UN human rights experts laud PH’s milestones in crucial fronts
MANILA (Philippines News Agency) — There is sad irony at the United Nations in Geneva!
While a handful of Filipino-led nongovernment organizations have once again taken to vilifying the Philippines at the ongoing 42nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, with rehashed allegations of human rights violations against the Duterte administration, no less than key independent experts and special rapporteurs of the UN are looking positively at the Philippines.
At parallel side-meetings with said experts by the Philippine delegation led by Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Philippines was hailed for its achievements in several crucial human rights fronts.
Special Rapporteur on the right to development Saad Alfarargi of Egypt lauded the socio-economic achievements in the Philippines that uplift the dignity of Filipinos, even as he emphasized that development is a “pivot” in human rights promotion, protection, and fulfillment by the State.
Alfarargi noted the responsiveness of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 which the Philippine delegation explained is anchored on the Sustainable Development Goals and on a long-term vision of Ambisyon Natin 2040 that aims for a strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life for the majority of Filipinos.
Also highlighted in the discussions was the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program to accelerate infrastructure development to enhance people’s access to work, education, health care, housing, and other services that will uplift standards of living.
Alfarargi also expressed approval as he was informed of the continuing effective implementation of the Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development 1995-2025; the development perspectives of the Philippines’ magna cartas of women and of persons with disabilities, and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997; the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program; the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan 2011-2028; and the Comprehensive Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program.
He encouraged the Philippines to work hard in refuting the false news being perpetuated by rabid critiques as “your country has many best practices to share.”
As theses fake news are being spread by enemies of the Philippine government, Alfarargi encouraged the Philippines to “fight back” against this false information, and to continue actively participating in international and regional human rights discussions “to have the right image that it wants to project.”
Access to water
On the other hand, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation Leo Heller of Brazil noted the “very good” initiatives of the Philippines to ensure water and sanitation for Filipinos.
In his report, Heller particularly cited the country for being one of the governments that have developed and implemented frameworks to ensure access to water and sanitation in public space. He pointed out that in the Philippines, “specific regulations are in place that govern the design, availability, and accessibility of water and sanitation in bus stations”, among others.
Heller also took note of the country’s Sagana at Ligtas na Tubig Para sa Lahat (Abundance of Natural Water for All program) spearheaded by the Department of the Interior Local Government which seeks to provide potable water to the entire country, and the Philippine Water Supply Sector Roadmap which targets all municipalities in the Philippines to have improved water supply by 2025.
Heller was also informed of the Water Demand Management that sets the direction for the Philippine government in managing its water resources. Mention was also made of the proposed Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan which aims to set the direction in addressing the water supply and sanitation challenges of the country.
He was likewise informed of the Philippines’ Human Rights-Based Local Water and Sanitation Governance Toolbox that serves as a guide for water supply service providers and local communities in understanding access to water and sanitation as a human right. The toolbox outlines both the human rights standards and the human rights principles that guide policy and programming for water and sanitation services.
Finally, the Brazilian UN Rapporteur lauded the efforts of the Philippines, through the Department of Health and in cooperation with partner agencies, in launching a handbook that contains new guidelines to curb the number of gastroenteritis cases, which cost the government PHP2 billion annually.
Global champion for older persons’ rights
Rosa Kornfeld-Matte of Chile, UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, lauded the Duterte administration for its initiatives to advance the rights of the country’s senior citizens and has noted the country’s potential as a global champion for older persons’ rights.
Matte explained that older persons have a right to dignified living and the Philippines has been able to effectively advance this right through responsive milestone programs, activities, projects, policies, and laws.
These milestones include the creation of the National Commission of Senior Citizens; enactment of the Centenarian Act of 2016; mandating PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens; expanding the Senior Citizens Act for additional benefits and privileges to senior citizens; establishment of Senior Citizens Centers in all cities and municipalities, as venue for the recreational, educational, health and social programs designed for the full enjoyment and benefit of senior citizens; ensuring the effective work of the senior citizens affairs offices in local government units, enactment of Republic Act 10911 which promotes equal work opportunities for everyone by prohibiting age limitations in the hiring of applicants, and the government’s appropriation of PHP23 billion for indigent senior citizens’ social pension to finance the Social Pension Program for indigent senior citizens.
Matte said that she is “happy that the Philippines has a lot of things to offer to the older persons sector.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantee of non-recurrence Fabian Salvioli of Argentina considered as “very good news” the extension by the Duterte administration of the release and payment of claims of martial law victims until the end of the year.
This was made possible through the President’s directive to the Bureau of Treasury and the Land Bank of the Philippines to effect the said extension period.
Salvioli also expressed satisfaction that the Ampatuan massacre case is nearing its resolution under the Duterte administration.
PH with ‘nicest people’
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery Urmila Bhoola of South Africa said that the Philippines “can play a very key role in Southeast Asia to encourage other countries to take positive steps in addressing contemporary forms of slavery”.
She added that “other countries stand to learn from Philippines”, citing efforts of the Philippines to protect overseas Filipino workers from falling victim to modern-day slavery.
Having worked in the Philippines, Bhoola remembers that when President Duterte was still mayor of Davao City, he made sure that the city “was free from all forms of child labor.” And while she hears negative news about the country, she always remembers that “the Philippines is a wonderful country with the nicest people.”
Bhoola expressed confidence in the effectiveness of the Philippines’ initiatives to combat modern-day slavery, such as the creation of the Office of the Social Welfare Attaches for overseas Filipino workers, Assistance-to-Nationals program of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons, 1343 Action Line, online free legal counseling for victimized overseas Filipinos, and the construction of a multi-purpose building to house victims of human trafficking for their full rehabilitation and recovery.
‘Demystify’ negative information
UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Livingstone Sewanyana of Uganda, while agreeing that democracy is at work in the Philippines, there are negative portrayals about the country by critiques.
He said that the challenge for the Philippines is to “demystify” the negative information being spread by these same critiques.
Sewanyana was likewise briefed on the threats to the democratic order in the country, such as terrorism, and expressed interest in the work of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
In pointing out the challenge for the Philippines to portray the correct image of and the situation in the country, he suggested the need to highlight the positive updates on the Philippine government’s efforts to address these same threats and that “it would be good for these efforts to continue.”
He specially commended the efforts of the Duterte administration in distributing lands in the Hacienda Luisita and in Boracay to farmers as this affirms the Philippines’ strong adherence to social justice.
Catura said the words of approval and encouragement coming from no less than human rights experts in the UN inspire the Philippine government, under the Duterte administration, to stay true to its mission to uplift the lives of Filipinos everywhere, especially those in the vulnerable sectors and those at the margins of society. In the process, it also enriches the general public’s understanding that human rights cover a wide range of freedoms and guarantees that uplift human dignity.
“We welcome the opportunity to be deemed as champion in the vast field of human rights advocacy not only in the Southeast Asian region but in the world as well. And this administration under President Duterte shall deliver,” Catura said in a statement.
The Philippines has institutionalized periodic engagements with UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts at the sidelines of the UNHRC sessions. There have been 14 side-engagements of this kind since the last two UNHRC sessions.
As an active member of the UN, as well as of the UNHRC for a fifth term, the Philippines deems it a responsibility to help strengthen the UN Special Procedures System that supervises the UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts by providing it with truthful and validated the information. (PR)