Time to act for human rights

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

“In 2006 and 2007, when the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and several other major donors publicly raised their concerns over the politically motivated killings under then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the number of killings dropped drastically. Under President Aquino, though, it is international pressure that has dropped, while the killings continue.”

Human Rights Watch

Such is the pointed reminder to President Aquino a rebuke, actually from an international human rights monitoring organization as he prepares to deliver his second state-of-the-nation address on Monday.

And there are similar reminders, rebukes, and appeals from various groups within the country. All urge the President to decisively resolve the issues of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations attributed to state security forces in pursuance of internal security policies and programs.

Under P-Noy’s watch, the human-rights alliance Karapatan has documented 48 extrajudicial killings and six enforced disappearances. None of these have been solved, contrary to Mr. Aquino’s claim in his first SONA that three political murder cases had been solved of the six recorded then.

Human Rights Watch’s 98-page report, titled “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain: Killings, Disappearances, and Impunity in the Philippines,” details some of these cases through 80 interviews with victims, their families, and witnesses in 11 provinces and with PNP and AFP officials. A former soldier narrates how military commanders trained and ordered him and other soldiers to kill leftist activists, hide or burn their bodies, intimidate witnesses, and make the killings appear like they were supposedly done by the New People’s Army’s “special partisan units.”

In the past decade only seven cases of extrajudicial killings were successfully prosecuted, with 12 defendants convicted, but HRW notes “none since P-Noy assumed office.” There has been no military member convicted, it adds, and no senior military officer convicted for direct involvement or as a matter of command responsibility.

Elaine Pearson, HRW-Asia deputy director, remarks: “Activists are being gunned down in the street, while implicated soldiers walk free. The Philippines can only bring an end to these horrific abuses if it is clear that anyone who orders or commits them will be jailed and their military careers will be over.”

Wasn’t this essentially what P-Noy said in a meeting with European ambassadors shortly before he was elected President? “Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” as quoted in this column last May 14.

Now P-Noy is pressed to make good on what he said then.

One challenge to him comes from Karapatan and Hustisya (an organization of victims and their families) which have initiated the filing of criminal charges against retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and other military officers for the abduction and disappearance in 2006 of UP coeds Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. In a press statement, the two groups were firm:

“Mr. President, you have to back up our initiatives, you have to stand up with us in our pursuit of justice and ensure that Palparan, et al., end up in jail. Equally important, you have to immediately put a stop to human rights violations under your administration and end impunity in this country.”

In Mindanao’s Caraga region, tribal, labor and human rights groups will hold mass rallies coinciding with Monday’s SONA to protest P-Noy’s “inaction” on the continued killings of tribal leaders and members of indigenous peoples “who refuse to cooperate with influential politicians who favor mining and logging interests.”

Monday will also be the final day of a three-day fast undergone by 354 political prisoners all over the country. They are calling attention to their demand to free all political prisoners, preferably through a presidential proclamation of a “general, omnibus and unconditional amnesty.”

Their amnesty demand is supported by several groups church formations, lawyers, progressive party-list representatives in Congress, as well as Karapatan, Hustisya, Selda (ex-political prisoners), and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

It’s a just demand, deserving of public support. Why?

These are persons who were arrested, detained and imprisoned basically for acts in furtherance of their political beliefs. Long-established jurisprudence requires them to be treated differently from common criminal offenders. Yet they have been arbitrarily denied liberty and due process of law through “legal” schemes, such as charging them with common crimes (murder, kidnapping, arson, etc.), instead of rebellion or sedition. They are thus denied the right to bail, even as their cases take forever to be heard. They are stigmatized as plain criminals of the heinous kind rather than treated as political offenders.

Of the 354 political prisoners, 47 were arrested under P-Noy, 27 before Arroyo, and 280 under her. Most are victims of Arroyo’s “legal offensive” via the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group created in 2006. The IALAG has been abolished upon recommendation by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, yet its malevolent effects continue to penalize its victims.

Justice demands rectification of these anomalies.

As his mother Cory Aquino saw the justness of granting general amnesty for the Marcos dictatorship’s political prisoners in 1986, can’t P-Noy do likewise for Arroyo’s and his own political prisoners?

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