Malacañang challenges UN rapporteur; says report based on fake information

Published February 19, 2019, 8:50 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Genalyn Kabiling

The government has urged a United Nations special rapporteur to verify the circumstances of the so-called human rights defenders in the country before making a report based on “fake information.”

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the report made by UN special rapporteur Michel Forst identifying Senator Leila de Lima, former Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, and Rappler chief Maria Ressa as rights defenders under attack was “highly misplaced.”

Panelo explained that the present situation of these women was “products of their own doing,” adding the administration should not be blamed if it enforces the law.

“The UN Special Rapporteur should – and must – consciously, efficiently and thoroughly verify the facts and circumstances surrounding the aforementioned personalities before reports on their situation are published so as not to stain the integrity and credibility of his office,” he said.

“Attributing the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, the unseating of Atty. Ma. Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice and the filing of charges against Ms. Maria Ressa as part of the President’s policies and alleging that their unfortunate situations were designed by the government to silence them and discourage broader dissent are the same false narratives peddled by the usual cynics of the Administration,” he said.

Forst, in his report to the United Nations, has mentioned De Lima, Sereno and Ressa, all critics of Duterte’s drug war, were facing threats in the country.

He claimed that De Lima has been held in detention on “politically motivated” charges for violation of the country’s drug laws. He also described Sereno’s ouster was widely considered unconstitutional while Ressa faced political persecution for critical reporting on the government.

Panelo, however, dismissed Forst’ report, saying it was based on “fake information supplied by partisan groups who are after political mileage believing they could gain it by badmouthing” the President.

He said the events leading to the circumstances of the three women actually occurred prior to the President’s assumption to office.

He said De Lima was Justice Secretary when drugs proliferated in the National Penitentiary with her participation as alleged in the criminal complaints filed against her.

He said Sereno did not provide complete copies of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth when she applied as Chief Justice during the past administration. Such lapse affected Sereno’s integrity which was a condition to the top SC post, he added.

Ressa did not pay the correct taxes and published libellous articles against a private citizen, way before the presidency of Duterte, according to Panelo.

He maintained that the administration should not be blamed if it enforces the law “more rigorously than its predecessors.”

“The Administration should likewise not be blamed if its critics have issues following the law. The fact that Senator de Lima, Atty. Sereno and Ms. Ressa are critics of the Administration is of no moment and absolutely unrelated to the criminal charges they are facing,’ he said.

He said the administration remains determined in promoting law and order in the country.  He said they would prosecute violators of the law regardless of their social and political status.

“The Filipinos know better. They no longer allow themselves to be fooled by the political dramas concocted by the detractors of the Administration,” he said.

“It is therefore not surprising that Senator de Lima, Atty. Sereno and Ms. Ressa could not muster public support and their blind followers instead resort to international groups who are clueless of the real situation of the Philippines and gullibly lend their names to such unworthy causes,” he added.