By BENJIE OLIVEROS
For all his fiery inaugural address, President Benigno Aquino III seems to have chosen the path of indecisiveness especially on important issues such as justice, expanding democracy, human rights, and even his banner issue corruption.
“Sa mga nang-api sa akin, kaya ko kayong patawarin at pinapatawad ko na kayo. Sa mga nang-api sa sambayanan, wala akong karapatan na limutin ang inyong mga kasalanan.”
“To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice.”
“Ang sinumang nagkamali ay kailangang humarap sa hustisya. Hindi maaaring patuloy ang kalakaran ng walang pananagutan at tuloy na pang-aapi.”
Sadly, after more than a year in office of the Aquino government, justice seems to be as elusive as before and impunity continues to reign in the country.
Journalists and human rights advocates alike are becoming restless and impatient over the turtle-paced investigations and apparent inaction of the Aquino government in bringing perpetrators of heinous crimes – killings, massacres, and enforced disappearances – berfore the bar of justice.
Only ten convictions out of the 123 cases of killings of journalists, and no mastermind has been sent to jail. Even on the case of the Ampatuan massacre, which made the Philippines infamous for journalist killings, justice seems to grind ever so slowly as not even a significant number of the accused have been arraigend.
As for the number of perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of political activists who have been convicted, zero. The Aquino government does not even seem to care that in all countries that transitioned from a repressive regime to a democracy, the issue of enforced disappearances was the first to be addressed.
Worse, attacks on journalists and political activists continue. And these do not seem to jolt the Aquino government into action. Instead, the Aquino government seems to ignore the urgency of putting a stop to impunity.
The lack of a sense of urgency of the Aquino government is demonstrated clearly by its inability to prosecute former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose administration was characterized by scandalous corruption, killings of journalists, and an alarming increase in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of poltiical activists. That is why it is having a hard time stopping the former president from leaving the country.
The roundtable discussion on Impunity, which was held by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, tried to focus on “doable” measures and actions that the Aquino government could and should take to address impunity. This is good as big leaps start from small steps.
The former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had, as far back as 2007, also proposed “doable” measures to end impunity in extrajudicial killings. But these have largely been ignored even by the Aquino government.
This points to the fact that the bigger issues must also be addressed, otherwise even the small steps would amount to nothing.
The representative of Karapatan in the forum sponsored by the CMFR hit the nail on the head when she pointed to the counterinsurgency program of the Aquino government Oplan Bayanihan and the continuing tagging of political activists as “enemies of the state” as the reason behind the lack of justice and the continuing violations of human rights, especially political killings and enforced disappearances. The mere fact that a government sees the need to conduct a counterinsurgency program speaks a lot about the type of democracy a country has.
As for journalist killings, one also has to address the warlord politics of guns, goons and gold, which is still reigning in the provinces. And President Benigno Aquino III’s potshots directed at the media for being critical of his administration is reinforcing this more.