By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang assured that the petition seeking to tag Filipino United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples (IDPs) Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as a terrorist is not a witch hunt on UN rapporteurs amid the seemingly souring relationship between the Philippines and the UN.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque issued the statement after UN experts called for the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop her name from a list of 600 members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) that the DOJ I asked the court to declare the group a terrorist organization.
“We call on the Philippine authorities to immediately drop these unfounded accusations and to ensure [Corpuz’s] physical safety and that of others listed,” the UN statement read, adding that terrorist tag on Corpuz was an “act of retaliation” by the Philippine government.
Roque, in a press briefing in Alimodian, Iloilo, said that the DOJ’s petition only supports the earlier declaration of the United States State Department and the European Union that the CPP-NPA is a terrorist group.
“To begin with, the CPP-NPA had already been declared a terrorist group by the US State Department and by the European Union. This move, therefore, only reinforces the classification that the CPP-NPA is a terrorist group,” Roque said Saturday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, perhaps, the UN Special Rapporteur for IDPs or indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, was also included because of intelligence information that she is somehow connected with the CPP-NPA,” he added.
According to Roque, this may serve as a caution to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to tweak its selection process so a person suspected to be a member of the terrorist group will not enter the international body.
“I assure everyone, including the international security, that this is not a witch hunt on UN Special Rapporteurs; instead, perhaps the UN rapporteur system should fine tune its selection process to ensure that individuals identified with terrorist groups are not given any mandate by the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.
The Palace official also said that Corpuz is not automatically tagged as a terrorist and will be given the chance to prove before the court that she is not affiliated to the CPP-NPA.
“In any case, we are a civilized country in the Philippines, we will accord Ms. Victoria Tawili-Corpuz her right to be heard, her inherent due process rights and that is why she is not automatically tagged as a terrorist,” Roque said.
“She can dispute the classification in the Regional Trial Court where the petition to declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group is currently pending,” he added.
“In our legal system, we adhere to the rule of law, and hence, Ms. Victoria Tawili-Corpuz can submit controverting evidence to what I am sure the DOJ already has linking her with the terrorist group, the CPP-NPA,” he continued.
In December last year, Corpuz and another UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and internally displaced people Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, charged human rights abuses against indigenous and internally displaced peoples in Mindanao.
Their claim against the Philippine government came days after Duterte moved to declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group after officially terminating the peace talks between the government and the communist rebels.
The two Filipino rapporteurs, in a statement, said that human rights abuses committed on the Lumad community in Mindanao could intensify after the Congress overwhelmingly approved the extension of martial law in the island until the end of 2018 due to threat of terrorism in the island.
“They are suffering massive abuses of their human rights, some of which are potentially irreversible,” the two rapporteurs said.
“We fear the situation could deteriorate further if the extension of martial law until the end of 2018 results in even greater militarization,” they added.
Malacañang had called out the two Filipino UN special rapporteurs to stop using their posts to embarrass the Duterte administration before the international community.
“Both special rapporteurs should be more circumspect on their statements given that they were elected to their post upon recommendation of the former administration. And their observations were made so publicly as they appeared to be very partisan,” Roque earlier said.
“Now as Filipinos, the special rapporteurs should have documented the cases of alleged targeting of lumads and brought these cases to the proper authorities, to the police and the prosecutor for preliminary investigation so that the proper information could be filed in court,” he added.