22 May 2017
On the Philippine report to the UNHRC
By Deputy Speaker Pia S. Cayetano
Representative, Taguig City 2nd District
Madame Speaker, allow me to rise on a matter of personal privilege. Two weeks ago, I joined the Philippine delegation which presented the report of the Philippines for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Many people may not be aware that universal human rights also include the right to education, health, adequate living standards, social security, and freedom from discrimination, among others.
These have been the focus of my work for the last 13 years as a member of the Senate then and currently, as a member of the House of Representatives – drafting bills that now form part of a package of laws to enhance social services and to strengthen and protect the rights of all Filipinos, especially the marginalized.
I also have extensive experience dealing with international bodies as the former President of the Bureau of Women Parliamentarians of the-Inter Parliamentary Union.
What is the UPR?
The UPR is a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States which provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. It also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe.
What is in our report?
In presenting our report, my brother, then Senator and now Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Alan Peter Cayetano, who co-led the delegation, affirmed our culture of respect for human rights, and our determined pursuit of a human and holistic approach to development and governance. He also emphasized that “the Philippine Government under President Rodrigo Duterte is committed to real change, to peace and development and to addressing the problems of poverty and inequality,” also adding that, “the Philippine Government is committed to an open, inclusive, constructive, and transparent review before the UPR, and continues to support the UPR process and the UN human rights system.”
What we presented before the Human Rights Council were gains in all fronts as well as true facts and real numbers to dispel allegations and correct misinformation spread by critics against the Philippine government’s campaign on illegal drugs.
We also emphasized that our government adopts a holistic and balanced approach to address the problems of criminality and illegal drugs and that substantial resources have been allotted to the public health dimension of the anti-drugs policy, as well as to strengthen the function of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the budget of which has been increased by 65% from 2016 and over 100% from 2015. Likewise, private sector participation to ensure more effective and sustainable rehabilitation and reintegration programs for the surrendering drug users has been encouraged, in addition to measures to strengthen law enforcement and judicial mechanisms.
Sen. Alan Cayetano also underscored the fact that, “In keeping with the State’s duty to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedom, the people’s campaign against illegal drugs is pursued to preserve the lives of the Filipino people and prevent the country from turning into a Narco-State. At all times, the Duterte administration seeks to uphold the rule of law. In fact, President Duterte has a policy of zero tolerance for abuse by law enforcers.”
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra who co-led the Philippine Delegation also stressed that, “Our country has consistently adopted and maintained a culture of respect for human rights. The relevant implementation mechanisms and institutions to enable our country to comply with its treaty obligations are all in place and functioning properly.”
On my end, I reported on the passage of legislation for the protection and welfare of vulnerable or marginalized groups such as persons with disability, women and children, older persons and indigenous people. Regarding the implementation of our Reproductive Health Law, I also highlighted the serious setback we are currently faced due to the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court.
The Member States recognized that the Philippines has implemented most of the recommendations presented during the last UPR Cycle in 2012.
There were concerns raised specifically in the areas of alleged EJK, death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminality. We also received positive comments highlighting the progress of our work, especially in the following areas: ensuring the enjoyment of socio-economic rights of our people by combatting poverty, especially through the implementation of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022; vigorous efforts to ensure a safe and secure environment for the full enjoyment of the human rights of the greater majority of our people; carrying on with the relentless fight against trafficking-in-persons; the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture; upholding the rights and welfare of vulnerable groups, especially women and children; empowering women and closing gender gaps, as well as the protection of children from exploitation and during times of conflict; and our efforts towards inclusive development, especially in improving access to quality education, health, and other social services.
Our colleagues in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who, by their own first-hand experience, are quite aware of the gravity of our illegal drug problem, expressed support for our fight to rid our part of the world of the scourge of illegal drugs. China has called on other States to join the Philippines in the campaign, while Japan has offered assistance in drug treatment programs and facilities.
There are around 265 recommendations formulated during the interactive dialogue with the other Member States, which include recommendations for legislative measures that Congress would have to consider. These will be examined by our delegation which will endorse concerns to the respective offices and branches of government for further actions to take.
In addition to the meeting in Geneva, I was also tasked to meet other European parliamentarians in Brussels and Spain. They appreciated receiving accurate information about the current situation in the Philippines which they only read about in international media. I discussed with them common interests especially in the field of health, education and culture. They all expressed interest in strengthening ties with the Philippines and look forward to working closely with the Philippine government.