POSTSCRIPT / December 19, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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World of EJKs, HR violators shrinking

VIOLATORS of human rights and perpetrators of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines may appear untouchable, but the space still open to them in the democratic world outside seems to be getting smaller.

After the US Senate unanimously passed on Dec. 11 a bipartisan resolution banning the entry of persons behind EJK/HR violations and freezing their Stateside assets, the European Parliament moved Monday closer to adopting similar sanctions.

The new framework, according to some EU diplomats, could be ready to be presented for ministers’ final approval as early as next year.

Other like-minded countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have passed legislation along the same restrictive line but applicable only to Russian human rights violators. The coverage could be widened to include Asia and other areas.

The US and EU imposing such restrictions amounts to meddling in internal Philippine affairs, but barring undesirable aliens and holding their assets is their sovereign prerogative. As a United Nations member, the Philippines is committed to honor universal human rights.

US Senate Resolution No. 142 adopted last week called on President Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine officials and security forces behind extrajudicial killings, as provided in the US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

These include denial of visas for travel to the US and freezing of funds and properties in the US. There are unconfirmed reports that the US visa of Sen. Bato dela Rosa, who was national police chief, has been cancelled.

Many Philippine officials are known to have bank accounts and other assets in the US. Those eventually listed as human rights violators could have their properties frozen, the same action taken on funds of persons categorized as terrorists.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers moved closer to adopting a European “Magnitsky Act,” modelled after the US law with a similar title but avoiding language that it was targeting Russia.

Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney working for a UK firm, was accused of tax evasion and tax fraud. He died in police custody in 2009 after being repeatedly denied medical care and subjected to what would be considered torture in most civilized countries.

The European Parliament passed a resolution April 2 listing Russian officials responsible for his death. The “Magnitsky List” proposes an EU-wide visa ban and a freeze of EU assets of 32 Russians.

The original US Magnitsky Act was passed in 2012 to penalize Russian human rights violators. It was signed into law by then President Obama after receiving a bipartisan majority. In 2017, the US Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act.

Similar legislation imposing tough sanctions on human rights violators have been passed in the United Kingdom, Canada and the three Baltic states.

 Palace must speak with one voice

THE NEWS media understood the confusion, we hope, over the simple matter of where President Duterte was, what he was doing, and what he did after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit too close (60 air-kms.) to his Davao City home base last Sunday.

That there were different official stories did not surprise us since that has been the way human events are chronicled since the time of the gospel writers, or even earlier.

We are in the same predicament of blind men standing around an animal (an elephant) who were asked to touch it and to say what it was. They each were able to touch a leg, an ear, the tail, the trunk, etc., and spoke of different things.

One lesson we relearned from the inconsistencies of the earthquake stories passed on by officials close to the President is that second-hand reports (which lawyers would describe as hearsay) have to be verified and attributed to the source. Note these variations:

1. Brig. Gen. Jose Niembra, chief of the Presidential Security Guard, told reporters that Duterte was resting at home in Davao City when the quake hit at 2:11 p.m. Sunday, that his house was not damaged but had to be checked, and that the President went back to sleep.

2. Sen. Bong Go, Duterte’s long-time aide and occasional news source, told Sonshine Media Network International that Duterte remained in his room with his nurse during the shaking. (SMNI is a broadcast outfit of TV evangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.)

3. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, quoting Duterte’s partner Honeylet Avanceña, said the day after the quake that the President was having a haircut, that their daughter Veronica (Kitty) was with him and that Ms Avanceña was then on her way home.

The same officials also had variations on the theme of Duterte supposedly getting hurt in a motorcycle incident before he flew to Tokyo in October to find no seat for a head of government reserved for him at the coronation of Japan’s emperor Naruhito.

Duterte had to miss the historic event and returned to Manila complaining of severe pains arising, he said, from the motorcycle incident whose reportage had several variations:

1. Go was the first to announce it complete with a video clip (but not showing the supposed accident) of Duterte biking in the PSG compound without the regulation helmet. He used the tagalog term “sumemplang” to refer to the “accident.”

2. Niembra had another version, saying “one of the tires (of whatever the President was riding) hit an obstruction while maneuvering out of the PSG garage.

3. On the other hand, Panelo’s version had the President falling off a motorcycle while it was parked. “Kausap ko si first lady,” he said, presumably again referring to Ms Avanceña, “Kinuwento niya sa akin.”

We in media should understand how truth and its attributes suffer in the imperfect world of news reportage. After all, now and then we also commit factual errors.

The crucial difference is if the misreporting is deliberate, or malicious or part of a misinformation campaign – which implies ill motives that negate the presumed good faith of public information.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 19, 2019)

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