Human rights defenders, journalists, artists, and other groups welcomed the recommendations put forth by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan.
In a press conference, on February 3, organizations who had actively engaged with Khan during her ten-day official visit called on the Philippine government to heed the recommendations of the UN independent expert.
Ronalyn Olea, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), thanked Khan for recognizing the problem of impunity, which the Philippine government has refused to acknowledge.
In her initial findings, Khan pointed out that only ten percent of the 117 cases of killings were resolved, citing data from UNESCO.
Karapatan, meanwhile, commended Khan for calling for the abolishment of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and for declaring that the Anti-Terrorism Law is inconsistent with international human rights standards.
“Khan’s view on the incompatibility of the draconian law with international human rights standards is attested by the experiences of the very victims of the terror law,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
Khan is the second UN expert to recommend this abolishment, right after the visit of UNSR on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry last year.
In her preliminary observations, Khan noted that human rights defenders, social justice advocates, journalists, and other individuals critical of state policies continued to be unfairly branded as supporters and ‘recruiters’ of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Because of this, she urged the state to publicly denounce the practice of “red and terror-tagging” and hold authorities and officials accountable for such violations. She said that the abolition of NTF-ELCAC will “allow a more inclusive peacebuilding platform as a genuine whole-of-nation approach to peace.”
Gov’t rejects recommendations
Palabay called out the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s rejection of Khan’s recommendations.
National Security Council (NSA) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said that abolishing the NTF-ELCAC at this time would be ‘improper,’ adding that the NTF-ELCAC is actually being prepared to transition into a different body instead– the National Task Force on Unity Peace and Development.
“The Marcos Jr. regime’s rejection of UNSR Khan’s initial recommendations on the abolishment of the NTF-ELCAC, as well as its deceitful prospective renaming of the notorious task force further exposed its intent and design to inflict fascist terror on the Filipino people,” Palabay added.
Lisa Ito, secretary general of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), said, “The Philippine government will become a laughing stock in the international community if it does not heed SR Khan’s findings.”
On media freedom
Olea also thanked UNSR Khan for visiting the youngest detained journalist in the world, Frenchie Mae Cumpio as well as other detained activists Mariel Domequil, and Alexander Philip Abinguna at the Tacloban prison during her visit.
NUJP was also elated that UNSR Khan agreed with how the Cybercrime Prevention Act has chilled media freedom, particularly the provision on cyber-libel.
NUJP said that despite Khan’s recommendation for the need to strengthen the mechanisms of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), the organization said that many of their colleagues in the province expressed their frustration in the performance of the task force.
“Our colleagues said that PTFoMS officials themselves are the ones who perpetuate red-tagging against journalists and label them as fake news peddlers,” Olea said.
She mentioned the case in Pastrana, Leyte, where reporters from San Juanico TV (SJTV) were caught in a shooting incident while interviewing farmers involved in a land dispute in Brgy. Jones, Pastrana, Leyte. The perpetrators were later identified to be officials from Pastrana, Leyte Philippine National Police.
“Instead of helping the victims, PTFoMS officials told them to drop charges against the police authorities,” she added.
“We also echo the sentiments of our local chapters to dissolve this task force because we believe that they have done no concrete help on cases of attacks against the free press,” she said.
Olea also said that Khan’s statement regarding the website blocking of alternative media outfits and progressive organizations should compel the National Telecommunications Commission to junk its June 8, 2022 memorandum.
Bulatlat, in a statement, thanked Khan for declaring the NTC order as a ‘direct form of censorship.”
“The anti-terrorism rhetoric should not be used as justification to violate freedom of expression and opinion,” said the media outfit.
“Alternative news websites and people’s organizations presenting narratives contrary to the statement of those in power should in fact be encouraged in a democracy,” Bulatlat said.