Panelo: Government to convene immediately to discuss UN human rights report

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Concerned government officials will meet immediately to discuss the United Nations' recommendations on handling the human rights situation in the country, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Friday.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) gave the Philippines until September to respond to its report released on May 11.

Among others, the report urges the government to lift conditions set by President Rodrigo Duterte on a visit to the country by UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to investigate reported extrajudicial killings linked to the administration's war on drugs.

Read: UN rights review: PH must lift conditions on rapporteur probe

The UNHRC also opposes the restoration of the death penalty in the country and the lowering of the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9.

"In the report of the official delegation as a response to the draft, it said that we will be convening the Presidential Human Rights Committee and discuss the recommendations and invite all other competent groups to consider the recommendations by the UN," Panelo told CNN Philippines.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee is comprised of: Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as chairperson, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo,  Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Acting Interior and Local Government Secretary Catalino Cuy, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Economic Planning Secretary  Ernesto Pernia, National Anti-Poverty Commission Lead Convenor Liza Maza, and Panelo.

The committee is now drafting a national human rights action plan for 2018 to 2022, which should be based on the country's international obligations.

In December 2016, Duterte set three conditions for Callamard to conduct her probe: she must have a public debate with him, he is allowed to ask her questions, she has to take an oath before answering questions from officials.

Related: U.N. special rapporteur rejects government conditions

Callamard said she is still willing to conduct the investigation, but only if the conditions are lifted.

Read: UN rep on extrajudicial killings: I will return for official visit on PH drug war if conditions are lifted

Panelo insisted the conditions imposed on Callamard won't affect her probe.

"First, we already extended an invitation for her to come to the Philippines," he said. "I don't think the conditions imposed by the President would compromise that because what the President said is that, 'After you finish with your investigation, let me just ask you questions regarding your investigation.' I don't think that would be compromised because that would be after the termination of her investigation."

Panelo said that although the government is open to suggestions, he believes the Philippines knows better what to do in dealing with criminality.

"I guess China's observation is more, I think, accurate than that," he said. "It says that we should allow the Philippines to do its thing. Meaning to say, since we are here, we know what's happening to us. And that other countries are just looking over us."

(Story updated at 3 p.m. of May 13 to delete repeated paragraph.)