Benjie Oliveros | The Imperative of Justice

From the time of his inauguration up to the present, President Benigno Aquino III has not made any policy statement or measure that would push for human rights. It is as if human rights and civil liberties were not under attack during the previous administration.


The dispensation of justice and the implementation of sweeping reforms for human rights have been necessary for countries that have emerged after years of being under a dictatorship. This has been true in Argentina. President Roberto Alfosín who was democratically elected after the last of four military juntas acceeded power ordered the prosecution of known junta and terrorist leaders; signed international human rights treaties; and ordered the formation of Argentina’s truth commission “National Commission on Disappeared Persons,” (CONADEP). CONADEP produced a report 50,000 pages long, which listed names of 9,000 disappeared persons and locations of 365 detention centers. The report was summarized and published in a book entitled, “Never Again”.

In Chile, President Patricio Aylwin appointed a National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation to “investigate and report on the human rights violations of the previous period and to make recommendations for reparations and prevention of further abuses.” After the commission published its report the Chilean Congress passed a law which awarded reparations to the families and victims of human rights violations under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It also established the National Corporation of Reparations and Reconciliation (NCRR) to continue the unfinished investigations of the commission. When Pinochet died in 2006, about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile for various human rights violations, tax evasion and embezzlement.

In Guatemala, the government, in partnership with the United Nations, created a Comision Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala that led investigations of crimes committed by clandestine armed groups or death squads. It was able to send a former president and an ex-minister to jail.

In the Philippines, the late president Cory Aquino did try to implement sweeping measures to promote human rights and democracy such as the release of all political prisoners, the creation of a Presidential Committee on Human Rights – the precursor of the Commission on Human Rights – the restoration of formal democratic rights and processes, and the inclusion of international human rights laws and instruments, as well as safeguards against a return to a dictatorship, in the 1987 Constitution. These were necessary to show that it was different from the Marcos fascist dictatorship. However, it did not pursue justice for the victims of human rights violations and the Filipino people. On the contrary, it coddled the Armed Forces of the Philipippines, and implemented a Total War policy, a bloody counterinsurgency campaign, which led to the commission of more human rights violations. Because there was no justice, there was no decisive break from the dictatorship. Thus, impunity persisted and the weak and incomplete democracy that has been instituted since has been under constant threat.

It is this weak and incomplete democracy that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exploited for her personal gain. To keep herself in power and continue raiding the nation’s coffers for nine years, Arroyo made numerous attempts to curtail civil liberties through declaring a state of national emergency, violently attacking rallies, and harassing its critics by filing trumped up charges in court. Worse, the extrajudicial killings under her administration was comparable to that of the Marcos dictatorship but was unparalleled in terms of brazeness. The Marcos dictatorship tallied 1,500 extrajudicial killings in 13 years while the Arroyo administration had almost a thousand in nine years. And the Arroyo administration did not make much effort to conceal its responsibility for the killings, even praising the notorious former major general Jovito Palparan – who left a bloody trail in the regions where he was assigned – during one of her state of the nation addresses. This emboldened the military, and even the police and political warlords who Arroyo relied on to thwart attempts to oust her from Malacañang. This, in turn, resulted in the killings of journalists and the gruesome Maguindanao massacre.

Thus, it is imperative that the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III makes a decisive break from the Arroyo administration in order to save the frail and incomplete democracy from the throes of death. However, justice seems to be the farthest from Pres. Aquino’s mind. Nor does it appear that he would implement measures to revive respect for human rights. From the time of his inauguration up to the present, he has not made any policy statement or measure that would push for human rights. It is as if human rights and civil liberties were not under attack during the previous administration. Pres. Aquino has consistently refused to order the release of political prisoners, including the Morong 43, whose arrest and detention were, by his own admission, marred by numerous violations of their rights. He has not lifted a finger to assist the relatives of the disappeared. Nor has he ordered any investigation on the numerous human rights violations committed by the previous administration. On the contrary, the Aquino administration has been dragging its foot even on the investigation of the corruption cases involving the Arroyo family.

Thus, it is no longer surprising that cases of extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other human rights violations continue to pile up. Even the renowned botanist Leonardo Co was not spared from the impunity in killings while undertaking a research on forest trees and plants in Kananga, Leyte.

If this is the path that the Aquino administration intends to take, the Filipino people would have to say goodbye to human rights or continue fighting against impunity and for justice and democracy. (

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