Philippines: civic space record continues to deteriorate

CIVICUS's Oral Statement to UN Human Rights Committee on the Philippines

Examination of Philippines International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Report under the Covenant
Chairperson, Honourable Committee members, CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to share with you some of the organisation’s main concerns about the Philippines’ civic space record.
We are alarmed by the assault on press freedom in the Philippines including the use of cyber libel laws against journalists such as Maria Ressa of Rappler. Former President Duterte also targeted critical media outlets for reporting on his administration’s ‘war on drugs’ such as ABS-CBN, which was forced off the air in 2020. CIVICUS has also documented cases of arrests, threats and the killing of journalists with impunity. At least 23 journalists and media workers were killed during Duterte’s administration.
We have also documented a number of cases where the right to protest was restricted by the police, with protesters arrested and excessive force used against them. The current Public Assembly Act requires prior written authorisation from local authorities to assemble peacefully in a public space, other than in an approved place, five days in advance. A proposed new law regulating public assemblies -that is before the Senate –contains provisions that could also allow for unlawful restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly.
The phenomenon of ‘red-tagging’ –labelling individuals or groups as communists or terrorists –poses a serious threat to civil society and activists. While it has been used for decades, it became deadlier when Duterte took office. A landmark report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2020 noted how in some cases those whohave been ‘red-tagged’ were subsequently killed while others had received death threats. In March 2021, nine community-based activists were killed in coordinated raids after being red-tagged -an incident publicly known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
The authorities have also restricted foreign funding and frozen the bank accounts of civil society groups under the pretext of combatting terrorism.
Human rights defenders and activists have been targeted with arrest and detention, often on fabricated charges,such as Teresita Naul. There have been reports of evidence being planted by the security forces to justify such arrests. Accountability has been virtually non-existent. The draconian 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act puts activists at further risk.
Therefore, we call on the UN Human Rights Committee to make the following recommendations:
  1. Reform or repeal defamation legislation and drop all charges or quash convictions against journalists
  2. Amend the 1985 Public Assembly Act in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly in accordance with international law and standards.
  3. Immediately end the red-tagging and vilification of activists and dismiss charges and release all human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained for their activism.
  4. Conduct prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations into the killings of human rights defenders, activists and journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice
  5. Establish mechanisms to protect human rights defenders, including by adopting and implementing the Human Rights Defenders Bill.Thank you for your attention.

Civic space in the Philippines is rated as 'Repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor



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