By Genevieve Candace Poquiz

"First of all, I would like to categorically state that there is no government policy of engaging in red-tagging which is a term invented by the left to protect the left. There is no such policy of engaging in red-tagging."

Photo Courtesy of Denis Balibouse (Reuters)/Rappler

This was how Justice Secretary Boying Remulla responded amid countries seeking an end to the red-tagging of journalists and human rights activists in the Philippines as he led a delegation from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Monday, November 14.

The UPR is an examination of the status of human rights in the country, led by United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) member-states which is the fourth time in its four-year cycle that the Philippines underwent review.

The United States of America is among the eight member-states that pushed for a stop to the practice, seeking to protect human rights defenders by revoking laws that overstep the boundaries of freedom of expression and to cease arbitrary arrests.

Austria, along with Switzerland, suggested that the Anti-Terrorism Act should be amended and for a human rights defenders protection bill to be passed into law.

“We remain however deeply concerned about the intimidation and harassment of civil society activists with the widespread and grave human rights violations,” Austria stated.

To this, Remulla said that the government provided a “thriving, vibrant and participative democratic space” to all rights activists through participative governance with the numerous civil society organizations in the Philippines.

Furthermore, the Philippine delegation insisted that the Anti-Terrorism Act has provided a system to prevent abuse and violence, and is made for defenders of human rights and civil society organizations to save children.

The Philippine UPR Watch Press, however, argued against the report of the chief justice for its lack of “admission and accountability,” bringing “empty words and vague promises” that did not span the reality of the situation.

“We hope that the Marcos government acknowledges the fact that its claim of improved human rights situation in the Philippines is not believed. Behind polite words in which the recommendations is given by more than a hundred countries in the review, they clearly mean that the Philippines has a long way to go in ensuring the human rights is respected and upheld in the country,” the UPR Watch wrote.

Knowing of the negative results from the review, House Committee on Human Rights Chairperson Representative Bienvenido Abante Jr. called to action several stakeholders to uphold the rights of the people in their organizational meeting.

"Before the eyes of the UN-HRC, our human rights record is rife with abuses, and concrete steps must be undertaken to ensure justice, accountability as well as remedy and reparation for the victims and their families," Abante said.

Under the committee, their top priorities include the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Act, the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture and OPCAT Implementation and Strengthening, and the Strengthening of the Commission on Human Rights, among others.