Several member-states of the United Nations (UN) on Monday expressed alarm over the alleged extrajudicial killings in the country blamed on President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs, and over his proposal to reinstate the death penalty.
The calls came after the Philippine government panel faced the universal periodic review of the UN council in Geneva, Switzerland to defend the country's rights record marred by reports of unexplained killings of the Duterte administration's war on illegal drugs.
Following the presentation of the Philippine government, led by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, member-states were given the opportunity to comment and make recommendations on how to improve the country’s approaches in protecting human rights.
The United States emphasized the need to investigate the thousands of drug suspects killed since July 2016.
“We believe that it is important that the Philippine government to investigate the allegations of the more than 7,000 deaths associated with the counter-narcotics campaign since July 2016, including over 2,600 killings by security forces and more than 4,000 by unknown assailants,” the American delegate said.
“We ask the Philippine government to investigate these crimes, hold accountable those who are responsible, and bring justice to the victims,” she added.
Canada called on Manila to "end extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture and harassment."
Australia said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of extrajudicial killings which allegedly involved elements of the Philippine National Police.
“Australia recommends that the Philippine government investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings and ensure accountability,” its delegate said.
France recommended the Philippines to abandon its plans to bring back death penalty and strengthen its framework in the legal and judicial system.
"Abandon the reintroducing of death penalty which would be contrary to the country's obligations, and to strengthen the legal framework in the means of a judicial system with independent justice."
Germany, on the other hand, urged the Philippine government to launch an “impartial investigations” into the killings.
“Take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and carry out impartial investigations to all perpetrators accountable,” the German representative said.
The United Kingdom also expressed concern on the number of deaths in the war on drugs and has called on the Philippine government to ensure a thorough investigation on these incidents.
“We remain concerned about the high number of people killed in the campaign against illegal drugs, [and] plans to reinstate the death penalty,” the country’s representative said.
The representative from the Holy See asked that the Philippines "maintain the protection of the right to life from conception to natural death," adding that reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are “deeply troubling.”
China, however, offered support to the Philippines, declaring drugs "the public enemy of mankind."
Countries that either expressed concern and suggested probe into extrajudicial killings or recommended the Philippines to refrain from reinstating capital punishment include:
United States of America
'Visit the country'
In behalf of the Philippine government panel, Cayetano called on the UNHRC to visit the country and see for itself the real situation as regards the Duterte administration's war on drugs and the thousands of extrajudicial killings allegedly committed in its wake.
Cayetano said there was no "sudden wave" of state-sponsored extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as he asked the UNHRC to visit the Philippines to check on the situation.
"We are asking you, through the mechanisms of this Honorable Council, to interview our people, to go our communities, to visit the Philippines to see for yourself the truth, real numbers, which ones are real news, which ones are fake news," Senator Cayetano said.
He noted that Administrative Order 35 signed by then-President Benigno Aquino III defined EJKs as the killing of the members or advocates of cause-oriented organizations like labor, environment or media activists, "resulting in very low number of supposed EJKs in the past administration."
"However, for the current administration, a different definition is being used. EJK now refers to any death outside of those caused by natural causes, accidents or those ordered by the courts," Cayetano said.
"Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much. However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs, and that these are state-sponsored, which is simply not true."
Drug deaths, homicides
Cayetano said a total of 53,503 anti-illegal drug operations have been conducted in the 10 months of the Duterte administration, which is more than half of 93,197 drug operations conducted under the previous Aquino administration.
The senator said 64,917 drug personalities have been arrested and more than 1.2 million drug pushers and users have surrendered.
Data presented by Cayetano said that as of April 20, deaths resulting from presumed legitimate law enforcement operations were at 2,692, while total homicide cases were 9,342.
In his opening speech, Cayetano underscored the need to make the Philippines, especially the younger generation, from the drug scourge.
"Security and human rights are not incompatible. In fact, without human security, humans are vulnerable to all kinds of abuses. Human rights is not only about making people feel safe, but is actually about making people safe," he said.
It was the third time when the Philippine government through the UPR to check whether there have been improvements in the human rights situation and whether the recommendations under the previous two UPR sessions are complied with.
The review covers the last four and half years of the Aquino administration and ten under Duterte.
A group of roughly 50 pro-Duterte supporters braved a light rain outside the UN earlier on Monday, hoisting placards proclaiming "Duterte is not a mass murderer."
Foreign governments and UN officials are free to criticize the president, protest organizer Dexi Jimenez told AFP, but added that they need to understand "the war on drugs has gained (him) excellent ratings" in public opinion polls.
Duterte was elected largely on a law-and-order platform in which he promised to eradicate illegal drugs by threatening to kill tens of thousands of people.
By ERWIN COLCOL and JOSEPH TRISTAN ROXAS, GMA News