“The culture of impunity in the Philippines must end. Extra-judicial killings of respected pastors and church leaders, most of whom were speaking against injustice in our country, show how horrible and unacceptable the human rights situation in our nation has been.” – Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Like any widow, Emma Lapuz, 45, has been struggling to raise her two children. When her husband Edison Lapuz, pastor of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), was killed, her son was only seven years old and her daughter was 13.
Pastor Edison, conference minister of the North East Leyte Conference of the UCCP and chairman of Katungod, the Eastern Visayas chapter of the human rights group Karapatan, was assassinated on May 12, 2005 by two alleged soldiers. Pastor Edison had just come from his father-in-law’s burial in San Isidro, Leyte.
After her husband’s death, Emma did not file any case. “I knew I would not get justice. The authorities were doing nothing,” Emma told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.
In June last year, Emma, emboldened by the initiative of her Church, decided to take on another battle. She joined the relatives of other UCCP members who were also victims of extrajudicial killings in filing a damage suit against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The UCCP sued Arroyo under the principle of command responsibility. During the implementation of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, more than 18 UCCP members were killed, one disappeared, three ambushed and wounded and four arrested, detained and tortured.
Investigation by the UCCP on Pastor Edison’s murder revealed that the pastor was one of 30 Eastern Visayas personalities in the military’s order of battle at the time he was killed. The report said that a few months before the incident, soldiers had been frequenting the house of Pastor Edison’s father, introducing themselves as UCCP members, and fishing for information on his activities and whereabouts.
“Our move was, in a way, to prod the Aquino government to do something about the cases of gross human rights violations committed during Arroyo’s term. Yet, even up to now, there are no efforts to run after the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings,” said Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, UCCP general secretary, in an interview.
The Protestant bishop said that with the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, “the issue of holding Arroyo culpable has been sidetracked.”
Marigza recalled that early on, Aquino promised ambassadors of the European Union (EU) that he would go after the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. “Apparently, nothing is being done,” Marigza said.
Marigza was referring to a dialogue between Aquino and 13 diplomats of EU member states in May 2010, a few days before Aquino’s proclamation as president. “The extrajudicial killings would have to be solved. It does not mean just identifying the perpetrators but capturing them and also sending them to jail,” Aquino told the EU delegation.
So far, the Aquino administration has filed charges of electoral sabotage against Arroyo who is being held in hospital detention. Recently, the local court granted Arroyo’s petition to stay longer in the hospital and to attend the wake of her brother-in-law Ignacio Arroyo.
Emma was enraged. “She [Arroyo] should be transferred to an ordinary detention facility. She should not be given special treatment.”
Emma’s sentiment is shared by Mercy Castro, one of the so-called Morong 43 or the 43 health workers arrested on February 6, 2010 in Morong, Rizal and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Most were released in December after the charges had been withdrawn but two of the Morong 43 remain in jail after being slapped with other criminal cases.
Mercy and five other members of the Morong 43 also filed a civil case against Arroyo and other military officials in April last year.
“Arroyo must be sent to a regular jail,” Mercy, who gave birth to her second child while in detention, told Bulatlat.com in an interview. “We endured so much suffering and we would not allow them to get away with it just like that.”
In both civil cases, the complainants argued that Arroyo, as then commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who implemented the counterinsurgency program considered by human rights groups as the bloodiest in Philippine history, must account for gross human rights violations.
Marigza said the doctrine of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya accused legal organizations of being linked to the underground. The UCCP, along with other Church and people’s organizations, was branded as front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The UCCP complaint stated: “The extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, arbitrary detentions, and the physical and psychological tortures inflicted by the military establishment were all carried out pursuant to the policies, framework and ideology laid down in Oplan Bantay Laya, conceived and implemented by Defendant Arroyo in her administration’s counterinsurgency campaign.”
Karapatan has documented 1,206 cases of extrajudicial killings, 206 victims of enforced disappearances, and 2,059 cases of illegal arrests and detention during the nine-year rule of Arroyo.
“She [Arroyo] either knew, acquiesced, tolerated or gave orders [on these human rights violations],” Edre Olalia, one of the lawyers of the Morong 43 and secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said during the filing of the case.
Arroyo filed separate motions to dismiss both cases, citing failure to cite any cause of action against Arroyo.
“The complaint cites very clearly the numerous causes of action,” Julian Oliva Jr. of the NUPL and one of the lawyers of the Morong 43, told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
The Morong 43 complaint cited five causes of action against the former president and her officials involved in the case. These include damages for torture, damages for the violation of their constitutional and statutory rights, including their right against arbitrary and illegal detention, right against self-incrimination and right to counsel, divestment of personal belongings, Arroyo’s neglect of duty, and moral damages.