By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — As Congress proclaimed Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III as the next Philippine president, human rights defenders called on the United Nations to urge Aquino to fulfill his campaign promise to promote human rights.
“We urge this Council to help us make the President-elect stand by his campaign promise,” Rev. Rex Reyes, head of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights, told the United Nations Human Rights Council during his oral intervention June 8 at the council’s 14th session in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Philippines is a member of the council and a signatory to major UN human rights instruments.
Aquino pledged to prosecute all those involved in extrajudicial killings. In a recent press conference, Aquino said cases of extrajudicial killings should have a closure. He said the perpetrators need to be captured and sent to jail.
“That’s part of the agenda [of the incoming administration]… Judicial reform is so important. There has to be closure as soon as possible, which means not the usual average of six years,” Aquino added.
“We appeal to this Council to urge our government to stop its counterinsurgency program dubbed as Operation Bantay Laya, (Operation Freedom Watch or OBL). OBL makes no distinction between armed combatants and civilians. Its continued implementation has caused massive human rights violations the victims of which cut across all sectors in Philippine society,” Reyes said.
Reyes also asked the council to “be steadfast in urging our government neither to engage in nor adopt any similar policy in the future.”
Citing Karapatan data, Reyes the National Council of Churches in the Philippines general secretary told the Council that there have been 1,192 cases of extrajudicial killings, 205 cases of enforced disappearances and 1,028 cases of torture since 2001. Reyes said there are hundreds more of other cases of human rights violations in the different parts of the country, victimizing farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, social activists, religious, lawyers and journalists.
Ampatuan Massacre, Morong 43
Reyes cited the Ampatuan massacre in November last year and the arrest of the 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal last February 6 as the more recent brazen cases of human rights violations. The Ampatuan massacre in November last year claimed the lives of 57 individuals, mostly journalists.
Roneo Clamor, husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the Morong 43, narrated to the council the human rights violations committed against the health workers.
“On February 6, this year, they were arrested by state security forces using a faulty warrant and were falsely labeled as members of the rebel movement. They were held incommunicado and denied counsel for six days,” Clamor said during his oral intervention.
“The military filed false charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against them to justify their arrest and continued detention without bail. Other legal shortcuts were resorted to and the Philippine government used a Marcos-era jurisprudence to deprive them of their liberty,” Clamor added.
Clamor, Karapatan deputy secretary general, also told the UN Human Rights Council how the authorities have avoided or questioned any inquiry into their accountability for human rights violations committed against the 43 health workers. It can be recalled that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through the Office of Solicitor General, even filed a petition before the Court of Appeals to compel the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to stop its investigation into the alleged human rights abuses committed against the Morong 43.
Clamor said the Morong 43 were detained in a military camp where they were repeatedly interrogated without counsel, subjected to various forms of coercion, intimidation and indignities as well as psychological torture and deprived of sleep.
Clamor called on the council to look into the incident, “employ appropriate measures and to urge the Philippine government to respect its pledges and commitments made during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and its obligations as signatory to various human rights instruments.”
In April 2008, during the UPR of the Philippine government’s human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council, executive secretary and head of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) Eduardo Ermita said the Arroyo administration would soon accede to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) which covers physical, emotional, psychological and mental abuse. Until now, the Philippines has not ratified the OPCAT. While the Philippine Congress enacted an Anti-Torture Law in November last year, no implementing rules and regulations have been issued so far.
The Philippine government also committed to continue to address the issue of extrajudicial killings; to develop a gender-responsive approach, especially to protect children and women; to further develop domestic legislation to better protect the rights of the child; and to meet the basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable sectors.
Clamor also asked the Council to urge the Philippine government to stop the practice of filing trumped up charges against activists or “else brazen impunity shall continue.”
?Clamor’s intervention was supported by the Civicus: World Alliance for Citizens Participation, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Franciscans International, Lawyers Rights Watch of Canada and the Association of American Jurists.?
“Never since the Martial Law years have human rights violations in our country occurred with so much impunity as now,” Reyes said, referring to Morong 43 and Ampatuan massacre cases.
Reyes urged the council to continue monitoring the Philippine government, that it may abide by its pledges and commitments to international instrumentalities and to implement the recommendations that it has accepted and committed to.
Reyes also formally thanked UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Professor Philip Alston for “his trailblazing efforts into the issues of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” adding that Alston’s report and recommendations on the Philippines in 2008 as well as his report to the 14th Session are “outstanding pieces of work that human rights advocates and defenders in the Philippines find very instructive and helpful.”
Alston visited the country in February 2007 to investigate the spate of killings in the Philippines. Alston blamed the counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo government for the killings and issued many significant recommendations. His term as special rapporteur ends this year.
Karapatan furnished a soft copy and video of the speeches of Reyes and Clamor.
Aside from Reyes and Clamor, the other members of the delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines are Edre Olalia, acting secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairperson and Dr. Angie Gonzales of the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.? (Bulatlat.com)