President Benigno S. Aquino III is “doing the exact opposite of his pronouncement that he will put closure to the human-rights violations of Arroyo and her cohorts. As commander-in-chief, he allowed the AFP to extend the counter-insurgency plan which was proven to have violated human rights.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — For a mother of a slain human-rights defender, the extension of the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) proves that President Benigno S. Aquino III is no different from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when it comes to human rights.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo David announced on August 15 the extension of the implementation of OBL, which has been blamed for the spate of killings and other rights abuses in the Philippines. Human-rights group Karapatan has documented 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings, 205 victims of enforced disappearance, and countless cases of torture and harassment.
“We, the families of the victims, were right when we said that Aquino will soon show his true color,” Evangeline Hernandez, spokesperson of Hustisya! and mother of slain journalist and human-rights defender Benjaline Hernandez, said in a phone interview with Bulatlat.
Benjaline, then vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, was killed by soldiers in Arakan Valley in North Cotabato on April 5, 2002.
Hernandez expressed disgust over Aquino’s move. “Instead of punishing the perpetrators of human-rights violations and put a stop to the OBL that leads to various human-rights violations, he has allowed the counter-insurgency campaign to be extended until January 2011,” she said.
Roneo Clamor, husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the 43 health workers arrested by the military in Morong, Rizal, on Feb. 6 on trumped-up charges, feels the same way.
“He’s doing the exact opposite of his pronouncement that he will put closure to the human-rights violations of Arroyo and her cohorts. As commander-in-chief, he allowed the AFP to extend the counter-insurgency plan which was proven to have violated human rights,” Clamor, also acting as secretary-general of Karapatan, said. The extension of OBL means more cases of human-rights violations, he emphasized.
Clamor noted that even before the AFP’s announcement that OBL is extended, the killing of five activists during Aquino’s first two weeks as president was “already a sign that the counter-insurgency plan is intact.”
Karapatan refuses to buy the statement of AFP that it will respect human rights.
“The focus of the new campaign will be the respect for human rights. To achieve this (defeat of NPA), you have to have a clear human-rights advocacy,” David said in news reports.
“This is the height of deception and distortion by the AFP and Aquino to lull the people into accepting this abominable counter-insurgency strategy, which was already found by both local and international bodies to be one of the reasons for the series of killings and enforced disappearances committed against activists and critics of the US-Arroyo regime,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said.
“The bloody record of OBL has shown the AFP’s total disregard for human rights. Its mercenary tradition has shown not even a modicum of respect but rather total contempt of human rights,” she added. “Extending OBL means extending massive militarization campaigns and displacement of entire communities at the mercy of the military, paramilitary and armies of political warlords and big business interests.”
Enriquez said human rights are violated by the AFP in the series of cruel military operations now being undertaken in the hinterlands of Negros island province, Samar, the Bicol provinces, Davao and Compostela Valley and other parts of the land.
Hernandez said that it would be impossible for the implementers of the counter-insurgency campaign to respect human rights.
Disregard of Alston Report
Both Hernandez and Clamor said that the Aquino administration has totally disregarded the recommendations of Prof. Philip Alston, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution who investigated the atrocities in the Philippines a few years ago.
Alston said in his recommendation that extrajudicial executions must be eliminated from counterinsurgency operations. He said that Arroyo “as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President must take concrete steps to put an end to those aspects of counterinsurgency operations which have led to the targeting and execution of many individuals working with civil society organizations.”
Also included in the recommendations of Alston is to take necessary measures to ensure that the principle of command responsibility, as it is understood in international law, is a basis for “criminal liability within the domestic legal order.”
Aquino should acknowledge and implement the recommendations made by Alston, Hernandez said, adding that the victims “will continue to assert and fight for justice for our loved ones.”
Hernandez pointed out that Aquino has done nothing to give justice to victims of human rights abuses under Arroyo, noting that the newly created Truth Commission has not included human-rights violations in its scope of investigation.
“There are more than 1,200 victims of extrajudicial killings alone under the Arroyo administration. How can Aquino address the demand of the relatives for justice when he extended the implementation of OBL?” Hernandez asked. (Bulatlat.com)