Int’l watchdog says impunity still reigns

There has been progress such as in passing laws for human rights and providing a ‘veneer of transparency,’ but none in walking the talk and producing results.


MANILA – Although the number of cases of extrajudicial killings has gone down, “impunity remains a huge problem under the Aquino administration,” according to an international human rights watchdog.

In a chat with online journalists and bloggers on May 29, Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of  Human Rights Watch, said: “We recognize that there has been some progress… [but] there has been no successful prosecution of extrajudicial killings since 2010.”

HRW praised the Aquino administration for the passage of important laws related to the protection and promotion of human rights such as Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act and the Human Rights Victim Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

But Kine said walking the talk is the next step. In the same vein, Carlos Conde, researcher for HRW Asia division, told reporters and bloggers: “The challenge [for the government] is to implement these laws immediately.”

Conde raised the alarm over how the government has not yet formed the Human Rights Claims Board. This would have been crucial in implementing the Human Rights Victim Reparation and Recognition Act. “We do not want to speculate but the delay in the formation of the Claims Board concerns us. Some of the victims have died already,” he said.

Poor mechanisms

Kine said the human rights mechanisms developed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police are “not effective in stopping abuses.”

During the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, both the AFP and the PNP had set up Human Rights Offices that still exist today. Kine said the HR offices of both agencies are “just talking shops and not about identifying abuses.”

Kine said the appointment as AFP spokesman of Domingo Tutaan Jr., former chief of the AFP Human Rights Office, reinforces their view that the AFP Human Rights Office is just  a “talking shop” and not doing much. “Instead of transparency, it provides a veneer of accountability without delivering results,” Kine said.

Conde shared that the HRW had approached the AFP Human Rights Office several times for specific cases of human rights violations but the latter was not “much help.”

Classic example

Asked to comment on the case of Jonas Burgos, Kine said the refusal of the Philippine Army to enforce disciplinary actions against the Army officer implicated in the abduction “gives the impression that rhetoric does not match action.”

Recently, the Court of Appeals affirmed its earlier decision holding the military accountable for the disappearance of Jonas, son of the late press freedom fighter, Jose Burgos Jr. The appellate court also identified Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. as responsible for the abduction. But Baliaga remains in active service.

“The Jonas Burgos case is one of the few cases with strong pieces of evidence and yet the military is not suspending or disciplining one of its men,” Conde said.

“It’s a case of government’s foot dragging, which cements the impression that impunity in the Philippines is alive and well,” Kine said.

Trumped-up charges vs activists

Asked to comment on the reported cases of filing of trumped-up charges against activists, Kine replied: “We’re always carefully monitoring government laws being used to attack or undermine work of civil society organizers or anyone who challenges the state.”

Kine said, however, that they have yet to verify reports in the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan has noted that while the number of extrajudicial killings has gone down, cases of arrests of activists have increased. Based on Karapatan’s documentation, 148 activists have been arrested and detained under the Aquino administration.

After analyzing the events that preceded cases of human rights violations, Conde noted that “trumped up charges are part of modus operandi” of perpetrators of abuses. He said “Extrajudicial killings are a progression of violations – from surveillance to vilification to arrest.” (

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