(UPDATED) The Philippine News Agency (PNA), “a web-based newswire service” of the Philippine government under the supervision of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO), took down on May 20 a story it ran five days ago claiming that 95 nations in the 27th Universal Period Review of the UN Human Rights Council were convinced that there were no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Without explaining or apologizing, the state-run news agency, using the same URL, replaced the headline and the entire text of what used to be an article entitled “95 nations in 3rd UPR convinced no EJKs in PHL.” (On May 30, the PNA released a statement apologizing for the error, after committing another error regarding the use of a photo for a Marawi story.)
Rest assured we have dealt with our erring personnel and that we are reviewing our procedures on reportage
PNA’s May 15 story went viral after newly appointed Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson posted it on her blog on May 18. As of May 20, 2:30 p.m. when VERA Files checked, the post had drawn more than 8,000 reactions and more than 900 shares with Uson’s post alone. Uson, in assuming her new position, said she will fight fake news.
Netizens are divided on the matter, with some calling the PNA post “fake news,” while others continue to slam the media for being biased and for reporting the wrong figures in the country’s war on drugs.
During the UPR on May 8, representatives of the 95 member-states made recommendations on the Philippines’ human rights policies, raising serious concerns on EJKs that have reached thousands since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
The May 15 story, which can no longer be found on PNA’s website, said:
“MANILA, May 15–Ninety-five out of 105 countries that attended the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Switzerland were convinced that extra judicial killings (EJK) is non-existent in the Philippines.
DILG Assistant Sec. Epimaco Densing, in a press conference on Monday, said the Philippines received congratulatory messages as they noted that this is the first time they heard that the figures reaching them were ‘spoiled and rotten information.’
‘One hundred and nine countries committed in the UPR… All 95 countries who prepared their intervention congratulated the Philippines for improving human rights situation the past five years,’ Densing told reporters.
Densing, DILG assistant secretary for plans and program said about 15 to 20 countries expressed concern over the number of drug suspects killed in police operations, although none opposed the ongoing war on drugs.
‘They were in a neutral tone. In fact, the 95 countries didn’t say that we should discontinue our anti-drug campaign. They only mentioned that we should review the EJKs in the country. They never said that we should stop the campaign,’ he added.”
The story went on to say the countries got the “distorted facts and figures” from the local media.
Densing said the Duterte administration has explained that the total number of killings is a summary of all the cases, including homicide and murder cases.
(Source: PNA, “95 nations in 3rd UPR convinced no EJKs in PHL,” May 16, 2017. Note: The erroneous story has since been replaced by PNA. The same link was used for both stories. The original post can no longer be found online. VERA Files is providing a screenshot of the original story below.)
The May 15 story was clearly incorrect in saying 95 countries were convinced that EJKs don’t exist in the Philippines.
A day after Uson published the link, UPR Info – the body administering the UN Human Rights Council review – posted on its Twitter account this clarification:
“To the best of our knowledge, 95 states were not convinced that EJK is non-existent.”
It provided a link to the webcast of the proceedings, and a summary of the statements of the countries.
On the day of the review, Australia’s representative Tanya Bennett said:
“Australia is deeply concerned about ongoing reports of extrajudicial killings associated with the so-called war on drugs noting credible allegations of involvement by elements of the Philippine National Police. Australia recommends that the Philippine government thoroughly investigate alleged extrajudicial killings and ensure accountability.”
(Source: Recommendations of Australia, Philippines Review – 27th Session of Universal Periodic Review, May 8, 2017, watch from 40:20-40:39)
Several other countries went on to condemn the drug killings and recommended for these to end:
- End extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture and harassment, including by effectively implementing criminal prohibitions against extrajudicial killings (Canada)
- Immediately end extrajudicial executions and carry out an independent and impartial investigation on all enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in order to bring the authors of these crimes to justice (Chile)
- Immediately end the campaign of extrajudicial killings, which may amount to crimes against humanity under international law (Ghana)
- Protect and guarantee the right to life and to a fair trial also in the context of the campaign against drug trafficking, and take all necessary steps to guarantee a proportionate use of force by the security forces (Italy)
- Take all necessary steps to ensure prompt, impartial and transparent investigations into alleged unlawful killings and other abuses during anti-drug operations (Hungary)
- Condemn and put an end to unresolved homicides and enforced disappearances (Uruguay)
- Immediately stop all unlawful killings and incitement to carry out killings in the name of the anti-drug campaign (Iceland)
- Put an end to extrajudicial executions and torture, in particular in the context of the fight against drugs (Luxembourg)
- Take efforts to eliminate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and intensify efforts to carry out the prosecution of such crimes (Norway)
- Publicly denounce extrajudicial killings and other abuses in the anti-drug campaign (Iceland)
- Take due measures to prevent extrajudicial killings in the country and grant access to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Summary Executions and the Right to Health for impartial and credible investigations (Bulgaria)
- Strengthen investigative and prosecutorial bodies to ensure thorough investigations into all killings, as well as appropriate prosecutions of perpetrators (United States of America)
At least eight countries, including France and Germany, strongly pushed for the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to the Philippines, without prior conditions and without delay.
Clarisse Gerardin of France called on the Philippines to “without delay take measures to put an end to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and prosecute the perpetrators of these acts.”
France recommended to the Philippines:
“To accept without prior conditions, the request for a visit by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary executions and cooperate with her fully to take immediate measures to put an end to extrajudicial summary and arbitrary executions and to condemn the authors of those crimes.”
(Source: Recommendations of France, Philippines Review – 27th Session of Universal Periodic Review, May 8, 2017, watch from 1:10:52 – 1:11:08)
The Philippines on Jan. 23, 2017 sent a note verbale to all Permanent Missions and to the president of the Human Rights Council requesting a deferment of the examination under the UPR Working Group.
“The official motive of the request was for ‘administrative considerations’ due to the new administration’s agenda focused on governance and development,” the UPR press release stated.
The council, however, said postponing it would “not be positively received by States.” The Philippines then conceded to continue with the examination as scheduled.
UPR Info: What is it?
UPR: The Philippines’ human rights record to be reviewed by Universal Periodic Review UPR: Philippines’ request for deferral of UPR rejected Other relevant links on the May 8, 2017 UPR may be accessed here