INTERNATIONAL rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) may have not fully understand the human rights situation in the Philippines, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Friday, February 23.
Panelo issued the remark a day after AI released its report on the supposed human rights violations of 159 countries, including the Philippines, in 2017.
The AI report highlighted the spate of "lawlessness and violence" in the Philippines as the Duterte government implemented anti-narcotics drive and martial law in Mindanao, as well as threatened to curtail press freedom and revive capital punishment.
Panelo believed the international human rights group may have misconstrued the pressing issued faced by the current administration.
"With respect to the Philippines, AI noted the alleged thousands of unlawful killings by police and other armed individuals as part of the government’s anti-drugs campaign, purported threats to freedom of expression, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and its extension in December, and the government’s attempt to reintroduce the death penalty," he said.
"AI may have taken these issues out of context," he added.
Panelo also took time to respond to each issue being mentioned by the AI, with regard to various problems concerning the Philippines.
The AI noted that a "deliberate, unlawful, and widespread" drug-related deaths that seemed to be state-sponsored may have constituted "crimes against humanity."
But Panelo denied that thousands of drug offenders killed since President Rodrigo Duterte waged a war on illegal drugs was state-sanctioned, stressing that responding police officers adhere to "strict protocols" on the conduct of anti-drug operation.
Panelo said the death toll of drug personalities could be attributed to members of the drugs syndicates who are "killing each other" or to policemen who avail of "self-defense" when suspects resist arrest.
"While the President told the police officers that if they will do their job, they will have 'the unwavering support of the Office of the President,' he was also categorical that they should not resort to extra-judicial killings or abuse their authority," Panelo said.
"It has been the adamant stance of the President to protect the lives of innocent people from the dangerous effects of illegal drugs. Hence, as a result of the government’s anti-drugs campaign, millions of drug pushers and users have voluntarily surrendered to police authorities," he added.
Panelo also allayed public's fears of "further human rights abuses" amid promulgation of martial law in Mindanao, as reported by AI, saying that the military enforcement was merely aimed at securing "the safety of the people in Mindanao by crushing the ongoing rebellion and restor[ing] peace and order for the safety of our brothers and sisters therein."
Mindanao has been placed under martial rule after pro-Islamic State Maute group laid siege to Marawi City on May 23, 2017. The government troops have liberated Marawi City in October last year, or five months since the battle with the Jihadist fighters erupted.
Panelo said the one-man rule in the besieged region, which will end on December 28, 2018 to ensure "total eradication" of terror groups, has legal basis.
"While there is no proof of any abuse of authority by the military, there had been noticeable developments in thwarting the ongoing rebellion not just in Marawi, but all over Mindanao," he said.
Panelo also belied AI's report that those "critical" of the government, including journalists, "faced threats and intimidation," stressing that mainstream media enjoy their right to freedom of expression, except those who "distort the truth."
"We reiterate that the President does not prohibit journalists and critics from speaking their views on the policies and programs of this administration. It is the spreading of false news that distorts the truth which must be scrutinized, not being protected by the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression," he said.
AI also urged the Duterte government to abandon its plan to reintroduce the death penalty but Panelo said such move cannot be considered as a human rights issue since it can be done if there are "compelling reasons involving heinous crimes."
Panelo said the Philippines, as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, "will take active participation in the advancement and protection of the human rights of its citizenry." (SunStar Philippines)