The Philippine human rights situation under 3 years of Benigno Simeon Aquino presidency

Keynote address on 2nd day of the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Quezon City, Philippines
20 July 2013

Chairperson, KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)

Chairperson, SELDA (Association of Ex-detainees Against Detentions and Arrests)

This International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines comes at an opportune time, because on Monday, July 22, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino will deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) wherein we expect more paltry rhetoric on the supposed “inclusive growth” of the economy, more deceiving lines on the peace and development situation in the country, more untruths about his wickedly crooked “righteous path” or what he called matuwid na daan. In short, he will spew more lies again on the real situation of the Filipino people.

But the context under which this conference is being held – the cold, hard truth that we face on the ground – that human rights violations continue to be committed even under a so-called democratic government, belies such nicely woven set of lies. While we were all agog over preparations for this conference three weeks ago, a former student of the University of the Philippines and his wife (Juan Paolo Verzosa and his wife, Grace) were arrested based on a faulty warrant and are now being detained in a detention facility in the province of Samar in the Visaayas islands because of the fabricated charges of murder leveled against them. Even after the elections up to this time, violent demolitions are being conducted or are being poised to be undertaken against the urban poor dwellers or those euphemistically called “informal settlers” in the National Capital Region, where an estimate of more than 80,000 families will be displaced because malls, condominiums, business districts, etc. will be put up by big businesses and the government in their communities. Last week, we received reports from our colleagues in Central Luzon that two farmers and a tricycle driver were abducted in Bataan by troops of the 703rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army under the command of the 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (the same Army command of the perpetrators of the abduction and disappearances of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006 as well as that of Jonas Burgos in 2007 and the abduction and torture of Melissa Roxas and two others in 2009) and the extrajudicial killings of so many others in Bulacan, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan.

Our search team and the relatives of the victims were able to locate one of the farmers (Josue Ortiz) already in a military camp (the 24th IBPA to be exact), while the other farmer (Manuel Pacaira) and the tricycle driver are still missing. We also received reports that the former chairperson of the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya (Ka Rudy Sambajon) who is now based in Bataan province is in danger of being killed. Last Tuesday, July 16, a former political prisoner (Aristides Sarmiento), who was among those called the “Tagaytay Five” arrested, tortured and detained in 2007, was again arrested for fabricated charges of murder and brought to a military camp (Camp Vicente Lim) where he was tortured during his first arrest.

At the camp, Sarmiento was initially denied from being seen by his family and counsel but was later shown to the family members at midnight of Wednesday, July 17, after his lawyer has left and the family stood their ground and asserted their right to know his whereabouts, invoking the provision of the enacted anti-Enforced Disappearance Law that the Aquino administration had boastfully signed into law in December 2012.

These are just some of the facets of the human rights situation in the Philippines today.

Aquino’s Dirty War Against the Filipino people

Noynoy Aquino’s government, with the full and unequivocal support of the US, has continued its dirty war against the Filipino people for the past three years – attacking whole communities and individuals who stand in the way of local and foreign big business and landlords which Aquino, like his predecessors Ferdinand Marcos, mother Cory Aquino, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, serves best.

His administration’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, is essentially a copycat of the US Counter Insurgency Guide of 2009 and is no different from Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya. It has resulted to continuing cases of human rights violations and abuses by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and paramilitary groups. The victims of rights violations are the same people who are displaced by big businesses like logging and transnational mining companies that are being coddled by the Aquino government; the victims are the same people who are vulnerable to disasters because of imperialist plunder of the country’s natural resources and the consequent environmental degradation; the victims are the same poor Filipino people who are targets of the government when they assert their rights.

These rights violations are in the context of Aquino’s anti-people and neoliberal economic policies like the Public-Private Partnership program. The Aquino government offers the poor Filipino people’s lives in a silver platter to big business which, apart from enjoying tax holidays, are raking in superprofits by jacking up prices of basic commodities, transportation fares, medical and educational services. Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan serves to protect the interests of the rich and few elite and the government of its imperialist masters like the US who are the only real winners in Aquino’s “inclusive growth,” with the poor at the fringes and at the losing end of such preposterous situation.

From July 2010 to April 2013, Karapatan has documented 142 cases of extrajudicial killing and 164 frustrated killing; 540 cases of illegal arrest; 30, 678 victims of forced evacuation; 31, 417 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation.

Killings have become more gruesome like during the Marcos’ martial law years. Genesis Ambason, a tribal leader in Agusan del Sur, was shot and tortured to death, his head had shrunk due to heavy beatings : and Ely Oguis, a village councilor in Albay who was shot and beheaded.

Attacks against the people are marked with contemptuous boldness as in the case of the massacre of the Capion family where witnesses heard the AFP ground commander order his men to finish off the two other children who survived the shooting, so there will be no witnesses left.

Farmers, indigenous peoples and environmental activists who are upholding the people’s rights to land and ancestral domains and those who stand against the shameless plunder and destruction of our lands and natural resources are the majority among those victimised by state security forces.

The killings have also been perpetuated in urban centers such as the National Capital Region, where many of those felled by bullets of the State’s institutions are the urban poor and drivers.

Two of the most ardent, indefatigable internationalist human rights defenders – Dutch missionary Willem Geertman and Italian priest Fausto “Father Pops” Tentorio – were killed by these state security forces here in the country they served for a long time. We give them our highest and warmest salute and commendations.

Children suffer hardships during evacuations and demolitions, when they are driven from their homes. There have been 16 children victims of extrajudicial killings, and at least 3 of frustrated killings – due to indiscriminate firing by soldiers, slay try on adult companion, or at a violent demolition. Several children were also arrested during violent evictions and demolitions or accosted during military operations. At least four children and youths were tagged as NPA child rebels, while one was charged with violation of the Human Security Act or the Anti-terror Law.

There is a rising trend of arrests based on fabricated criminal charges and illegal detention of individuals which the Aquino government wish to silence by putting them behind bars. There are currently 432 political prisoners in the country, including fourteen peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as of end May 2013. Many of them are sickly, such as 54-year old Oscar Belleza, detained at the Manila City Jail, who has been suffering from hypertension. What is outrageous is Malacanang’s statement, virtually using the words of the dictator Marcos, denying the existence of political prisoners in the country, as they try to hide the political motivations behind the arrests and detention by filing criminal charges against activists and those tagged as leaders or members of the CPP and the NPA.

The Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of National Defense released Joint Order 14-2012, which we consider memo which contains a “hitlist” of activists and individuals that makes illegal arrests and detention legal. Based on trumped up charges, those in the unpublished list, especially members and leaders of progressive partylists and organizations, may not only end up in jails but may become victims of enforced disappearance or extrajudicial killing.

Rural communities are forcibly evacuated in the countryside, as they sought shelter, either from bombings and aerial strikes, or from combat-geared ‘peace and development teams’ and military-sanctioned paramilitary units that swoop down on their communities.

Disaster- stricken communities, where the situation has been made worse by decades of operations of foreign big mining and logging companies and plantations, have been constantly occupied by military troops, which resulted to killings, threats and other forms of rights violations against the people.

Despite the passage of the Anti-Torture Law in 2009, Karapatan has documented 76 cases of torture including the case of RollyPanesa, a security guard of the Megaforce Security who was arrested in October 2012 by joint elements of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Armyand the PNP. Panesa was mistaken for “Benjamin Mendoza”, whom the military alleged as a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) with a bounty of P5.6M. Panesa recalled that he was interrogated, tortured and forced to admit that he was “Benjamin Mendoza.” Every time he stood by his real identity, he would get a beating. According to his interrogators, a mole on Panesa’s nape proves that he is “Benjamin Mendoza.”

Despite the enactment of the Anti-enforced disappearance law in December 2012, Karapatan has documented three cases of enforced disappearance in less than two months after the law was signed. Prof. Gill Boehringer so aptly described during his recent interview that indeed, laws in the Philippines are optional for those who want or, most often, do not want to implement these laws.

Most of these violations were conducted in the target priority areas of the AFP under OplanBayanihan, where they said are areas where the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army operate.

For Karapatan, the existent state of impunity with these human rights violations is made worse by the promotion to higher positions, and therefore exaltation, of known human rights violators and attack dogs of the AFP such as General Eduardo Ano, Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, among others, where they wield more power to attack the people.

There is an almost nil conviction rate of perpetrators during the Arroyo government. Aquino has never gone after Arroyo for all the gross human rights violations during her nine-and-a-half-year rule. It was mainly through the efforts of the victims and their families that justice through countersuits was pursued, which resulted to the issuance of warrants of arrest against the notorious Gen. Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan and his ilk. But of course, Palparan remains to be arrested as his powerful cohorts in the military and in the government are protecting him.

While the complaints filed by the relatives of Karapatan workers Eden Marcellana and Benjaline Hernandez and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy at the United Nations Human Rights Committee bore strong recommendations for the State Party to arrest and prosecute the state perpetrators of their gruesome killings, these were completely and deliberately ignored by Aquino and the perpetrators were left free from accountability. The “lack of interest” of Aquino to make Arroyo accountable for the violations under her administration is in effect a statement of his policy – that he will continue Arroyo’s militarist and fascist attacks against the people.

A law that has gained for Aquino what we Filipinos call as “”pogi points” because passage of such law would deodorize his regime’s image, is the Human Rights Victims’ Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, giving recognition to the struggle of martial law victims and indemnifying their sufferings during martial law, which the President signed on the 27th anniversary of EDSA people Power 1, on February 25, 2013. However, after signing it, up to now, the law remains unimplemented.

Other laws that would enhance the promotion and protection of human rights are left unsigned, if at all discussed in Congress. So many bills remain as bills and do not become laws. And if bills on very apparent violations of human rights in the Philippines, are not even given a chance to be formed as laws, other kinds of violations and rights will suffer a very steep uphill struggle to become laws.

A case in point is the right of the LGBT. Since the submission of the United Nations Human Rights Committee report in 2003, there have not been any legal steps taken by the State party to eliminate discrimination faced by LGBT individuals. The Philippines still lacks anti-discrimination legislation. Furthermore, certain articles of the Revised Penal Code encourage the criminalization of homosexuality.

Deception and more lies under Aquino

The AFP has so euphemistically called its military operations as “peace and development” operations because they said that they also do “humanitarian” work such as relief and rehabilitation, medical missions, beauty pageants, and such gimmickry to justify their mainly combat, intelligence and civil-military operations in their priority areas. They thought they can “win the peace” by putting much of its funds to public relations stunts such as the putting up of a Human Rights Office, their use of pop artists and filmmakers to propagate the message that the military is the protector of people’s rights, their fun runs, and peace murals.

The AFP have said that Karapatan should instead work with them to address the cases of human rights violations, like what the Commission on Human Rights and some NGOs are doing, and engage in security sector reform. We said, how can we work with the institutions which violate people’s rights whom we defend and uphold? You cannot superficially reform an institution like the military, the judiciary, the police, the executive, the legislative branch of government as long as they are in it together – meaning they protect the interests of the few ruling elite in the country and they remain faithful to the dictates of the US and other imperialist countries.

But, as they say in Filipino, nahuhulirinangisdasakanyangbunganga. Recently, the spokesperson of the AFP called Karapatan as its enemy. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, the self-proclaimed author of OplanBayanihan, has admitted the failure of OplanBayanihan in meeting its target i.e. the reduction of the number of members of the New People’s Army (NPA). We in Karapatan said that then there is all the more reason that the AFP should immediately stop the implementation of OplanBayanihan. The Aquino government is wasting the nation’s coffers, we said, in pursuing OplanBayanihan that has resulted in numerous human rights violations and continuing impunity!

These pronouncements however are dangerous ones. By calling Karapatan their enemy, the AFP has justified their continued attacks not only Karapatan but the people’s movement of which the organization is part of. Gen. Bautista’s declaration that they should intensify their counter-insurgency operations in the second semester because they have not reached their target to eliminate the communist insurgency means only the increase and heightening attacks against people’s rights.

Yes, we are in for a long haul of human rights violations with Aquino’s dirty was against the Filipino people. But history never fails to remind us that as long as the people are united to fight and defy a puppet, oppressive, and fascist government, we will defeat any counter-insurgency program and we will always prevail in our struggle for national freedom and democracy and for just and lasting peace. History is now being made in the valiant struggles in the countryside, in the streets and barricades in urban poor communities, in the picketlines of workers, in this hall where we are gathered today where solidarity of human rights defenders all over the world is being manifested so eloquently.

Long live the struggle for human rights and justice!
Makibaka, ‘wag matakot!

Maraming salamat, magandang umaga po sa lahat!

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