Aquino forms inter-agency rights group

Aquino creates a new inter-agency committee to handle human rights abuse cases

'AQUINO RESOLVE.' Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr said the creation of the inter-agency committee on human rights reinforces the President's resolve to uphold human rights. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III signed an order creating a new body to handle human rights cases.

Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr announced the establishment of an inter-agency committee that will form special teams to probe human rights abuses.

Aquino created the group through Administrative Order No 35 that he signed on November 22, a day before the 3rd anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre. The killings left 58 people dead, mostly women and journalists. It was the worst-election related violence in Philippine history.

The announcement though was only made on Monday, November 26. 

Ochoa said the inter-agency committee will exclusively handle cases of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other human rights violations.

The special teams under the committee will “investigate human rights abuses by state and non-state forces and ensure a focused probe and speedy resolution of all unsolved and new cases.”

“We believe that the creation of this high-level committee will be a more effective mechanism in handling and monitoring cases of human rights violations,” Ochoa said in a press statement. 

The order replaces Administration Order No 211 issued in 2007 that created the Task Force Against Political Violence. Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formed the task force to “harness and mobilize government agencies, political groups, the religious, civil society and sectoral organizations and the public for the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of political violence.”

The inter-agency committee, on the other hand, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, aims to streamline the investigation of cases of extrajudicial killings, whose victims are said to include members of the media.

“The mandate of AO 211 was too broad,” she told reporters. “That’s why there were no results.”

The committee is just the latest in many task forces and groups formed over the years to address human rights cases.

De Lima earlier said she intended to propose a high-level interagency task force to Aquino to focus “on the cold cases of extra-judicial killings and try to come up with a list of all cases with high chances of successful prosecution.” 

“Perhaps if there is an imprimatur from the President and we have all the right people who are committed, dedicated to do it, we can have accomplishments in the coming three years and yes we have a long way to go in addressing those past killings,” De Lima said then.

Marching orders

The following are the initial tasks of the new committee, its special teams and technical working group:

  • To carry out the immediate inventory of all alleged human rights violations committed by state and non-state forces
  • To monitor the development of cases which are pending in courts or under investigation
  • To investigate unsolved and new cases, and prosecute the perpetrators
  • To submit to the President every 6 months a progress report, a detailed inventory of pending human rights abuse cases, and accomplishments and recommendations

The following is the composition of the committee:

  • Secretary of Justice as chairperson
  • Head of Presidential Human Rights Committee as member
  • Secretaries of the Interior and Local Government, and National Defense as members
  • Presidential Advisers of the Peace Process (OPAPP) and Political Affairs (OPAPA) as members
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as member
  • Philippine National Police Chief as member
  • National Bureau of Investigation director as member
  • Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights as observer and resource person
  • Ombudsman as observer and resource person

‘Little progress in fighting impunity’

The creation of the multi-agency committee comes on the heels of criticism of the Aquino administration and its efforts to fight human rights abuses.

In its 2012 report, the New-York based Human Rights Watch said despite Aquino’s promises of reform, “his administration has made little progress in addressing impunity.”

“Extrajudicial killing of leftist activists and petty criminals continue, with the government failing to acknowledge and address involvement by the security forces and local officials,” the report said.

Human Rights Watch also called on Aquino anew to fulfill his election promise and revoke Executive Order 546, which allows local officials to maintain their own private armies. – with reports from Purple Romero/ 

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