“We remind you that the international community is watching closely and we demand that prosecution and punishment replace inaction.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Various organizations of foreign lawyers have scored the Aquino administration for the continuing human rights violations.
In a statement, the International Association of Peoples’ Lawyers (IAPL) said it had high hopes at the inauguration of the newly elected President Benigno S. Aquino III. “19 months later, IAPL sees no major change in politics: human rights violations continue to this day. The perpetrators have practically not been effectively investigated, charged and tried, let alone punished,” the group said.
In an open letter to Aquino, the National Lawyers Guild of the United States, said, “…it seems that your administration has utterly failed to improve the human rights situation in the country, except for the singular instance where it was compelled to belatedly release the Morong 43 health workers. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture continue while the perpetrators continue to escape any punishment.”
The Morong 43 health workers were arrested on Feb. 6, 2009. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were branded as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Due to mounting pressure, the Aquino administration ordered the release of the health workers in December 2010.
“The Aquino government should show its respect for human rights by taking concrete actions, instead of just speaking about it,” the IAPL, an organization of human rights lawyers, said.
The IAPL said the “first and necessary step is to free the political prisoners, to free the people detained and imprisoned for fighting against oppression and for struggling for fundamental changes against a corrupt regime.”
According to Karapatan, there are 356 political prisoners in the Philippines.
In a separate statement, Belgium-based Progress Lawyers Network likewise urged the Philippine government to release all political prisoners.
“We had expected more from President Aquino, whose father was a political prisoner himself,” the Progress Lawyers Network of Belgium said.
“Impunity for human rights violators and punishment of those who have different political beliefs, that’s called plain injustice,” the IAPL said.
Both groups also called for the prosecution of major human rights violators such as former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and fugitive retired General Jovito Palparan Jr.
Arroyo is now under hospital arrest for charges of electoral sabotage. IAPL lamented that the present government “has not shown any concrete and firm step to make her former administration liable for human rights violations.”
“On the contrary, it is the victims, their relatives, human rights defenders organizations and their lawyers that have initiated and are doggedly pursuing cases in courts, at great risk and difficulty… with no help from the government other than its general rhetoric,” the IAPL said.
“President Aquino had appointed the previous chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Mrs. Leila De Lima, to be his Secretary of Justice. With all her expertise and her criticism against the human rights policy of the Arroyo administration, we had expected her to prosecute the main human rights violators. What is the Aquino administration waiting for?” the Progress Lawyers Network of Belgium said.
In the same vein, the Britain-based Haldane Society said in a statement signed by its chairwoman Liz Davies, “The victims and families have been waiting for justice for the longest time. There are prevalent doubts from the victims and their families whether the Pnoy administration itself has in fact made any serious, systematic and concrete effort to initiate the effective and genuine investigation and prosecution of human rights violators of the past and the present.”
The groups called on the Aquino administration to take prompt action, to investigate and resolve administrative, civil and criminal cases against former president Gloria Arroyo and her top civilian, military and police officials led by Palparan.
Arroyo is facing damage suits for human rights violations separately filed by six of the Morong 43 health workers and by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP).
Palparan, meanwhile, has been hiding for more than a month after a local court issued a warrant of arrest against him for charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
The NLG told Aquino in a letter dated February 2,”We remind you that the international community is watching closely and demand that prosecution and punishment replace inaction. It is past the time for you to end the culture of impunity in the Philippines and place your administration on the right side of history.”