The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday, September 12, said he is “gravely concerned” about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “open support for a shoot-to-kill policy” against crime suspects.
In his opening speech before the 36th Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein emphasized the “lack of respect for due process rights” in the Philippines.
“In the Philippines, I continue to be gravely concerned by the president’s open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects, as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings, and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator,” Al Hussein said.
He cited the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, which Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II described as an “isolated case.”
Delos Santos was killed during an anti-drug operation on August 16 in Caloocan City after allegedly resisting arrest, but witnesses claim the police dragged the boy into an alley, gave him a gun, and told him to run for his life.
“Two days after hundreds of people turned out for the teenager’s funeral, the president again told police they would not be punished for killing suspects who resist arrest. This lack of respect for the due process rights of all Filipinos is appalling,” the commissioner added.
He then urged the government of to protect human rights defenders, voicing concern over the case of Philippine Senator Leila De Lima, who has been detained since February over her alleged involvement in a drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was the justice secretary.
De Lima, who is among the fiercest critics of the Duterte administration, has decried her case as political persecution.
“Many human rights defenders who are the honor of their country face a growing number of death threats, and I call on the government to ensure they are accorded full protection and the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without reprisals,” Al Hussein said.
He also expressed shock over Duterte’s threat to “bomb schools for indigenous children in the southern Philippines.”
Last July, Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad-run community schools for allegedly teaching students to rebel against the government.
No factual basis
In a statement, Malacañang refuted the UN official’s criticism against Duterte.
“We are deeply concerned with the UNHCR Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s sweeping statements during the UNHR Council’s 36th session, citing instances bereft of factual basis,” Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
Abella said Al Hussein’s claims run counter to what Duterte has ordered, stressing that Duterte “has categorically and repeatedly said that there is no shoot-to-kill order.”
He further noted that “all drug killings are subject to investigations.”
Malacañang maintained that the objective of the anti-illegal drugs campaign is “to preserve the lives of the Filipino people, to prevent the destruction of Filipino families, and to protect the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.”
Regarding the case of De Lima, Abella clarified that the incarceration of the senator is due to “criminal, not political, issues.”
He also took note that it is a court independent from the executive which ordered her arrest for drug trafficking charges.
“On the issue of human rights workers who are part of the drug trade or human rights workers who obstruct justice, the President is referring to human rights activists who aid or abet acts of violence during legitimate police operations where authorities have the right of self-defense,” Abella added.
Malacañang, likewise, said that the UN official “miss the context” of Duterte’s remarks concerning the Lumad schools.
Abella then told the commissioner to “focus on the Duterte administration’s efforts to educate the indigenous people (IP).”
“At present, there are 2,929,456 IP learners in the public school system. For next year, the IP education program will receive P130.43M, which is largely for capacity building, program support fund for implementation of IP education at the regional and division level,” he said.