Amnesty International hits Aquino government for lack of justice, continuing violations

By Ronalyn V. Olea,

MANILA – An international human rights organization lamented the unresolved cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings under the new Aquino administration.

In its world human rights report released May 13, Amnesty International (AI) stated: “More than 200 cases of enforced disappearances recorded in the last decade remained unresolved, as did at least 305 cases of extrajudicial execution (with some estimates ranging as high as 1,200). Almost no perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice.”

The group cited a report commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development and NGO the Asia Foundation that recorded 305 cases of extrajudicial executions with 390 victims from 2001 to 2010. “The same report stated that only one percent of reported cases resulted in a conviction, and that members of the armed forces were implicated in 20 percent of cases.”

AI also cited a report from the Commission on Human Rights in February 2010 saying it has recorded 777 cases of extrajudicial executions and 251 cases of enforced disappearance since 2001. AI noted that in September of the same year, human rights group Karapatan recorded 1,206 extrajudicial executions and 206 victims of enforced disappearance during the same period.

AI also noted that almost none of the victims’ families received reparations.

Civilian deaths

AI said there are at least 38 alleged political killings reported in 2010.

“Civilians continued to be killed as the military’s counter-insurgency plan failed to differentiate between civilians and members of the NPA [New People’s Army]. In some cases, the police or the military claimed that the deaths occurred during ‘legitimate encounters,’” AI said, citing the case of botanist Leonardo Co and two others.

Co and two others were shot dead in Kananga, Leyte in November 2010. Military officials claimed that the victims were caught in a crossfire between the army and the NPA but a survivor and other witnesses refuted the claim.

The findings of local human rights groups were no different. In its first quarter monitor, Karapatan records showed that since Aquino took office until March this year, there were 45 victims of extrajudicial killings and five victims of enforced disappearances. For this year alone, the group recorded 14 victims of extrajudicial killings.

“The first quarter 2011 data gathered by Karapatan present a profile of human rights violations indistinguishable from that committed by the U.S.-Arroyo regime,” Karapatan said.

The group branded the new counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino administration as “a camouflage for state terrorism” with the use of civilian-military operations.

“The atrocious and barbaric Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) and the new Oplan Bayanihan (OPB) under the new Aquino administration has no difference, except the names and the latter’s rampant use of deceptive words like ‘respect for human rights’, ‘development-oriented activities’ and ‘peace’,” Hanimay Suazo, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region acting deputy secretary-general, said.

In its quarter report, Karapatan –SMR recorded three victims of extrajudicial killings and one victim of enforced disappearances. It also documented 53 cases of human rights violations involving security forces and paramilitary groups that have victimized 99 families with 1,259 individuals from January to May 15, 2011.

“Indeed, the moniker ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ for the Armed Forces of the Philippines is real after it is again linked to extra-judicial killings and other rights abuses in the region under the new counter-insurgency plan, Oplan Bayanihan,” Karapatan-SMR said.

Torture and other ill-treatment

AI also said that torture and ill-treatment continue under the new administration, citing the cases of Darius Evangelista and Ambrosio Derejeno.

In a video shown by broadcast media in August, Evangelista, a suspect apparently held for petty theft, was being yanked by a cord attached to his genitals and whipped with a rope.

Derejeno, meanwhile, was reportedly taken by Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) members in Samar province. He was tied up and surrounded by men in camouflage uniform pointing their guns at him.

Meanwhile, Karapatan recorded 26 victims of torture from July 2010 to March 2011.

Private armed groups

AI also said that private armed groups continued to operate throughout the country, despite government commitments to disband and disarm them.

According to the Philippine National Police, there were 117 private armed groups in February. The Independent Commission Against Private Armies reported in May that there were at least 72 active private armed groups in the country, and that another 35 had already been dismantled by the police and military.

“Many members of government-established, armed “force multipliers” – including Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs), police auxiliary units, and the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) – were also members of private armed groups,” AI said.

“In November, the President vowed that he would disband and disarm identified private armed groups, but refused to abolish CVOs, the CAFGU and police auxiliary units, saying that they needed to be professionalized instead. The Armed Forces stated that it needed to increase the number of CAFGUs,” AI said further.

The group also cited the military’s revival of the vigilante group Alsa Lumad in September in its campaign against the NPA.

“Shame on them for talking about ‘respect for human rights’ when they have not done anything to make the previous administration and its cohorts accountable for the thousands of human rights violation victims,” Suazo said. #

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