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PIA Press Release

Top UN Human Rights official says RP doing the right thing

NEW YORK (26 October) -- The Philippines is doing the right thing when it comes to addressing the killings of activists and media by engaging with the international system, especially special rapporteurs, even on challenging issues.

This, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, Louise Albor, told Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita when the latter paid a courtesy call at her office here Wednesday as part of his mission to update Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Hilario L. Davide Jr. and UN officials on the current human rights situation in the Philippines.

The High Commissioner, according to Ermita, commended the Philippines for playing a lead role in developing human rights cooperation at the regional level such as championing an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Human Rights Mechanism.

For his part, Ermita told the High Commissioner that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had ordered all executives bodies to make the human rights issue a top priority.

He said that the observations of the Melo Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, have helped the Philippines focus on areas where gaps exist in rights protection, such as speed of trials and witness protection.

"If there is one positive development from the problem," said Ermita, "it is that all this attention has reawakened us to the need keep human rights at the forefront."

In a separate meeting later that day, the Executive Secretary, who is also the chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee back home, engaged directly with Alston who echoed the High Commissioner's observation on the country's wholehearted participation in the international process.

"The Philippines is a very good international citizen in that sense," Ermita quoted Alston as saying.

Aside from meeting the UN High Commissioner, Ermita's visit here is also a familiarization trip on the UN Human Rights system. The UN General Assembly begins discussions on human rights matters this week.

Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Purification C. V. Quizumbing, added her own analysis of the situation to the meetings. She observed that the government is taking measures but these "need to be complemented by a strengthened CHR, not necessarily by granting CHR prosecutorial powers but by giving us full financial independence."

Arbour told Ermita that Special Rapporteurs such as Philip Alston play an important part of the international human rights system "to energize the process on the domestic level", and to mobilize government that are willing to work on issues that are brought to light.

She cited the Philippines for being open to this process of scrutiny and dialogue, saying some countries refuse to even invite the Special Rapporteur. In February, the Philippines invited Alston to the country to look into the politically controversial issue and gave him full access to government and civil society.

Alston, according to Ermita, acknowledged the Philippine government's cooperation during the rapporteur's mission and said it was vital to fulfilling his mandate.

In both meetings, Ermita explained the measures being taken by government to resolve suspected extrajudicial killings. These include the investigations by the AFP into cases involving military personnel, and the directives from the Acting Secretary of Justice to expedite and prioritize such cases.

Ermita cited Administrative Order 181, which directs closer cooperation and coordination between investigators and prosecutors and the new Writ of Amparo which the Supreme Court has promulgated and took effect Oct. 24, United Nations Day.

He pointed out that new leadership in the Department of National Defense, the PNP and the interim leadership in the DOJ have injected new impetus to the agencies' efforts to bring perpetrators to justice. He showed news clipping where Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro said the military should uphold human rights at the Philippine Military Academy.

Measures on strengthening prosecution and the judicial were of particular interest to the High Commissioner, a former prosecutor for the International High Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and a former Supreme Court Justice in Canada.

The High Commissioner stressed the need to effectively protect witnesses to these killings, saying, in these cases "another level of protection required and has to be done with a completely different capacity."

Both Arbour and Alston welcomed the appointment of a civilian lawyer and lawmaker to the DND helm but Alston preferred to remain skeptical on the AFP investigation until results are announced.

Alston, who has consistently criticized the military for not doing enough in terms of internal discipline, assured Ermita that he recognized the "incredibly difficult and important job they have (in terms of national security) but they are doing themselves a disservice" if they are not seen to be acting on this problem.

Ermita informed both the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur that the President has specifically told the security and law enforcement establishments to ensure that rogue elements in uniform are not allowed to commit human rights violations.

On economic rights, Arbour welcomed the news that the President has allocated 10-billion pesos in the 2008 budget to alleviate poverty, as a way of promoting human rights.

Underlining that regional human rights protection is also important, she said the ASEAN Charter is much anticipated.

"We would like to see a regional system on human rights that is respectful of national sovereignty but also shows that neighbors can talk to each other," she said. (OPS) [top]

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