A prominent Dutch lawyers’ group based in this city that participated in an international verification and fact-finding mission on attacks on Filipino lawyers and judges last November 4-14, 2008 in the Philippines, echoed their call on the Arroyo government to investigate the killings not only of members of the legal profession but also of other victims of extrajudicial killings.
BY D. L. MONDELO
(Amsterdam, The Netherlands) – A prominent Dutch lawyers’ group based in this city that participated in an international verification and fact-finding mission on attacks on Filipino lawyers and judges last November 4-14, 2008 in the Philippines, echoed their call on the Arroyo government to investigate the killings not only of members of the legal profession but also of other victims of extrajudicial killings.
The Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (L4L) group noted the urgency of conducting an investigation and prosecution because the (Philippine) military is clearly involved. They echoed this call during a forum last December 10, organized by the Netherlands-based Filipino human rights alliance Rice and Rights to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
L4L lawyer Adrie van de Streek, explained that their mission last November 4-12, was a follow up to their earlier fact-finding mission conducted in 2006, principally to verify the status of the cases of harassed or killed lawyers and judges investigated by the international fact-finding mission in June 2006.
Sharing their own findings and experiences in 2006 and last November, Van de Streek said the threats on lawyers and judges remain immense, particularly because they help poor farmers and fishermen on their issues. She said because they participated in the fact-finding mission and exposed their findings, they were put in the ‘blacklist’ of the Philippine government and were also labelled ‘communists’ like the victims of extrajudicial killings.
One particular encounter the Dutch lawyers found ‘shocking’ and ‘unbelievable’ was during a visit to the Human Rights office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Manila, where an officer of said office even boasted to them that he was in favor of torture and of the death penalty.
Van de Streek also noted that although lots of international attention and pressure have been generated by several international fact-finding missions, the Alston Report, the UN HR Review, and similar international condemnation of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, the form of human rights violations merely changed with the method of filing fabricated charges against lawyers and Filipino activists.
She said the mission noted the Arroyo government’s lack of any serious will to investigate the killings, and added that there was a strong consensus among the lawyers and judges who participated in the mission that pursuing the case against retired AFP general Jovito Palparan would restore some trust in the judicial and political system.
Solving the killings, she further stressed, needs the support of all layers of society.
Filipino lawyer Atty. Neri Colmenares, legal counsel of the party-list Bayan Muna and secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) – one of the Philippine-based lawyers’ group that facilitated the international fact-finding mission (the other group being the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties [CODAL]), said that the Arroyo government keeps on ignoring international treaties and knowing that it is not obliged to implement it anyway, referring to the UN Declaration of Human Rights of which the Philippines is a signatory.
Calling the Arroyo administration a ‘government on the rampage’, Colmenares said the killings are being conducted because of the regime’s obsession to stay in power. He said the Arroyo government is a clear suspect in the killings because of the impunity with which the crimes are being committed, there is lack of interest to investigate, covering up for the perpetrators, and failure to condemn the killings. He decried the fact that despite the abundance of enough witnesses to the killings, the entire judicial system refuses to prosecute any of the perpetrators. Impunity, he said, is knowing you can get away with any crime.
Colmenares also said that though the form of political repression has shifted to the filing of fabricated charges against militants and activists, the machinery for the killings has not been dismantled. The killings could continue, he warned.
Citing the case of Jonas Burgos, son of a prominent newspaper publisher, who was abducted (and remains missing until today) in broad daylight in a busy shopping mall in Quezon City, Colmenares said human rights groups finally had a ‘eureka’ case. A closed-circuit television recording (CCTV) recorded the plate number of the van the men who abducted Burgos used. This, he said, was later traced to an impounded vehicle inside a military camp south of Manila. However, during the court investigation, high AFP officials made an incredible and laughable claim that the plate number was stolen by New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas inside the military camp. Investigation into his case remains at a standstill.
Colmenares joined the call of the L4L in calling for the prosecution of retired AFP general Palparan. His prosecution, if pursued, he said, will send a strong signal not only to the machinery for the killings, but also to the entire Arroyo regime as well.
While explaining that the struggle for human rights in the Philippines is a struggle against exploitation and oppression, Colmenares urged the voices from the Philippines and the international community to combine to raise strong concern on the human rights violations being committed by the Arroyo regime.
Explaining the status of the recent informal talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines held in Oslo, Norway, Rey Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center, revealed that the Arroyo government’s supposed new policy on peace negotiations with rebel groups – “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)”-unveiled only in the latter part of this year, was actually hatched as early as the first quarter of 2007. Casambre presented the document “Enhanced National Internal Security Plan (ENISP)”, a supposed comprehensive national security plan of the Arroyo government which even encompasses the ‘counter-insurgency plan’ “Oplan Bantay Laya II”. The plan already mentions the ‘DDR’ policy and the recommendation to shift to the filing of false charges against the legal left, while continuing with the physical elimination of what the regime considers “enemies of the state”. The Arroyo government announced this new policy as if on cue, he said, after the failed talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim rebel group operating in southern Philippines.
The forum in Amsterdam was attended by several other Dutch lawyers, representatives of Dutch political parties, Filipino migrants and refugees, Dutch and Belgian solidarity activists, researchers, and human rights activists.(Bulatlat.com)