February 29, 2024

Select civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Cordillera and other parts of Luzon were given a chance to engage with one of the world’s staunch advocates of human rights.

The CSOs, among them journalists and media organizations, met in a closed door setting with United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan at the Sangguniang Panlungsod Session Hall, City Hall on Jan. 26.

The Baguio dialogue is part of the series of meetings Khan is having with government agencies and CSOs across the country from which she is expected to give a report on the country’s state of human rights, particularly on freedom of opinion and expression after her visit.

The meeting was purely between Khan and the CSOs as even local officials were not allowed to join the dialogue.

Khan was accompanied by staff members of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security led by Chief of Staff, Atty. Hue Jyro Go.

Prior to her closed-door dialogue with the CSOs, Khan had a briefing with city officials and met with city prosecutors and local court judges where she was briefed about how the justice system works.

Go said Khan was informed the cases faced by people in Baguio do not involve much on freedom of expression and opinion.

“As discussed by the judges and fiscals, the cases are mostly white collar crimes and freedom of expression here is very vibrant,” Go said.

He added with regards to issues on red tagging, Khan has a pre-conceived notion about what’s going on in the country, which is why there was a call for comments from CSOs and media organizations in relation to freedom of opinion and expression that were submitted to her.

“There are 37 reports submitted to her from different CSOs in the Philippines and we do not have access to that. For us in the government, wala naman po kaming tinatago and we are very much transparent in these types of dialogues and communications with the special rapporteur,” Go said.

“We even do not have any idea what the discussion with the CSOs here in Baguio is all about. These kinds of engagements would ensure that she gets different types of information because ito ang habol natin in government, to have a flow of information without any prior restraint. We are happy to see that the CSOs are engaging without any government restrictions to allow an unbiased opinion.”

Mike Cabangon of the Kilusang Mayo Uno expressed reservations on Go’s claim that freedom of expression in Baguio is very vibrant.

“That is not true. We have experienced how our freedom was stifled and a proof of that is the terrorist designation of four rights defenders based in the region,” he said, referring to Cordillera Peoples Alliance officials and members Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Stephen Tauli who were designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council. The four has challenged before the court their terrorist designation.

Go said Khan is expected to give her comments about her 10-day visit in the country and recommendations by Feb. 2. – Jane B. Cadalig