“To address impunity, it’s not enough to pass laws. Laws have to be enforced. They have to work in a way that the rights of the people who do not have economic power are protected.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – After a four-day visit to the Philippines, a network of seven major civil society organizations and church groups from Germany expressed concern about the continuing human rights violations in the country.
The six-member delegation of the German-based Action Network for Human Rights – Philippines (ANHRP) was in Manila from Feb. 10 to Feb. 14 and met with victims of human rights abuses, human rights defenders, partner organizations from civil society, church, representatives of the Philippine government, the German embassy and the European Union mission.
“The culture of impunity regarding serious human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture remains unbroken in the Philippines,” Elmar Noe, chairman of the ANHRP, said in a press briefing, Feb. 14.
“Contrary to the promises of the Aquino administration, in only a few cases have the perpetrators been successfully prosecuted and convicted,” Noe said.
“From Arroyo to Aquino, there has been little progress, by far not enough to address impunity,” Noe said.
Formed in 2007, the ANHRP has been monitoring specific cases of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, torture, trumped-up charges and other human rights violations.
While the ANHRP recognized the recent legislations for the protection of human rights such as the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, the group noted, “there has been not much improvement on the ground.”
“To address impunity, it’s not enough to pass laws. Laws have to be enforced. They have to work in a way that the rights of the people who do not have economic power are protected,” Noe said.
The ANHRP noted that many of the violations of political and civil rights happen in the context of economic and social conflicts.
Increasing number of trumped-up charges
The ANHRP is alarmed at the “worrying trend of trumped-up charges filed against human rights defenders.”
Siglinde Weinbrenner of the Bread of the World said, “Common sense would tell you that human rights defenders could not possibly perpetrated the crime.”
She cited a particular case of a 57-year-old woman political prisoner accused of killing 17 individuals in an ambush staged by the New People’s Army (NPA). “This case should have been dismissed.”
In its report titled “Human Rights in the Philippines – Aspiration and Reality,” published this January, the ANHRP cited the case of Zara Reboton Alvarez of the Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Nnahra).
Alvarez was arrested on October 30, 2012 in Cadiz City and charged with murder. “Like many others, Alvarez only learnt of the accusation against her at the time of her arrest,” the ANHRP said in its paper.
Alvarez was accused of being involved in the killing of a soldier, Archie Polenzo, during a skirmish between NPA and government forces on March 7, 2010. Fifty-three have been charged for Polenzo’s murder. Alvarez and 21 others were later added to the indictment through the so-called Jane/John Does.
Johannes Icking, coordinator of ANHRP, said the filing of fabricated charges highlight the inefficiencies of the justice system. “It is an efficient way to silence human rights activists,” he said.
Jochen Motte of the United Evangelical Mission said, “It is hard to understand how false witnesses are taken up by the government itself. Innocent people are jailed for a long time.”
Aquino administration with little interest?
Except for the CHR, other government agencies did not meet with the ANHRP despite standing requests.
“To be honest, there seems to be not much interest anymore [on the part of Philippine government] to meet human rights groups,” Icking said.
Two months ago, the network sent letters to human rights offices of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police as well as to the Department of Justice, Supreme Court and Presidential Committee on Human Rights. Until the press briefing on Feb. 14, the ANHRP said they did not receive a final decision pertaining to their requests for a meeting with the said government agencies.
Motte admitted he was a bit disappointed. Motte said they met with the Philippine embassy in Germany and was told of the Philippine government’s openness to dialogues. He said the response they got was in contrast with what they were told.
Luca Martin of the International Peace Observers Mission (Ipon) said they would not only want to hear from state security forces but from institutions that have the obligation to guarantee human rights such as the Department of Justice.
The ANHRP called on the Aquino administration to “address the gap between its progressive national laws and ongoing rights violations, particularly those committed by state security forces.”
The network recommended to the Aquino administration to send invitations to United Nations special rapporteurs.
“The [Philippine] government should be open to get an outside assessment of the situation,” Noe said. He added that the report of former UN special rapporteur on the extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston was a valuable contribution in efforts to address impunity.
Alston visited the country in February 2007 and conducted an independent investigation on the spate of extrajudicial killings. He released a report containing several important recommendations to address human rights abuses.