Benjie Oliveros | Where Is Human Rights in the Aquino Government’s Agenda?


The infamy of the former Arroyo administration did not begin and end with the corruption scandals it was involved in. There were the allegations of cheating during the 2004 elections, which shook the ground it was standing on. And there was the spate in human rights violations – especially extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, killings of journalists, and the filing of trumped-up charges against its perceived enemies – which resulted in it being extremely isolated nationally and internationally.

At least the problem of manipulation of election results was supposedly addressed by the automated election system, although not to everybody’s satisfaction. What election automation was actually able to achieve was to speed up the transmission of election returns and canvassing of votes, thereby making it more difficult to manipulate the results. However, it is no guarantee that the results were not manipulated. In fact, with automation, it is more difficult to find out if what was counted was consistent with what the voters wrote. Secondly, obviously there were a lot of problems, which should not be merely swept under the rug. These should be investigated. Lastly, the old problems of vote-buying, election violence and harassments were still rampant during the 2010 elections.

More alarming is the fact that there has been no policy statement from Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino that would firmly address the problems besetting the human rights situation in the country, particularly the atmosphere of impunity. There is reason for optimism in the appointment of former Commission on Human Rights Chairwoman Leila de Lima as Justice Secretary. However, her marching orders are to run after those involved in corruption. There has been no mention about human rights violators, although she would surely try to address this because human rights is one of her advocacies. But the sheer volume of her work, and the prevailing impunity would make her task of running after human rights violators very difficult.

When municipal councilor and Bayan Muna member Fernando Baldomero was killed in front of his 12-year-old son last July 5, Malacañang’s response was to order an investigation and to clarify that it is not the policy of the Aquino government to commit extrajudicial killings. However, this is hardly enough. What is needed is for President Aquino himself, and not merely his spokesman Edwin Lacierda, to order all concerned government agencies, including the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to arrest the perpetrator, set a deadline for solving the case, and declare unequivocally that it would not tolerate extrajudicial killings and other forms of human rights violations.

It should also initiate an investigation on the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights committed by the previous administrations – beginning with the Arroyo government- order that all military records related to this be made public – as what Argentina did – compel the AFP to reveal the whereabouts of the disappeared, and make those responsible face a special human rights court, with the proceedings made public. This would send a clear message that human rights violations would no longer be tolerated and that the Aquino government is determined to end impunity.

It should also do the same with journalist killings and prosecute not only the triggermen, but more important is the arrest of the masterminds, even if it means sending political warlords and incumbent local officials, who were involved in this, sent to jail.

Second, the President Aquino should order all concerned government agencies to comply with and implement all the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston. The order should include rescinding Arroyo’s bloody counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which is being pointed to as the doctrine that encourages extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, as well as the unleashing of military terror in the countryside.

Third, the Aquino government should declare – as what his mother Cory and also former president Fidel V. Ramos did – its commitment to release all political prisoners and the dropping of trumped-up charges filed by the former Arroyo administration. This would send a clear signal that the arrest of people for their political beliefs and the legal harassment of political activists do not sit well with the new government. Besides, the arrest and detention of political offenders have no place in a democracy.

Fourth, the Arroyo government should call for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It should comply with previous agreements and start the process of addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.

It seems that President Aquino’s attention is too focused on projecting an image that it would not tolerate corruption, even as his government has not yet even skimmed the surface of the problem of corruption – which has its roots in the political system in the country. It would take much more time and effort to address corruption. In the meantime, there are a lot of pressing issues as well, one of which is human rights.

It is no longer the election campaign period and focusing on one issue such as corruption, and on sound bytes such as the “wang-wang” prohibition, would no longer suffice. To reverse the evil legacies of the former Arroyo government, there is a need to take bold steps addressing not only corruption but the problems of human rights and poverty as well. And the time to do this is now in order to send a clear message regarding what the Aquino government stands for and to set its direction and priorities. (

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