Defying a vigorous campaign by the Duterte regime, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted on Thursday a resolution calling for the investigation of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines.

18 member-states of the UNHRC voted in favor of the resolution sponsored by Iceland. More than two dozen other non-member states backed the resolution.

The Duterte regime’s expensive “no” campaign could only gather the support of 14 member states, notably the President’s principal client China.

If you’re concerned about extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, the adoption of the UNHRC resolution is perhaps the strongest rebuke thus far against the Duterte regime coming from the international community.

Photo by Toto Lozano /
Photo by Toto Lozano /

Duterte caused the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in an attempt to evade accountability. The UNHRC adoption of the Iceland resolution gives victims of extrajudicial killings a much-needed dose of hope. It also tells President Duterte that he would ultimately be held accountable for his words and actions.

Apologists of the Duterte regime cannot claim the UNHRC is a violation of Philippine sovereignty. The Philippines is a co-founder of the UNHRC and thus helped craft its processes. The Philippines is also co-founder of the UN itself!

The Philippines has long entered into and ratified many international treaties on human rights. We cannot do that if we weren’t respected as a sovereign state. We are a member of the community of nations precisely because we are a sovereign nation. Iceland, the 14 other UNHRC member-states, and over two dozen other states cannot be accused of violating Philippine sovereignty. They actually respect Philippine sovereignty and the Filipino people that they availed of the UNHRC processes to check on the Duterte regime’s compliance with internationally agreed human rights standards.

Teddy boy Locsin, said to be the most brilliant member of the Duterte cabinet, led the effort to “kill” the Iceland resolution. The UNHRC member-states defied Locsin’s attempts to taint the victims and human rights defenders.

Locsin failed in an epic way. He could even be present at the UNHRC meeting, perhaps because he knew he would be humiliated by the UNHRC vote. He could only come up with statement warning UNHRC member-states which voted “yes” of so-called “consequences.”

If there’s any consequence to the UNHRC vote, it is that Locsin should resign immediately. He could not adequately rally support for Duterte in the UNHRC.

Duterte can no longer stop the UN special rapporteurs and the UNHRC president from doing their work. And this is important to Filipinos who have been deprived of accountability here at home. With Congress and the Supreme Court said to be under the control of Duterte, the UNHRC processes could provide aggrieved Filipinos the forum to hold accountable the death squads and their principal.

 Wife embraces her husband, a victim of the Duterte’s drug war / Dondi Tawatao, Getty Images

Those who profess undying faith in the President are expectedly unhappy over the UNHRC vote. It is a wake-up call to them about the political vulnerability of Duterte.

In the next few weeks and months, let us press the Duterte regime to invite UN special rapporteurs and UNHRC president to make official visits to the Philippines, and to freely talk with survivors and relatives of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders and lawyers, state security forces, and government authorities.

The Karapatan human rights alliance, Rise Up! (the organization of EJK survivors and relatives of victims), and Kapatid (families and friends of political detainees) welcome our support. Ditto for the National Union of Peoples Lawyers and other groups that seek to stop the bloodshed and acts of tyranny. Let’s also support independent media and activist movements.

The UNHRC vote should also show us a preview on how to defeat Duterte in the future. He doesn’t control the process. He doesn’t control the officials. We have the freedom to campaign among the UNHRC member-states. Armed with nothing but facts, the legal basis to seek redress, and a desire for justice, we prevailed over an expensive pro-Duterte campaign directed by Locsin.

Perhaps the biggest take-away from Geneva is that Duterte will ultimately be held accountable. He’s not untouchable after all. He will eventually be made to account for his words and his acts. And that’s a big thing for a nation being taught to blindly believe.

Published in MANILA BULLETIN | July 13, 2019
Featured photo by Carlo Manalansan /