February 4, 2024
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) is greatly encouraged by the 8-page Preliminary Observations of UN Special Rapporteur Ms Irene Khan, aimed at enhancing freedom of expression, democracy and human rights in the Philippines. ICHRP welcomes her specific calls for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and for President Marcos Jr to issue an Executive Order against red tagging.
ICHRP celebrates the Filipino peoples’ organisations and individuals who have relentlessly campaigned for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and have raised it to the attention of the international community and to Special Rapporteur Ms Khan. We reiterate the urgent need for the international community to support those who are bearing the brunt of repression under the NTF-ELCAC and Marcos Jr’s vicious counterinsurgency campaign.
Ms Khan visited Manila, Baguio City, Cebu City and Tacloban over 10 days (January 23 – February 2), which enabled her to meet many officials and to hear Filipino people relate their experiences of censorship, surveillance, harassment and threats, and of extrajudicial killings. In Tacloban she met 25-year-old journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, in jail now for four years on absurd terrorism charges.
In summary, Ms Khan’s key recommendations are:
- Executive and Congress to expedite the passing of the Human Rights Defenders Bill
- President to issue an Executive Order to denounce red tagging with provisions to discipline officials who violate the order. Currently people have no effective recourse against red tagging denunciations.
- Abolish the NTF-ELCAC as one major driver of red tagging and to assist in the peace talks that are re-starting with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
- Create a dedicated well-resourced special prosecutor for crimes against journalists and human rights defenders, because the task force under Administrative Order 35 is clearly inadequate
- Create a well-resourced dedicated mechanism to protect media workers because the Presidential Task force on Media Security is clearly inadequate
- Make it simpler to establish media outlets so that journalists can do their work, and to discourage creation of media monopolies
- Support the Philippine Commission on Human Rights’ work to implement the Philippine Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists developed through UNESCO
- Decriminalize libel including cyberlibel
- Develop an effective Freedom of Information law
- Continue the work of the UN Joint Program on Human Rights capacity-building after it completes its mandate in 2024, in partnership with the United Nations
- Extend an open invitation to all UN Special Rapporteurs to visit the Philippines.
Finally, Ms Khan condemned the Anti-Terrorism Law provision for executive powers of arrest and surveillance without judicial warrant, and undertook to review the Rules of the Anti-Terrorism Act produced by the Supreme Court in December 2023.
Despite overwhelming evidence – verified by previous human rights reports including the Investigate PH and the 2023 findings of Special Rapporteur Ian Fry – which validate Ms Khan’s preliminary observations, the Philippine government attempted to rebut Ms Khan’s observations in their own press conference. Senior officials, including from NTF-ELCAC, argued against the abolition of that agency, denied that there was any policy of red tagging, conflated resistance to exploitation with terrorism, and claimed that the Philippine government was on the verge of complete victory over the New People’s Army. They foreshadowed the transition of NTF-ELCAC to an “NTF-Unity, Peace and Development”.
In this critical moment following the November 2023 Oslo Joint Communique between the Government and the NDFP, when peace talks hang in the balance, the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC is of utmost importance. The Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program has proven time and again that militarism and repression cannot resolve the roots of the armed conflict. To create the conditions for peace, and to develop genuine solutions to the pervasive landlessness, joblessness, and poverty, ICHRP urges the rapid implementation of Ms Khan’s recommendations, especially the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC. We call on people all over the world to write statements, hold education forums, lobby your respective governments, inform the international community on the impacts of the NTF-ELCAC, and to creatively and boldly support a just and lasting peace in the Philippines. #
For further comment: Peter Murphy – +61 418 312 301 [email protected]