On The Review Panel and the United Nations Joint Program on Human Rights: Statement of Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra, Secretary (Minister) of Justice
11 June 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greetings from the Philippines.
In 2016, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte pledged to protect the Filipino people, especially our youth, from the menace of illegal drugs.
Since then, the Philippine Government has adopted and carried out to the fullest extent allowed by law its comprehensive approach to solve our country’s illegal drugs problem.
Law enforcement operations resulted in the arrest of high-profile personalities involved in the drug trade and the seizure of illegal drugs with a total estimated value of almost PHP 60 billion. The sheer volume of the drugs seized confirms the gravity of the threat our communities face from illegal drugs.
Meanwhile, our government continues to provide enhanced rehabilitation and reintegration programs to assist persons who use drugs (PWUDs) in their recovery.
More importantly, the entire government has continually reassessed and strengthened its policy and institutional frameworks in our resolute and committed effort to ensure that the pursuit of justice, accountability and the rule of law remain integral elements of our country’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
In June 2020, at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, I stated that an inter-agency Review Panel was undertaking a judicious review of anti-illegal drugs operations wherein deaths occurred. Despite the constraints posed by, among others, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Panel diligently pursued its work. A preliminary report with initial findings was submitted to the President late last year.
In my address at the High-Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council’s 46th session in February of this year, I shared some of the Panel’s key findings in its initial output. One of these was our observed deviation by some law enforcement agents from the standard protocols which require coordination with other agencies in law enforcement operations, and in the processing of the crime scene.
I emphasized then that the Panel’s next immediate task was to ensure that the proper disciplining authorities act upon and carry out the recommendations made by appropriate internal units for administrative and criminal action.
Since that statement at the Human Rights Council, the Department of Justice and the Panel have achieved significant progress towards the fulfillment of our mandate.
Recently, the Department – with the cooperation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) – has gained access to records of fifty-two (52) cases investigated by the PNP-Internal Affairs Service (IAS). These cases involve findings of administrativ e liability against hundreds of police personnel for alleged misconduct committed in the course of anti-illegal drug operations.
Just this week, the Department also received one hundred seven (107) case files from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for review.
As the Panel reviews these new records, the Department of Justice closely monitors the preliminary investigation and prosecution of eighty-seven (87) criminal cases lodged against over a hundred law enforcement personnel arising from alleged wrongful conduct related to or arising from anti-illegal drug operations. The commencement of new investigations and prosecutorial action will depend on the outcome of the Panel’s ongoing work.
These important developments are but some of our government’s tangible and progressive steps in the implementation of a national anti-illegal drugs campaign that is consistent with our international commitments under various human rights instruments.
Pursuant to these commitments, our government has embarked on a constructive engagement with the international community and the United Nations.
President Duterte himself mapped out our ambitious path of open and substantive engagement with the United Nations when, at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020, he stated that “to move forward, open dialogue and constructive engagement with the United Nations is the key”.
As a result, the Philippine Government and the UN Resident Coordinator are now at the advanced stages of concluding the UN Joint Program on Human Rights or the UNJP.
On 31 May 2021, agencies from the Philippine government and the UN completed discussions on the Program Document of the UNJP. The Program Document outlines the objectives, strategies, and targets of the UNJP towards credible and measurable outcomes and concrete impact on the ground, especially for vulnerable groups. We are presently in the process of finalizing the administrativ e requirements for the formal signing of this Program Document at the soonest opportunity.
The UNJP embodies the spirit of partnership, trust-building and constructive engagement of the Philippines-Iceland joint Human Rights Council 45/33 Resolution entitled “Technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.” The resolution was co-sponsored by a total of 50 countries, and was adopted by consensus in October 2020.
The three-year UNJP aims to support the Philippine Government in strengthening its accountability mechanisms, the administration of justice, as well as investigations and data collection on allegations of human rights violations. It also seeks to better promote a human rights-based approach to combating drugs.
Under the UNJP, the UN will support evidence-based treatment and care services for persons who use drugs (PWUDs). It will capacitate national and local authorities, as well as teachers, guidance counsellors, families, and communities in crafting and implementing appropriate interventions to address the needs of PWUDs in their recovery and reintegration to society.
Capacity-building activities geared to alleviate prison overcrowding by strengthening criminal justice responses for drug-related crimes will also be undertaken. As the pandemic continues, the threat of infection inside many overcrowded prisons where social distancing is impossible demands our most urgent attention.
Meanwhile, to strengthen domestic accountability and investigative mechanisms, the UNJP aims to further capacitate the Philippine National Police in the tracking, evaluation and analysis and processing of allegations of human rights violations. This initiative is crucial to address not only the demands for justice of victims of abuses; it is also vital in the realization of the objective of the PNP leadership to cleanse its ranks and further professionalize the institution.
Programs designed to enhance victim and witness protection systems, and to improve the investigative and prosecutorial functions of the inter-agency committee, known as the Administrative Order (AO) 35 mechanism, which investigates cases of gross violations of human rights and violations of humanitarian law, likewise form part of the UNJP. Presently, the AO 35 mechanism is investigating around 1,500 new complaints of alleged violations of humanitarian law.
A strengthened capacity to investigate and prosecute human rights and humanitarian law cases, coupled with greater cooperation from victims and witnesses before, during and after trial, should result in improved rates of conviction against perpetrators.
Furthermore, the UNJP envisions the establishment of a national referral pathway for human rights cases to assist complainants in accessing appropriate and existing domestic mechanisms and thereby strengthen accountability.
It is also to be emphasized that under the UNJP, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) and civil society are, and will continue to be, actively engaged as part of an inclusive process. Presently, data and information on specific human rights cases are being made available between the AO 35 mechanism and the CHR within the context of a Data Sharing Agreement to further help our respective offices in the discharge of our investigative and prosecutorial mandate.
These initiatives and arrangements under the Joint Program reinforce our country’s long track record of constructive engagement with different international and regional partners, including UN agencies, the European Union, and ASEAN, as well as bilateral partners, in human rights promotion and protection.
As our countries recover and build resilience from the COVID19 pandemic, the Philippine Government reiterates its commitment to fulfill its international obligations – to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of our citizens without fear, favor or prejudice – consistent with our Constitution, and the interests and welfare of the Filipino people.
Click to see Justice Secretary Guevarra deliver the statement here: https://youtu.be/Kfx6txa-q-I