From Arroyo to Aquino, impunity continues — int'l observers
MANILA, Philippines — US-based human rights advocate Ron Gochez visited Paquibato district in Davao City last week to interview residents protesting alleged human rights abuses by government security forces. They haven't been there for 5 minutes, he said, when they spotted a man taking their pictures.
"We saw the military in civilian clothing or intelligence officer — we don't know who they are — taking pictures of the people when we arrived. They are trying to intimidate the people," Gochez said in a press conference on Saturday, July 20.
For Gochez, this confirms the testimonies he heard about alleged military harrassment in the community. He said he talked to a tribal leader who lamented the supposed detention of indigenous peoples when "they did nothing wrong."
Paquibato is around the area of the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division, where the military and the New People's Army (NPA) occasionally clash. Gochez was also told the military has reportedly been using the community as "shield."
When he goes back to the US, Gochez said he will call on California Senator Barbara Boxers to revive Senate hearings examining strategies to end extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
"We'll do whatever we can to try to put pressure on the Aquino government to stop the human rights violations taking place in the Philippines," Gochez said.
'Impunity continues under Aquino'
Human rights advocates from all over the world are in Manila for the 3-day International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (ICHRPP) to share their respective country situations and success stories. Like Gochez, a number of them took the chance to also visit various communities.
Their findings show that the human rights situation in the Philippines has not improved under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
"We see the problem of human rights as really deteriorating under the present regime even though the rhethoric would suggest that everything is fine," said Prof Gill Hale Boehringer of Australia's Macquarie University Law School.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier claimed that allegations of human rights violations against soldiers have declined since the 2011 implemenation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan.
The ICHRPP has two major demands from the Aquino government:
- address the worsening human rights situation
- resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
"There is a threat of more violence and human rights violations due to the Aquino government's apparent termination of the GRP-NDF peace talks," said Teodoro Casiño, ICHRPP spokesperson.
ICHRPP delegates will also join protest rallies during Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 22.
Casiño said they are bringing the issue to the international community in the hope that they can put pressure on the Aquino government.
"That’s one pressure the Philippine government usually listens to. We’ve seen it in the past. We hope we can do it under the new administration," Casiño said.
Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines were a big international issue during the administration of President Gloria Arroyo. It was in 2007 that Boxers of the US Senate foreign relations committee launched a probe on the killings here.
In the same year, the Permanent People's Tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands convened hearing charges against the Arroyo administration for violations of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the People.
The United Nations body Universal Period Review Working Group of the Human Rights Council also investigated the issue. This prompted then executive secretary Eduardo Ermita to explain what the government was doing to address extrajudicial killlings.
Human righs advocates noted the decrease in extrajudicial killings, following the international attention.
Promotion of generals
But the Aquino administration failed to address the culture of impunity, said the international observers.
Boehringer enumerated cases of unresolved killings and criticized the promotion of military generals involved in alleged human rights violations.
Boehringer cited the July 2 killing of Davao City labor leader Antonio "Dodong" Petalcorin, president of the Network of Transport Organization (NETO). Labor groups believe his death — like other deaths of his colleagues — has something to do with the exposé against the local office of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
Boehringer also cited the 2011 murder of Italian priest Fr Fausto "Pops" Tentorio, who was killed by suspected anti-communist gunmen in North Cotabato.
He also mentioned the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
"What we learned is that there have been no prosecutions for human rights violations," Boehringer said.
Instead, he lamented the promotion of military generals implicated in alleged human rights violations. He mentioned Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence chief Gen Eduardo Año, who was involved in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos. He was Army intelligence chief when Burgos disappeared.
He also mentioned the promotion of Brig Gen Aurelio Baladad who was dragged in the alleged torture of the "Morong 43." He recently assumed his post as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division in Western Visayas.
"Gen (Jovito) Palparan is still a fugitive. One can ssume that he is being protected as others have been protected in the past by military units," said Boehringer. — Rappler.com