Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra says the Philippines legal and judicial system and domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should. Speaking online before the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, Gueverra enjoined the Council to uphold the primacy of dialogue and cooperation as a community of nations. (Screengrab from UN Web TV)

MANILA – The Philippines’ justice system endures the challenges of a global pandemic as the government remains committed to the human rights and greater good of its people.

Speaking online before the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said “The Philippines strongly emphasizes that its legal and judicial system and domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should.”

The country, he said, responded to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic by launching the largest emergency subsidy program in its history to support vulnerable sectors that includes low-income households, older persons, women and children, displaced migrant workers and their families, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities.

Reiterating the country’s commitment to upholding human rights, the rule of law, and the democratic form of governance during last year’s United Nations Human Rights Council session, he cited the Philippine government’s sustained efforts to further promote and protect human rights, security, and well-being of Filipinos.

“The Government of the Philippines welcomed the constructive approach in Human Rights Council Resolution 45/33, adopted on 7 October 2020. Since its adoption, we have engaged actively and openly with the UN to support the development of the technical cooperation programme referred to in the resolution - the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights.,” he said.

Adopting the UN resolution

The UN in the Philippines, Guevarra said, has held a series of consultations with Government actors, the Commission on Human Rights, and civil society.

A core matrix setting out key directions for the UNHRC programme, aligned with the six areas in the resolution, was endorsed on Nov. 27, 2020, he said, adding that these were based on consultations attended by himself as Secretary of Justice, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, and the UN Resident Coordinator.

The UN entities – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Office for Drugs and Crimes, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism – contributed with their respective expertise.

He said the project document awaits its formal signing in the coming weeks.

PH government assurance

He assured that the Philippine Government will continue this path of constructive engagement and regularly inform Member States and stakeholders of the progress of the Joint Program.

Among the few activities that are part of the UN programme have already started like the Human Rights Summit held on Dec. 7, 2020.

“Peace, justice, and human rights are interrelated pursuits. An integral part of the Philippine commitment to human rights is the continuous strengthening of its domestic accountability mechanisms,” he said, adding that this stands firm on the President’s promise to protect the nation from illegal drugs, a campaign widely supported by our people.

Guevarra went on to say that in June last year, he announced the creation of an Inter-Agency Review Panel that would re-examine cases of anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred.

Amidst the challenges of physical mobility and access to case files due to the Covid-19 pandemic and devastating typhoons in late 2020, he said a contingent from the Justice Department examined available records in certain areas where most of these deaths during illegal drug operations happened.

“We have referred these initial findings to our national police authorities, and we have been informed that the appropriate internal investigation of thousands of these incidents had been conducted, and scores of police officers had been recommended for administrative and criminal action,” he added.

He said the Review Panel’s immediate task is “to ensure that the recommendations have been acted upon and carried out by the proper disciplinary authorities and that measures are adopted to minimize loss of lives during legitimate law enforcement operations against illegal drugs”.

“We reject any attempt by any external entity to assume jurisdiction over internal matters which are being addressed more than adequately by our national institutions and authorities,” he added.

Close engagement with CHR

As part of its commitment during the 44th Session of UNHRC, he said the Philippine government engaged more closely with CHR through discussions on how the government can collaborate in the case build-up and evidence gathering of the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons.

“We have also agreed to work together for the early passage of a law that will establish our National Preventive Mechanism, as mandated under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

Dialogue and cooperation

Faced with the common challenges posed by global threats of illegal drugs, terrorism, and Covid-19 pandemic, Guevarra said the world must confront them together to overcome.

“We enjoin this Council to uphold the primacy of dialogue and cooperation, as it carries out its important mandate and noble duty to the community of nations,” he said. (PNA)