What to expect from UN's review of Philippine drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — It is finally happening. After repeated calls for a United Nations probe on the Philippines' bloody war on drugs, a "comprehensive" review of the country's human rights situation is underway.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution that asks the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to probe the killings and other alleged human rights abuses in the country. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will present the results in June 2020, during the body's 44th regular session.

Prior to the voting on Thursday, the UN's Office of Programme Planning, Finance and Budget on July 8 released a statement outlining the activities that will arise from the resolution, including the estimated budget involved. Here's a breakdown.

Country visits

The Philippines should brace for country visits until 2020. There will be three missions of 10 working days each so investigators can conduct interviews and meetings with the stakeholders concerned.

The UN office noted that experts will visit the Philippines "and/or the neighboring countries."

This could be bad news for President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, which has condemned the impending investigation, even arguing that it failed to get a majority vote from the 47-member-strong Human Rights Council. Only 18 states voted to approve Iceland's resolution, 14 were against, while the remaining 15 abstained. Malacañang said the majority vote should be 24, but the council has nonetheless adopted the resolution.

The country's top diplomat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. rejected the resolution, calling it an "insult" to the Philippines and warning that "there will be consequences."

Duterte, meanwhile, said he might just consider allowing the UN to probe. "Let them state their purpose and I will review. Kung dagdag lang sila sa intriga [If they'll just add to the intrigue], they better go to the media. And the media will tell them the truth," he said.

The tough-talking President has in the past repeatedly lashed out at the UN and human rights groups for criticisms on his drug war, which according to government data has left at least 6,600 suspects dead in police operations. Local and international human rights groups say the anti-drug campaign has resulted in more than 20,000 extrajudicial killings, a claim the government has denied.

The killings are also being examined by the International Criminal Court, an international tribunal that could have Duterte and his officials prosecuted and jailed. Duterte has threatened to arrest ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her investigators if they set foot in the country, claiming that they have no jurisdiction over the Philippines.

READ: ICC officials who visit PH may face deportation if caught probing gov't drug war

In its two-page draft resolution, Iceland called on the Philippines to cooperate with the probe, "including facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation."

In 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres' annual report to the UNHRC placed the Philippines on the list of states that intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders.

Remote fact-finding

According to the UN's planning office, human rights officers based in Bangkok, Thailand will be tapped to establish contact with sources of information within and outside the Philippines and gather "first-hand and up-to-date" information on the country's situation.

The office noted that information gathering may require the use of a remote fact-finding methodology – including interviews, data analysis, statistical report, and open source material – "in case of absence of access to the country."

The officers may also take part in missions in the region to further gather relevant information and coordinate with stakeholders.

Aside from the drug killings, the UN experts will look into the following allegations of human rights violations, as cited by Iceland in its resolution: enforced disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention; intimidation, persecution of, or violence against critics, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, journalists, and lawyers; and restrictions on the freedoms of opinion and expression.

Malacañang said Iceland's resolution, as well as other expressions of concern from the international community, were based on false information and unverified facts and figures, noting that they do not know the situation on the ground.

Budget: $331,300 (around ₱17 million)

On the logistics side, the UN's review requires activities and resources that are estimated to cost $331,300 or around ₱17 million.

This includes the salaries to be given to the Bangkok-based experts, who will be hired for a total of 18 months – 3 months in 2019 and six months in 2020.

Other expenditures include general operating expenses and travel expenses, including that of two experts who will fly to Geneva for the "enhanced interactive dialogue" on the Philippines' case at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council.

Bloody drug war

The Philippines' controversial anti-drug campaign has not escaped international attention over the past three years of Duterte's leadership.

It took an even dramatic turn recently after a three-year-old-girl became the youngest casualty this year. The child, identified only as Myka, was caught in a crossfire between the police and her father during a drug raid in Rodriguez town in the province of Rizal last June 29. Police said she was used by her father, as a "human shield," a claim the mother belied.

READ: 20 Rodriguez, Rizal cops relieved of duty over death of toddler in drug ops

The police are claiming most of those who died in drug operations resisted arrest and fired the first shot.

The Duterte government has argued it does not need the international community to intervene because it can investigate and prosecute erring police officers, noting the murder conviction of three cops in the slay of then 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in a police operation in 2017. But human rights groups are saying this is not enough assurance justice will also be served in the cases of thousands of other victims.

READ: Three years on, no ‘meaningful accountability’ for extrajudicial killings in PH – Amnesty International