By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte’s chief legal counsel expressed that London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) may have taken the present issues hounding the Philippines out of context.
Chief Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo issued the statement after the AI, in its 2017/18 Report on the state of the world’s human rights during 2017, pointed out supposed violations of human rights of around 161 countries, including the Philippines.
For the Philippines, AI noted the alleged thousands of unlawful killings by police and other armed individuals as part of the government’s anti-drugs campaign. The report also mentioned about the purported threats to freedom of expression, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and its extension in December, and the government’s attempt to reintroduce the death penalty.
“AI may have taken these issues out of context,” Panelo said in a statement late yesterday.
Drug war and killings
Panelo explained that it has been the adamant stance of President Duterte to protect the lives of innocent people from the dangerous effects of illegal drugs.
“Hence, as a result of the government’s anti-drugs campaign, millions of drug pushers and users have voluntarily surrendered to police authorities,” he said.
“As for the spate of killings, there is no such thing as state-sponsored since the police have been following the strict protocols in arresting these drug-related criminals,” he added.
According to Panelo, the true cause of the killings is that members of the drug syndicates are killing each other to prevent their competitors from informing the authorities which may lead to their arrest.
As for those who were killed by the police, Panelo said these came about on the basis of self-defense when drug suspects employed unlawful means to resist arrest, posing threat to the lives of the police officers.
Panelo also said that while the President told the police officers that if they will do their job, they will have “the unwavering support of the Office of the President,” Duterte also categorical warned them to not resort to extrajudicial killings or abuse their authority.
Freedom of expression
On the purported threats to freedom of expression, Panelo reiterated that Duterte does not prohibit journalists and critics from speaking their views on the policies and programs of this administration.
“It is the spreading of false news that distorts the truth which must be scrutinized, not being protected by the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression,” he said.
Panelo also said that contrary to AI’s Report, protests and demonstrations, whether for or against the policies of the administration, are prevalent, showing that democracy is very much alive in the country.
“Needless to say, the right to freedom of expression should not be indiscriminately invoked when the executive branch is merely performing its duty in enforcing the law of our land,” he said.
Martial law in Mindanao
Panelo said that both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court have concurred that it was necessary to extend the martial law being implemented in Mindanao after having exhaustively reviewed its factual basis.
“Such concurrence only proves that the declaration and the extension of martial law are within the Constitutional mandates of the President,” he said.
Panelo reminded that Duterte was only compelled to declare and extend martial law in Mindanao to secure the safety of the people in the island by “crushing” the rebellion and restore peace and order for the people there.
He added that while there is no proof of any abuse of authority by the military, there had been noticeable developments in thwarting the rebellion in Mindanao.
Panelo said the government’s attempt to reintroduce capital punishment should not be perceived as inconsistent with the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
He explained that the said instrument allows the imposition of the death penalty and only limits its application to the most serious crimes.
“In fact, Section 19 of Article III of the 1987 Constitution authorizes the Congress to pass a law which reimposes the death penalty ‘for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes,'” Panelo said.
“In other words, the Congress has the authority to reimpose the death penalty, provided that, it finds compelling reasons involving heinous crimes therefore,” he added.
The Palace official also noted that treaties cannot be in conflict with the constitutions of countries under international law and that the reimposition of death penalty lies within the discretion of the country and is sanctioned by law.
He added that the government’s attempt to reintroduce death penalty cannot be considered as a human rights law issue.
Panelo also assured that the Philippines will take active participation in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) which provides a framework for human rights cooperation and consultation between ASEAN member states in advancing ASEAN’s aspiration to be a rules-based, people-oriented and people-centered community.
“People can be assured that it [The Philippines] will take active participation in the advancement and protection of the human rights of its citizenry,” he said.