By RONALYN OLEA
In a side event during the ongoing 14th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston said impunity is the most serious issue that characterizes extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines.
Alston visited the country in February 2007 to investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings since 2002. A year later, he submitted his formal report to the UN Human Rights Council, citing the counter-insurgency program of the government and the failure to prosecute perpetrators as the main reasons behind the killings.
Alston proposed recommendations to the Arroyo government, including the prosecution of state security forces involved in killings and rights abuses, abolition of the Inter Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) – which files trumped-up charges against activists – and to put a stop to Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch), the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government.
“It is very important, in my experience, to try to think strategically and to have a vision of how one really wants to look forward and I wouldn’t for the moment, downplay the importance of prosecution, which I have emphasized consistently and I wouldn’t de-emphasize the extent of the problem of impunity which sends a continuing signal to the military that they can do what they want,” Alston said at yesterday’s event titled “The Political Killings and Other Human Rights Violations In the Philippines: Impunity and Accountability at a Crossroads Between Two Administrations.”
Alston was reacting to the call echoed by the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines for the prosecution of President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo for the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and all other violations of human rights during the nine years of her administration.
The Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines is a five-member delegation of non-government organizations the aim of which is to make interventions at the UN HRC’s 14th session.
The side event was co-sponsored by the Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (CCIA/ WCC), the United Methodist Church – General Board on Church and Society (UMC-GBCS), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and endorsed by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).
Alston also had a word to say to the incoming president of the Philippines. “The president-elect will likely be reminded that he is heavily dependent on the Armed Forces of the Philippines, that he should not cause problems and that any prosecution will alienate the military,” Alston said.
Addressing the human rights advocates in the Philippines, Alston said focus should be given on the role of the judiciary and the human rights commission. He also praised the strong leadership of NGOs saying that among the countries he visited, the civil society in the Philippines was by far the most active in terms of providing him the data he needed.
During the side event, Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez said the Oplan Bantay Laya counter-insurgency program being implemented by the Arroyo administration is the most vicious and brutal program unleashed by any Philippine president against the Filipino people as this targets civilians and civil society organization leaders and members.
Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and president of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) thanked Alston for his report. He also thanked the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the churches in North America for accompanying the Philippines in “bringing before the international community the brazen assault on human dignity in the Philippines”.
Reyes said some churches are seriously considering filing a class suit against Arroyo when she steps down from office on June 30, 2010.
Alston, whose term as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions ends in July 2010, presented his final report to the UN HRC. In his remarks at the side event, he said he had “always retained great interest in the Philippines and will continue to be interested.”
CHR Commissioner Cecilia “Coco” Quisumbing, who also attended the side event, bewailed the non-cooperation of the military and the police in with the investigations and hearings of the Commission on Human Rights. (Bulatlat.com)