By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
It seems that we will not see the ending of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations under this second Aquino administration.
What we have seen were continued killings with impunity — and not only of political/social activists. These were largely perpetrated through a method flagrantly used during the previous Arroyo government: killers-in-tandem aboard motorcycles.
In his first state-of-the-nation address in July 2010 President Aquino acknowledged that, within four weeks after he assumed office, there had been six extrajudicial killings. Declaring that three had already been “solved,” he vowed to have the other three cases solved — and to stop the killings.
Now note this: within the first nine weeks (January 1-March 2) of 2014 – with only 2-1/2 years remaining for the administration — 10 killings of political activists were recorded. A repeat cycle from 2010?
Besides other violations documented by the human rights alliance Karapatan, the tallies so far under P-Noy’s watch are: 173 killed extrajudicially, 169 frustrated EJKs, and 14 enforced disappearances.
This is truly sad and ironic. At the United Nations Human Rights Council’s May 29, 2012 “universal periodic review” of the Philippine human rights situation, 22 member-nations condemned the Aquino government’s “dismal record” on EJKs, enforced disappearances and torture. They pressed the government to take “decisive measures” to end such killings and the climate of impunity (that has persisted under five Presidents even after the Marcos martial-law dictatorship).
The tallies then: 76 EJKs, 49 frustrated EJKs.
At its 21st session on Sept. 28, 2012, the UNHRC heard the government’s response. It promised to comply with the council’s recommendations, particularly to stop the killings. The numbers then were: 112 EJKs, 68 frustrated EJKs.
Undoubtedly, the P-Noy government has failed to fulfill its promised compliance. Meantime, the US State Department 2014 human rights report has affirmed the continuing killings and other human rights violations. And Amnesty International has written to the UNHRC upbraiding the Aquino government for failing to crack down on torture and other forms of ill-treatment of detainees.
Yet despite these facts, the Philippine government is campaigning to gain a seat in the UNHRC. Such temerity has got the hackles up among human rights defenders here and abroad.
Thus, in the current UNHRC 25th session (March 9-20), a newly formed network of various organizations, called the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights in the Philippines, will present a report (as a follow-up to the 2012 UPR) citing, with supporting evidence, the government’s failure to stop the killings and other human rights violations.
Last Tuesday I was invited to a panel discussion at the UP Asian Center on the topic, “Towards preventing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and ending impunity: progresses and constraints.” The three resource speakers were former Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, and Bo Astrom, a Swedish criminal justice and police expert. The opening address was given by Pamela S. Faley, team leader of the EU-Phl Justice Support Programme II (to which Astrom belongs).
From the speakers’ inputs and the comments of seven reactors, one can sum up the discussions thus: the deeply-entrenched problems in the criminal justice system (involving the police, the prosecutors, and the courts) have far outweighed the progress attained, if any, towards preventing the killings and disappearances and ending impunity.
Puno’s own summation: 95% of the problems lie within the Executive, which supervises both the police and the prosecutors. “We talk about them, but they (government) do nothing,” he said.
(The police’s duties are to investigate a crime committed towards identifying the perpetrator(s), arrest them, gather evidence to support the charges against them and submit the complaint to the prosecutors. The prosecutors receive the complaint, evaluate the evidence, conduct preliminary investigation, and after finding probable cause file the formal charge in court, and argue during the trial to prove the guilt of the accused.)
Save for a few cases, the police have failed to identify the killers — generally believed to be members of the state security forces (military/paramilitary, police) — such that no one gets arrested, charged and prosecuted.
A brochure about the Justice Support Programme provides these interesting facts:
• The European Union-supported program is on its second phase. The first phase (2009-2011) addressed extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. It was implemented along with another program, “Access to Justice for the Poor” (2006-2008), with a joint budget of P330 million.
• The two programs produced 23 training curricula and operational manuals, trained over 10,000 persons, introduced “new policies, procedures, and management systems,” and procured “information technology and other equipment in access-to-justice and criminal justice-related fields.”
• The second phase (2013-2016), with P570-M funding by the EU and a P57-million “in-kind” Philippine contribution, aims to “help initiate a wide-scale, sector-wide, and long-term reform of the justice system.” It is coordinated by the DILG, and engages, among others, the departments of Justice and Social Welfare and Development, the Supreme Court, and the Commission on Human Rights.
Program team leader Faley said they have set up “technical working groups,” “political action groups,” and “national monitoring mechanisms.” She acknowledged, however, that given the seemingly intractable problems “these will take some time” to achieve the desired results.
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March 15, 2014