43rd Human Rights Council Session – High Level Segment

26 February 2020, Salle XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva





Ladies and gentlemen,

            I am pleased to address the Human Rights Council, as it begins the 43rd session of its work to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.  

The Philippines is honored to work with the members of the Council for a fifth-term.

It has been said that the Filipinos’ embrace of human rights is deeply rooted in the nation’s soul, entrenched in our values, and forged by historical experience. The Philippines was borne out of centuries of struggle against Western colonizers. Consequently, fundamental freedoms and human rights have been embedded and guaranteed in our first constitution of 1899 until the post-Martial Law constitution of 1987, which governs our land today.

            The Philippines has always valued press freedom. We are deeply conscious that having a plurality of voices, including critical ones, is essential in the healthy functioning of our cherished democracy. Its relationship with other human rights is deep, intricate, and abiding.


Expanding and strengthening the space for a free and empowered media for our nation of 110 million Filipinos is a priority of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Two of the first orders that the President issued after assuming office in 2016 concern media freedom: Executive Order No. 2 on Freedom of Information and Administrative Order No. 1 creating the Presidential Task Force on Media Security.  

The landmark issuance on freedom of information provides for disclosure of all government records involving public interest and upholds the constitutional right of people to information on matters of public concern. We are now working with members of Congress on a Freedom of Information Act that will have a broader scope.

The establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security is considered as a first of its kind in Asia, and possibly the world, with a dedicated mandate to protect the life, liberty, and security of media workers. It is co-chaired by my office, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and includes the Commission on Human Rights and media organizations, as observers.

The Task Force is aimed at decisively addressing the unfortunate distinction attached to the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

For years, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has cited 41 unresolved cases of killings of journalists in the Philippines, including 32 from the massacre in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines in 2009.

These 32 cases have been resolved, with the conviction in December 2019 of 43 individuals, including police officers, local officials, and most critically, members of the Ampatuan political clan.

Outside the cases related to the Maguindanao massacre, charges have been filed in court for the other work-related deaths of media workers included in the Task Force’s caseload. Only five cases remain under investigation.

            With the gains made by the Task Force, the CPJ noted the Philippines’ improvement in the 2018 Global Impunity Index. Also, in 2018, Reporters Without Borders delisted the Philippines from its top 5 most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

            The Task Force continues to strengthen its mechanisms in collaboration with media organizations. It is also working with Congress on a law that would improve the working conditions and wages of journalists to enhance the environment for a free, empowered, and productive Philippine media.

Thus, allegations of restrictions of media space in the Philippines do not find anchor in such a landscape that is driven by a vision to address impunity, preserve press freedom, and promote the welfare of media workers.

As a former media practitioner myself, I reject criticisms that cases involving media personalities and outlets are attacks on press freedom. Such criticisms are patently false and self-serving. Charges brought before the courts involve criminal and constitutional violations. To qualify these cases as political attacks is to denigrate the rule of law and its equal application to all citizens.


The Philippines remains convinced of the Human Rights Council’s contributions to the promotion of human rights throughout the world. To remain a bastion of constructive multilateralism, the Council must preserve its credibility and uphold the highest standards of objectivity and integrity.

Institutionalizing more rigor in assessing information should help the Council successfully navigate a milieu under the strain of politicization, polarization and – outside these halls – skepticism in multilateralism.

The Philippines speaks from experience as a victim of arbitrary action by the Council. We regret that discussions on the human rights situation in the country have been swayed by baseless allegations, and that the Council has failed to exhaust mechanisms for constructive, reasonable, and fact-based discourse.

Certain parties have alleged widespread human rights violations, shrinking space of civil liberties, and rampant killings resulting from the anti-illegal drug campaign. To date, CSOs alleging up to 30,000 extra-judicial killings have not provided any substance to support these claims.

A credible Council cannot base its actions on such inscrutable claims. These claims do not hold their truth against the well-founded accountability mechanisms in the country, the tangible accomplishments of the anti-illegal drug campaign, the growing investors’ confidence in the Philippine economy, and the high level of public support for the leadership of President Duterte.

            We repeat the call for prudence in assessing claims particularly from sources who have enjoyed the hallowed status of human rights defenders while waging the longest insurgency in Asia and terrorizing communities in the Philippines. These are the same actors -- duly-labeled terrorists by the EU, US, UK and Canada -- that criticize legitimate anti-insurgency actions as red-tagging, curtailment of civic space, and weaponization of bureaucracy against their armed struggle. That actors who profess terrorism are able to exploit the mantle protecting human rights defenders is a failure of due diligence on the part of the UN system. This can be rectified.

But outside this communist terrorist group and organizations affiliated to it, the government fully respects all Philippine NGOs and civic leaders whose works and representations in the UN embody the lawful, free and empowered social activism the country’s democratic institutions protect and preserve. We are proud of their role in nation-building and in pursuing the highest ideals of the Republic at home and abroad.

In conclusion, the accomplishments of the Philippine government under President Duterte stand solidly on an agenda of social inclusion, just and sustained peace, good governance, as well as a strong tradition of human rights and social justice, under a democratic system of government. Protecting freedom of the press and other fundamental freedoms will remain at the heart of this agenda.

Thank you.