Philippines: Aquino a failure in human rights compliance, says HRWBy Tonyo Cruz May 21, 2012 3:00PM UTC
An international human rights watchdog today did not mince words in highlighting the Aquino administration’s “failures” in protecting human rights of Filipinos.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) made the initial assessment in the run-up to the Aquino government’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council set for May 29.
According to the HRW:
The administration of President Benigno Aquino III has failed to take significant measures to prosecute members of the military, police, and militias implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances
HRW’s Elaine Pearson called on UN member-states to “see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years” which happened mostly under Aquino who campaigned and won on a platform of reform.
UN member-states undergo the UPR every four years to check countries’ human rights record and allow others to make recommendations.
HRW zeroed in on the Aquino government’s claims that the Philippines has achieved “progress in some areas” like so-called training that educates state security forces about respect for human rights.
HRW said such claims “deflect attention from the more serious problem of failing to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for abuses”.
The Philippines underwent its first UPR in 2008, under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In its first UPR, the Philippines accepted 11 out of 17 recommendations made by the UN member-states. HRW said the Arroyo government accepted the recommendations “to completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings” and “to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible.”
The HRW notes that Philippines achieved some notable improvements since 2008: The anti-torture law was passed in 2009, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was ratified in 2011 and the judiciary instituted the “Justice on Wheels” program to help indigent litigants.
“The number of extrajudicial killings has fallen sharply from the high levels of the past decade, but those responsible have not been prosecuted and serious abuses continue,” HRW said.
HRW said that despite a $5-million 18-month European Union-funded project to strengthen the capacity of the criminal justice system, the Philippines has successfully prosecuted only four cases of extrajudicial killings, all under the Arroyo administration.
HRW also said that not a single suspect has ever been prosecuted in the aftermath of at least 10 extrajudicial killings which happened in President Aquino’s first year in office.
HRW’s Pearson also lashed out at the parade of task forces formed under Arroyo and Aquino, which all purportedly seek to address political violence.
“The Philippine government is relentless in its pursuit of creating human rights task forces,” Pearson said. “If only officials were just as relentless in pursuing the perpetrators of military abuses so that the victims might get justice.”
HRW called on UN member-states to make the Aquino administration accountable, by making time-bound recommendations including: ordering the police and National Bureau of Investigation to pursue vigorously serious rights violations linked to the security forces; and banning all paramilitary and militia forces because of their long and continuing history of serious human rights violations.
Two outstanding cases of political violence have been stonewalled by the authorities’ failure to arrest the accused in both cases: the notorious Gen. Jovito Palparan, said to be the brains behind the string of political murders under Arroyo, and former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes, who figured in the killing of journalist Gerry Ortega.