Marcos forms special body on human rights

Marcos forms special body on human rights

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday told the local government of Zamboanga to prepare for extreme weather patterns. 

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. KJ ROSALES/PPA POOL

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has issued Administrative Order No. 22 creating what the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) described as an interagency “super body” tasked to “enhance [government] mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.”

Critics, however, called the move an attempt by his administration to evade accountability for and window-dress the country’s human rights situation.


“A Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination is hereby created under the (Presidential Human Rights Committee)… [which] shall be in charge of sustaining initiatives and accomplishments of the (United Nations Joint Program on Human Rights) in the areas of law enforcement, criminal justice, and policy-making,” Marcos said in the order signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on May 8, which will take effect immediately upon its publication.


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The issuance of AO 22 came just as Malacañang said it had given the Department of Justice (DOJ) instructions to prepare a legal brief to list the legal options the President may take once the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant on former President Rodrigo Duterte and others who played a key role in the past administration’s drug war.

The PCO later clarified that the preparation of a legal brief did not mean the government was changing its stand on its refusal to recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction to investigate Duterte for alleged crimes against humanity over the drug war killings.

According to PCO Secretary Cheloy Garafil, the legal brief is part of “standard procedure” to ensure “that our administration remains prepared for any scenario.”

Under AO 22, the special committee will be composed of Bersamin as chair and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla as cochair, with Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos as members.

Described by the PCO as a “super body,” the committee is also mandated to “strengthen existing mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights.”


READ: Groups say human rights in PH remain under threat even after Duterte

Committee’s functions

The new body will cover matters like “investigation and accountability,” “data-gathering on alleged human rights violations by law enforcement agencies,” and “expanding civic space and engagement with [the] private sector.”

It will also tackle matters involving “national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up” and a “human rights-based approach toward drug control.”

“For this purpose, the special committee may, whenever necessary, invite as member and/or observer such other government agencies, including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Dangerous Drugs Board and Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center,” Marcos said in AO 22.

According to him, the super body is also tasked to “facilitate access to redress mechanism by victims of human rights violations.”

“[The committee shall] monitor and ensure effective implementation of government policies and programs aimed at upholding and protecting human rights of persons deprived of liberty, particularly in guaranteeing that no one is subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment,” he said.

The PCO did not reply to queries about concerns that the “special committee” usurps or duplicates the functions of the CHR.

But in issuing the order, the President cited the significance of maintaining and intensifying the accomplishments of the United Nations for the Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP).

He said the imminent expiration of the UNJP on July 31 raised the need for the government to “[institutionalize] a strong and healthy multistakeholder process for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.”

The country is a state party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Its state-party involvement led to the creation of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) to comply with the Philippines’ obligations to international human rights groups.

The PHRC is also tasked with formulating a National Human Rights Action Plan.

Critics weigh in

For Carlos Conde, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, the committee’s lack of an accountability mechanism and independence from government influence was a cause for concern.

“On paper, the special committee’s aim are laudable. God knows institutionalizing respect for and protection of human rights in the Philippines is of utmost concern,” Conde told the Inquirer. “However, I view the creation of this committee with some concern… [The] committee will function mainly as a propaganda tool of the government to respond to criticism of the government’s dismal human rights record.”

He also noted that the special committee did not have UN or civil society participation.

“Even the CHR is not included and will only be optional. The committee is composed of government agencies that have a poor record when it comes to accountability for human rights abuses,” Conde said.

“The human rights situation under Marcos demands accountability. That is the key need of the moment. If Marcos really wants to ensure accountability, he needs to keep the CHR independent and give it all the resources it needs,” he added.

Bayan Muna executive vice president Carlos Isagani Zarate echoed a similar sentiment, saying that there was “nothing special regarding this committee as it is just another bureaucratic layer to make the Marcos Jr. administration acceptable in the community of nations where human rights is of paramount concern.”

“If Marcos Jr. is truly sincere in the promotion and protection of human rights, his administration should start by abolishing the [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], the main government machinery created by his disgraced predecessor that promotes and enables the massive and grave violation of human rights in the country these past years and until now,” Zarate said.

Human rights group Karapatan called the committee “a desperate attempt to window-dress the grave human rights situation in the country.”

“With its premise of addressing human rights issues through mere ‘coordination,’ one cannot expect much from this ‘special committee,’” Karapatan said in a statement. “It will go the way of the Inter-Agency Committee created under Administrative Order No. 35 tasked to resolve extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations of human rights, which has a pitiful record.”

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Amnesty International, in a statement, said: “The government doesn’t need a ‘super body’ to champion human rights. What it needs to do is accept and implement the recommendations of the UNHRC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and get serious about returning to the ICC. What the President needs to do is to walk the talk — address and resolve human rights violations by leaning in on the proposals presented by Amnesty International in its annual report and human rights legislative agenda.”


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