Human rights activists ‘never had it so good’ under Duterte admin – Panelo

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights activists have never been treated so well under the Duterte administration, claimed Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, as he fended off calls for the government to stop villifying human rights groups.

Panelo made this claim after United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst, in his "World Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders," called on the Philippine government to do better in protecting human rights activists.

Forst is UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, and he presented his report during the UN General Assembly last December 18.

"If Mr Forst only checked his facts first, he would have known that organizations presenting themselves as so-called human rights defenders never had it so good under the Duterte administration," said Panelo in a statement.

Panelo further claimed that human rights activists "continue to fully exercise all their rights to air issues and concerns related to their advocacies in an environment that is free and secure from any threat or harassment."

Yet Duterte has threatened to have human rights activists gunned down and has even warned he would slap UN special rapporteurs. He also regularly claims  that human rights groups would rather protect criminals than law-abiding citizens. (READ: Human rights groups face 'alarming, shameful level' of gov't retaliation – UN report)

Forst's report also cited the "defamation" of the Commission on Human Rights and its chairperson Chito Gascon. It also cited how some human rights defenders have been included in the government's list of terroristsVictoria Tauli Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is in the list.

The spate of brazen murders of priests, amid Duterte's public tirades and accusations against them, and his attacks on media outlets and personalities openly critical of his policies have also led groups to warn of a growing climate of impunity and crackdown on dissenting voices.

UN a 'tool for vilification'?

Panelo's reaction to Forst parroted previous arguments from Malacañang deployed against criticism from international bodies and watchdogs.

For instance, Duterte's spokesman again claimed that Forst was being "fed" information by local groups "supported by resentful politicians belonging to the opposition."

"For too long has the UN been used by these detractors as a tool for vilification. UNSRs (UN special rapporteurs) should be less gullible as this reinforces the President’s contempt for them who have consistently manifested bias against the Philippines," said Panelo.

Malacañang again used the Philippines' election to a 5th term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to prove that "respect for human rights and its advocates is being upheld by this Administration."

Duterte's spokesman challenged groups to report cases of human rights violations to government bodies, including the Inter-Agency Committee created by Administrative Order Number 35 (2012).

This committee, created under the previous administration, is "charged with handling cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other grave violations of the right to life and liberty," said Panelo. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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