By RONALYN V. OLEA
A group of Philippine non-government organizations said the counterinsurgency program of the outgoing Arroyo government is behind the spate of killings victimizing lawyers, judges and human rights defenders in the Philippines.
“The real problem lies in the outgoing Arroyo government’s counterinsurgency paradigm that does not distinguish who are combatants and who are not; who are armed and who are not…” lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, vice president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and member of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecumenical Voice for brevity), said during a forum at the Palais des Nations, which was attended by lawyers, jurists, academics and other members of different civil society organizations from different countries.
The gathering, which had the theme “Attacks on lawyers, Judges, and Human Rights Defenders: The Urgent Need for Protective Measures,” was convened by the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation, Judges for Judges and the International Commission of Jurists. It was one of the side events of the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is being held from May 31 to June 18.
The Ecumenical Voice is a five-member delegation to Geneva for the 14th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Other members of the delegation include its head Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Marie Hilao- Enriquez, chairperson of the human rights alliance Karapatan, Edre Olalia, acting secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal on February 6.
Zarate said the counterinsurgency program lumps together all those who are critical of the government’s policies and programs as enemies of the state. “… and, being branded as such makes them targets for elimination,” Zarate said.
“We believe that to effectively address the problem of attacks faced by judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, we have to employ more long term solutions, long-term protective measures that will have greater impact on the persons sought to be protected,” said Zarate who was one of the reactors in the said forum.
According to the NUPL, some 26 lawyers and 17 judges have already been killed in the Philippines since 2001. Some 51 other cases of lawyers being attacked, labeled and harassed were also recorded since 2001.
In 2008, the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation organized the International Verification & Fact Finding Mission (IVFFM) on the Philippines composed of eight judges and lawyers from Belgium and the Netherlands. In its June 4, 2009 final report entitled “The Measures Measured,” the IVFFM said lawyers and judges in the Philippines are still being threatened, intimidated and killed, which prevent them from carrying out their legal profession.
The report also noted that the Arroyo government rejected some crucial recommendations, including one that addresses the root causes of the issue of extrajudicial killings, specifically the institutionalization of appropriate reforms in the judiciary and the security forces.
The IVFFM recommended that the Philippine government should consistently condemn publicly all forms of attacks against lawyers and judges at all levels and in strong terms; and the prosecution of all perpetrators with urgency and fervour.
The IVFFM strongly called on the Gloria Arroyo government to address the underlying root causes of extrajudicial killings effectively and to leave no stone unturned in investigating the serious allegations that its own military forces are involved in the killing.
“In the Philippine context, there is clear interconnection between the culture of impunity, the counter-insurgency policy of the government and the lack of protective measures to address the problems spawned by such a policy,” Zarate said.
In the same forum, Brazilian Judge Gabriela C. Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, vowed to make herself available on a full-time basis. She also said she will fully use her powers as a Special Rapporteur to work with members of civil society organizations “to address the root causes that create a scenario where threats and intimidations are happening.”
“We have to work together and do more to employ effective protective measures to help judges, lawyers and human rights defenders,” she said.
Zarate also criticized the claims of an official of the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva that the Arroyo government immediately acted to “swiftly bring to justice those responsible” for the now internationally-condemned November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao, Mindanao.
“What swift justice is he boasting about? The Arroyo government through Acting Secretary of Justice Alberto Agra even tried to exonerate two of the principal accused in the case while the attention of the Filipino people was focused on the recently concluded May national elections,” Zarate said. (Bulatlat.com)