CHR, groups denounce Remulla’s statements on PH human rights situation, gender

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — The Commission of Human Rights (CHR) and various groups on Tuesday slammed the statements of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla following the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) periodic review of the Philippines, particularly on the alleged denial of human rights violations in the country and his rejection of recommendations for gender legislations.

Human rights groups denounced the assurance given by Remulla before the United Nations that there is no culture of impunity in the Philippines.

The groups alleged there was whitewashing on Remulla’s part when he denied the presence of human rights violations in the country.

"Yung hindi nila pagpayag na sumailalim tayo sa Rome Statute or ICC (International Criminal Court), or hindi pag-cooperate sa ICC napakalaking manifestation yon na may impunity sa Pilipinas," said Rose Trajano, iDefend international advocacy officer.

[Translation: Their refusal for the country to submit to the Rome Statute or ICC, or noncooperation with the ICC is a big manifestation that there is impunity in the Philippines.]

Another human rights advocate, Judy Pasimio, coordinator of the group Lilak explained: "Red tagging is a prelude to the killing — it lays down the premise of the killings and that creates impunity."

Speaking before the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland last week, Remulla said he would like "to dispel the mistaken notion there is a culture of impunity" in the Philippines. He said the government does not tolerate the denial of justice or any violation of human rights.

The Universal Periodic Review is a mechanism of the United Nations to examine the human rights situation in member-states.

According to the different human rights groups, however, the government has turned a blind eye to the many abuses during the Duterte administration.

The groups also clarified that contrary to the justice secretary's claim, civil society organizations (CSOs) are not destroying the reputation of the Philippines before the international stage.

"Dinedestroy ng mga NGOs (non-government organizations) daw sa mga CSOs yung image ng Pilipinas internationally. Hindi! Sinasabi lang namin yung totoo. Yun na nga ang issue ng whitewashing at denial nila," Trajano said.

[Translation: They say NGOs destroy to the CSOs the image of the Philippines internationally. Wrong! We only tell the truth. That’s the issue of their whitewashing and denial.]

The groups reiterated they are not closing the door to cooperating with the government to improve the country’s capacity to address human rights violations.

During the review in Geneva, the Philippine government accepted 200 recommendations out of the 279 given.

Among the recommendations that the Philippines deferred from accepting are: legalization of same-sex marriage, abortion, and divorce. Remulla said these policies conflict with predominant cultures and religions in the country.

READ: PH 'not ready' for SOGIE, same-sex marriage — Remulla 


Progressive groups also slammed Remulla for what they said was his hypocrisy in refusing to accept the UN’s recommendations to enact pro-women and pro-LGBTQIA+ legislations, especially the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Equality Bill which is still pending in Congress.

"The Philippine government's opposition to the enactment of divorce, SOGIESC bill, and other pro-women and pro-LGBTQIA+ legislation is an outright rejection of fundamental equality and principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the 1987 Constitution," said Gabriela Women’s Party in a statement.

"What is unacceptable is the use of religious arguments to weigh the necessity of such important legislation," it added.

Youth ecumenical group Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) said it is "very hypocritical" for Remulla to exhibit "un-Christ-like behavior" by not showing compassion to these sectors and advancing their rights.

"We also find it sinfully hypocritical for Remulla to invoke the [predominance] of Catholicism in the Philippines when the government has been accused of rampant human rights violations and the president is indulging in decadence while economic conditions become hellish for the downtrodden," SCMP said.

LGBT group Bahaghari noted that even predominantly Catholic countries like Brazil and Mexico — the top two countries with the highest number of Catholics — among others, have instituted marriage equality and other laws for women and LGBTQIA+ persons.

"Even during the campaign season, he (President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.) has repeatedly been silent and refused to certify the SOGIESC Equality Bill as urgent despite persistent calls by LGBTQIA+ Filipinos. We've never been a priority," Bahaghari noted.

"Now, the Marcos admin not only continues its silence, but even preposterously declares that laws for gender equality are 'unacceptable,'" it added.

'More meaningful human rights agenda'

The CHR, on the other hand, urged the Philippine government to "keep an open mind" as outright pronouncements of rejecting protection for the LGBT community may downplay efforts of some local governments to pass anti-discrimination bills.

"There may also be others who may feel emboldened to further discrimination and harm in communities against members of the LGBTQIA with these statements under the cloak of religious freedom," it warned.

The commission also underscored that the present version of the SOGIESC Equality Bill and similar proposals do not contain any provision on same-sex civil unions. It added that the bill does not grant special rights to the LGBT community.

"The bill, at its core, seeks to ensure that the rights enjoyed by all are also enjoyed by the members of the LGBTQI community who are often pushed to the sidelines and further marginalised due to lack of protection against discrimination and harm," it explained.

Meanwhile, the CHR said what the UN Human Rights Committee raised — both the positive aspects and the observations for improvement — were consistent with what the commission has previously expressed.

“We hope that the report of the Human Rights Committee helps the government in focusing its efforts and resources in building and implementing a more meaningful human rights agenda,” it said.

Aside from continuously demanding accountability for all human rights violations committed in the country, the commission said it is still pushing for the passage of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, including an end to the practice of "red tagging," and the passage of a CHR Charter which it needs to operate as an independent and credible national human right institution.

"CHR is ready, willing, and able to engage with the government, as well as civil society, in realising our collective goal of a just and humane society where the rights and dignity of all are upheld at all times," it vowed.