UN grills PNoy govt on continued political killings

Voltaire Tupaz
The international community is concerned that no perpetrators have been brought to justice under the Aquino government

MANILA, Philippines — 61-year-old Fernando Baldomero was about to drive his 12-year-old son to school when two men on a motorcycle shot him at close range in front of his terrified child.

Fernando, a political detainee in the 80s serving a second term in the municipal council of Lezo, Aklan, succumbed to gunshot wounds — one to the neck, the other to the head. A bullet pierced through his helmet. And the perpetrators fled. 

The killing bore the imprint of impunity which characterized the human rights situation during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But it happened during the term of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, a few days before his first State of the Nation Address in 2010. 

Fernando was the first reported victim of extrajudicial killing under the current administration. Ironically, during the 2010 elections, he ran under the President’s party. 

SEARCH FOR JUSTICE. Ernan Balderamo, son of the first victim of political killings in the Philippines, takes his father's case to the UN. Photo credit: Philippine UPR Watch

UN human rights review

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it investigated the incident and that police filed case number INV 101101573 in a local court in 2010. Warrants of arrests were issued but were never served. 

Lamenting that his family has not gotten justice in the country, Fernando’s son, Ernan, took his father’s case to the United Nations (UN), which is reviewing the human rights records of its member-countries from May 29 to June 1.

“We came here to Geneva to tell the international community that impunity and injustice are continuing in the Philippines,” Ernan told human rights organizations and representatives of foreign missions now gathering in Switzerland for the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

According to the Philippine UPR Watch, Fernando’s case is one of the 76 cases of extrajudicial killings that took place under the Aquino government. The group also reported 9 cases of enforced disappearances.   

However, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who led a 29-member delegation in Geneva, reported to the UN that the Aquino government has undertaken actions that “resulted in a dramatic decrease” in reported incidents of extrajudicial killings.

During the first cycle of the rights review in 2008, the Philippines, voluntarily committed “to maintain the momentum on addressing killings of activists and media professionals.”

“The wheels of the Philippine justice system are indeed moving, with all verified cases either under investigation or already in the courts,” De Lima assured the UN body conducting the second cycle of the review.

The CHR, which monitors the government’s compliance with its human rights obligations, reported only 24 cases of murder, frustrated murder, killing and salvaging from July 2010 to March 2012.

Enforce measures to end impunity

According to De Lima, Task Force Usig, a special unit under the Philippine National Police, has independently verified that incidents of extrajudicial killings and torture have clearly declined under the Aquino administration. 

De Lima also stressed that the Aquino government condemns these crimes and that it is committed to resolving verified cases and bringing perpetrators to justice, whether they are state or non-state actors.

However, Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “It is not enough for the Philippines to merely acknowledge concerns about continuing abuses and impunity raised by UN member states.” 

“The Aquino administration needs to implement enforceable and time-bound measures to end abuses and ensure that those who commit them are prosecuted,” Pearson added. 

More than 300 complaints on human rights violations allegedly committed by the police and military between July 2010 to March 2012 were documented by the CHR.

States grill PH on rights record

On the eve of the review, Ernan said he had spoken to different country missions in the UN and hoped they would ask tough questions of the Philippine government. He was not dissapointed. A total of 67 States participated in the discussion, raising issues and posing a series of recommendations to the Philippine delegation. 

What dissapointed Ernan and human rights advocates observing the review was the government’s selective presentation of information and emphasis on the treaties it signed.

“The GPH report drowns the essentials on the failure of the Aquino administration to improve or change the human rights situation in PH. These facts remain — EJKs, torture, enforced disappearances continue to be committed with impunity, with efforts to seek accountability being solely shouldered by the victims themselves and their kin — Karapatan spokesperson Cristina Palabay said.

“These facts were glossed over by the gloating emphasis of the GPH on their long-overdue obligations to international rights,” added Palabay, who is a member of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation in Switzerland. 

De Lima reported that the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Protocol 1 Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which was a particular recommendation during the 2008 review. 

The Philippines is now a signatory to 8 international human rights treaties.

This is the 2nd time that the UN’s Human Rights Council is conducting the lone international rights review since it was formed in 2008. The human rights body is expected to adopt the report of the UPR Working Group on the Philippines this Friday evening, June 1 (Manila time). — Rappler.com


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