An embarrassingly confusing, if not shameful, state of affairs



Atty. Mel Sta. Maria Dean Mel Sta. Maria

When former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, a critic of the Duterte administration’s unassertive approach to China’s illegal actions in the West Philippine Sea, was forced to return to the Philippines by the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong immigration officials, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, was reported by the ABS CBN News portal as saying: “We cannot question the authority, the right of a country to stop or to investigate any guest or visitor who wants to enter that particular country. That’s their exclusive domain.”

But when the United States (US) Senate Committee approved an amendment to its 2020 local and foreign appropriation bill prohibiting the entry into the US of any person involved in Senator Leila de Lima’s incarceration, spokesman Panelo, as reported by the Inquirer and Rappler, said, “The Palace considers such undertaking as a brazen attempt to intrude into our country’s domestic legal processes given that the subject cases against the detained senator are presently being heard by our local courts.”

Did not Panelo say in the case of Del Rosario that the determination to stop any guest who wants to enter a particular country belongs to the host state because it is “their exclusive domain”? The double standard is just so obvious: When the opposition is involved, the banning is allright, but when those involved are public officials prosecuting critics of the administration, it’s wrong. Where is the coherence in foreign policy?

In fact, public officials involved in Senator De Lima’s imprisonment should be thankful. The prohibition is, in effect, a fair warning to avoid US prosecution. If these officials are still able to enter US territory, nothing prevents the US government from enforcing its Alien Tort Statute, which allows the US to prosecute human rights violators even if the tort or violations were committed outside the US, and by foreigners. Senator De lima’s situation is within the statute’s purview.

Even as the present Duterte administration’s inconsistency is embarrassingly confusing, there is something more utterly shameful that it officially undertook. It involves the human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims perpetuated by the Myanmar government. Reports of killings, gang rapes, arsons, and ethnic-cleansing of the Rohingyan Muslims, forcing more than 730,000 to flee to Bangladesh, have been documented. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in its 39th session in September, 2018, issued a resolution condemning these atrocities. However, together with China and Burundi, the Philippines voted against the resolution. Again, in March of 2019, the Philippines, China, and Cuba voted against a similar resolution.

In the UNHRC 42nd regular session, a resolution was again submitted expressing the gravest concern on the gross human rights atrocities committed against thousands of Rohingyan Muslims. It was passed with only China and the Philippines voting against it.

The no-votes are disgraceful. The 1987 Philippine Constitution, in its declaration of state principles and policies, provides that the Philippines “values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” It also provides that the Philippines “adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.” One of them is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizing that “the disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind” essentially requiring that human rights and the fundamental freedom of all must be “protected by the rule of law” by all countries. This is also the spirit of eight core human rights treaties and six optional protocols ratified by the Philippines, which include the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

The world must be wondering: What happened to the Philippines? In 2015, we were praised by the United Nations “for already having integrated the Human Rights-Based Approach in its current Philippine Development Plan.” What happened? The Duterte administration won in 2016 with the mantra “Change is Coming.” As the changes unfolded, people headed into several directions. Most politicians secured their positions by embracing whatever changes were coming, including those that weakened our democratic values and institutions painstakingly rebuilt after the Marcos dictatorship; while some citizens remained watchful and critical against these changes.

But, unfortunately, many still forgot the vigilance necessary to hold our public officials accountable. We must not hesitate to express our dismay and petition the government for redress of our grievance. Only in this way can we pressure public officials not to commit an embarrassingly confusing, if not shameful, state of affairs.