BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and ASHZEL HACHERO
PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday urged Filipinos to strengthen efforts to promote and foster a healthy human rights environment as he said his government is committed to honoring its obligations under international human rights treaties.
The President, in a recorded message during the Human Rights Summit 2020 hosted by the Department of Justice, said events like the summit are an effective platform for the international community to enhance collaboration in the protection and upholding of human rights.
“I am proud that the Philippines is one of the few countries that signed many of the world’s core human rights treaties. This affirms our serious commitment in honoring and fulfilling our treaty obligations and prioritizing the human rights agenda as a means to achieve our country’s sustainable development goals,” he said.
Duterte said work in connection with the promotion of human rights, however, is “far from over” and everyone must pitch in to “strengthen the multi-sectoral engagement that would foster a healthy human rights environment for all.”
The three-day summit aims to promote justice and human rights as factors of peace, and promote swift and fair justice that is accessible to all.
The President, since assuming the presidency in 2016, has been at odds with some human rights an other groups critical of his administration’s war against drugs and anti-criminality campaign.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, at the summit, reiterated his assurance that there are enough safeguards against abuses in the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act.
The law signed by Duterte in July is subject of 37 petitions before the Supreme Court questioning its constitutionality.
Guevarra, expounding on the summit’s theme of “Peace is the Work of Justice,” talked of security challenges posed by radicalism, fundamentalism and terrorism as he cited as an example the 2017 attack of the ISIS-linked Maute terrorist group in Marawi City, resulting in five months of intense clashes between the groups and security forces, that ravaged the city.
He said restoration of peace in war-ravaged areas does not end with the rehabilitation of destroyed infrastructure. He said there should be accountability and justice because without it, victims of war and aggression will find neither security nor reason to trust society anew.
It is for this reason, Guevarra said, that peace should be not just about security but also ensuring that the rights and liberties of the people are recognized by law, and guaranteed by institutions through which they are enforced.
“It is this understanding that led us to amplify in the rules the protection accorded by the Anti-Terrorism Law to the exercise of civil and political rights that do not endanger life or public safety.The law excludes such exercise from its definition of acts of terror,” he said.
Petitioners in the SC, including former Vice President Jejomar Binay and retired SC justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales, said the anti-terrorism law is prone to abuses, aside from being unconstitutional.
The SC set oral argument on the consolidated petitions for next month.
Guevarra also said the DOJ is enhancing the capability of a task force probing politically-motivated killings and human rights abuses.
The task force is currently investigating the killings of Randall Echanis, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and and human rights activist Zara Lorenzo.
“To further strengthen the Task Force, we need to upgrade the investigation skills of our prosecutors who lead the composite teams of investigators for human rights cases,” Guevarra said.
The task force includes as members the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Armed Forces, PNP, NBI, and the Presidential Human Rights Committee.
Data showed that of the 385 cases handled by the task force since its creation up to December last year, 270 involved extra-judicial killings, 80 were torture cases, 28 enforced disappearances and seven involve violation of the International Humanitarian Law.
Of the 385 cases, the task force has managed to secure the conviction of only 13 while 127 were cleared or the cases dismissed.