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Palace questions Callamard’s credentials after remarks on COVID-19 crisis

Malacañang on Monday questioned the credentials of United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard after she claimed that the Philippine government has been acting beyond international law even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, is not an expert on the issue of extralegal killings.

“She’s not a specialist on extralegal killings. She’s a specialist on freedom of expression. It would have been better if the UN appointed an actual expert on extralegal killings of the same caliber as [former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions] Philip Alston,” Roque said in a televised briefing.

“I wish Agnes good luck. I wish she could get tenure in her university so that she could be actually recognized as an expert.”

According to her profile posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Callamard previously led a human rights organization promoting freedom of expression globally and conducted human rights investigations over 30 countries. She is also a special adviser to Columbia University president Lee Bollinger.

Callamard previously earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte for her criticism of his deadly war on drugs, which has killed thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers since taking office in 2016 according to government data. She once said that the approach taken by the Duterte administration only makes the drug problem worse.

Roque said that the use of force by the state is not prohibited under international law “provided it is necessary and it is proportional and I think the kind of responses, the use of force that we have seen satisfied this criteria.”

“If not, then the appropriate cases are filed, whether criminal or administrative, which is the duty of the state in case of an alleged violation of the right to life,” he said.

For his part, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Filipinos, in general, heeded quarantine guidelines set by the government although thousands have been apprehended for violating some restrictions.

Speaking at an online forum last Friday, Callamard expressed fears that the "additional powers" given to authorities in countries that have declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic would only contribute to more violence and human rights violations.

"Of course, in a country like the Philippines, as many other countries, law enforcement is already acting beyond international law, beyond a standard allowing for the use of force," Callamard said at a webinar hosted by rights group Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines titled "#NoLockdownOnRights."

"So you can only imagine what those additional powers under state of emergencies are doing to their conduct," she added.

The Philippines has been under a state of public health emergency since March. —LDF, GMA News