United Nations Joint Program (UN JP) Begins – DOJ Releases 52 Cases

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The 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council approved the first Joint Programme (UN JP) between the Philippines and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). The collaboration within the three-year program began in July 2021. The UN JP aims to assist the Philippine government in enhancing capacities for accountability of security forces that have been involved in human rights violations. The UN JP was predated by a recommendation from High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet for an independent investigation by the UN Human Rights Council. This was rejected by the other Council members. Opinions on whether the UN JP will lead to fundamental changes on the ground range from hope to doubt.

Evan Garcia, the Philippine representative to the United Nations in Geneva, briefed the UN Human Rights Council on initial progress made by Philippine authorities under the UN JP. The Department of Justice`s (DOJ) investigative panel on deaths during operations against illegal drugs is currently reviewing documents on 159 cases provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). The DOJ is also monitoring the investigation of 87 criminal cases against police officers. As of September 2021, the DOJ already indicted seven policemen for unlawful detention and murder of six individuals. In addition, Garcia says officers would comply with regulations and, for example, write operational reports or wear body cameras. The UN Human Rights Council also praised Philippine authorities for their “constructive and inclusive engagement on human rights” – referring, among other things, to the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision that judges may no longer issue search warrants for outside their jurisdiction.

Also, the DOJ complied with requests from the UN Human Rights Council by releasing information on 52 cases on October 20, 2021. Those releases expose patterns in deaths during police operations: the PNP still held investigations internally after identifying violations. Only light penalties were imposed – officers were suspended in 35 cases. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) criticizes the release for being hardly a proactive step that only keeps up appearances. The human rights group Karapatan points out that victims’ relatives and the public need clearer answers regarding the structural patterns of the deaths, the perpetrators, and the low number of cases investigated.

On October 14, 2021, the World Justice Project released its Rule of Law Index 2021. Of 139 countries, the Philippines slipped from 91st rank in 2020 to the 102nd. The Philippine government announced that it will make efforts to improve the rule of law.

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