for extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users reinforces that it is in effect at least a policy of practice with a high level blessing from the president.
But Cayetano may have stretched the friendship a bit far in suggesting that killings carried out by government agents are not government policy, as an amazing 95 member states immediately put up their hands to ask questions.
But before they could intervene, Cayetano had more, insisting that the president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, does not tolerate state-sponsored killings.
He then whipped a video out of his pocket showing the president urging police to detain drug syndicates and kill them only if they threatened the lives of police officers.
This no doubt explains why so many are shot in the back and while running away, sleeping in bed or standing around doing nothing, all apparently serious threats to the lives of police.
But while Cayetano got plenty of support from outside the Palais des Nations in Paris where the hearing was being held from a mob of Duterte supporters waving flags and singing his praises, he did not do so well inside the chamber.
In diplomatic language, 50 states expressed deep concern, which in these echelons is about as concerned as you can get, calling for accountability and proper investigations. A polite way of saying, "We don't believe you."
More than 20 nations reminded Cayetano that The Philippines is a signatory of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits any state party from restoring capital punishment.
And for good measure they added that lowering the age of criminal responsibility is something that decent people don't even think about.
The rate of enforced disappearances in The Philippines provoked concern, as did the routine torture carried out by the police and military, as well as threats to human rights advocates and violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Quite a list.
At least nine states recommended the country ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. But The Philippines has already baulked at this claiming, "All mechanisms are in place, being enhanced and functioning."
And 30 countries encouraged an end to the mass murders that characterise the tough on drugs campaign, or maybe more accurately tough on misery approach to the drug problem.
Cayetano's troops put forward a six-point presentation of the country's progress in human rights, saying it has consistently adopted and maintained a culture of promotion and protection of human rights; and shown that relevant institutions are all in place and functioning properly.
They then added the Presidential Human Rights Committee's role in developing an action plan prior to the next Universal Periodic Review and the encouragement to implement policy together with civil society.
They said that since 2012, The Philippines has made significant strides towards the promotion and protection of rights of the vulnerable sectors of society.
While a lot of things can be done with mirrors and sleight of hand, the brave attempt from Cayetano's crew certainly did better with the flag wavers on the outside of the building than with the peer reviewers on the inside.
In addition, much of the progress they presented also pertained to the era of the former president, Noynoy Aquino, a lot of which has since been undone.


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