(Hong Kong, 14 April 2014) On 12 April, Al Jazeera broadcasted a report, titled: “Philippine farmers fight for land rights” indicating that none of those involved in the massacre of farmers in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the family of current President Benigno Aquino III, have been punished for the massacre ten years on.
Below is the transcript of Al Jazeera‘s questions in a live interview and the AHRC’s comments on why and how there is lack of accountability:
Al Jazeera: Now, joining me from Hong Kong on Skype is Danilo Reyes, deputy director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Good to have you.
I guess the question here, looking at that report is: why has there been no accountability for these deaths?
Danilo: Because impunity or the lack of investigation, prosecution and punishment of any the security forces in the Philippines is deeply rooted. None of those involved in the killing of these seven protestors (in Hacienda Luisita in November 2004) has been prosecuted.
In fact, after the 2004 incident, six or seven more activists—human rights and political activists—have been killed. Even witnesses to the massacre were also killed. When it comes to investigation, it is impossible that any form of investigation, prosecution involving these killings which would result in punishment within the existing system.
Al Jazeera: The next question then is: how much official involvement is there, and the State, if none of this can be investigated properly?
Danilo: The problem in the Philippines is that those who make the laws could not be subjected to the same law. So that applies to the killing of protestors, and the struggle of the farmers who are demanding for distribution of their lands for many decades.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that these lands should be distributed in full, but the implementation of that again involves a lot of exemption (of which land would be distributed to the farmers or not). This makes it impossible for farmers to reclaim their land despite the court order.
There are around 4,000 legitimate farmers who are beneficiaries to this land distribution. The Supreme Court has already ordered that it should be distributed to them.
The problem also here is that: the security forces and the Philippines government link these legitimate demands for a livelihood by the farmers—which is supported by the human rights activists and political activists—to an issue of security.
So, when a person’s demands for food as part of reclaiming their land, the security forces say “it is becoming a security threat”. That is why in Hacienda Luisita, there is a heavy presence of security forces. They are from the paramilitary forces—forces under the control of the military and the police.
Not only in Hacienda Luisita, but in many lands or plantations owned by the politicians and those who have positions in the government. (Their lands) have a heavy presence of armed forces because they connect (the farmer’s demands) to an issue of security.
Once it becomes an issue of security, then they can justify any of their actions. This involves justifications to the killings, targeted attacks of human rights activists, as subversives.
Al Jazeera: Alright. Thank you so much Danilo Reyes, there.
For more details, please read reports and appeals by the AHRC:
PHILIPPINES: A peasant leader who was defending his land was hurt in a confrontation with thugs
Vol. 11 – No. 02-03 June-September 2012 — Special Report: The Philippines’ hollow human rights system (p. 19-24; Stories Nos. 35 and 62)
Vol. 06 – No. 01 February 2007 – Special Report: The Criminal Justice System of the Philippines is Rotten (Stories No. 22, 55, 74, 76, 85 and 90)
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.