Act on military abuses, group tells PNoy

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Despite its promise to provide 'justice' to victims of human rights abuses, the Aquino administration has not pursued cases against suspects, says Human Rights Watch

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has been in office for almost two years now, yet he has not prosecuted a single case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance in the country.

This, according to international group Human Rights Watch, is a sign that the President has broken his promise to hold officials accountable for human rights abuses.

The group shows this message through a video, released Thursday, June 28, which shows family members of some leftist activists who were reportedly abducted, tortured, and killed by members of the military. In the video, they call on Mr Aquino to live up to his promise to punish the guilty. 

One of them is the daughter of Alfredo Bucal, a tricycle driver from Batangas who was reportedly abducted by military men on Nov 10, 2010. Bucal is one of the 10 documented cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since Aquino won as president in 2010.

The government has not vigorously addressed these 10 documented cases, and those who were reportedly abducted remain missing, according to Human Rights Watch.

“President Aquino has not lived up to his promises to bring those responsible for serious abuses to justice,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Concrete measures – rather than more promises – are needed now.”

The group noted though that the number of killings and disappearances implicating the military has gone down under the Aquino administration compared to the Arroyo administration.

Under Arroyo, many suspected activists were killed and abducted as the military conducted a massive counter-insurgency campaign in urban areas that targeted civilian organizations.

This prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to investigate; member-countries ended up urging the government to end a culture of impunity in the country.

A thing of the past?

President Aquino, in his inaugural speech on June 30, 2010, ordered the Department of Justice to “begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all.”

Five months later, at an event to commemorate human rights, he said that, “The culture of silence, injustice and impunity that once reigned is now a thing of the past.” And during his 2011 State of the Nation Address, Aquino reiterated this commitment, saying, “We are aware that the attainment of true justice does not end in the filing of cases, but in the conviction of criminals.”

However, Human Rights Watch claims that the Aquino administration has not taken the needed steps to bring recent cases of serious abuse to trial.

The group added that some cases have progressed due to the own initiatives of the victims’ family members.

It cited the perseverance of family members of UP students Karen Cadapan and Sherlyn Empeño, both abducted in 2006, which led to the trial of two soldiers for kidnapping and illegal detention. Two others implicated in the students’ disappearance, including retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, have evaded arrest and, as Human Rights Watch claims, are reportedly being protected by the military and businessmen.

“As President Aquino himself pointed out, the conviction of those implicated in abuses is the true test of his commitment to his promise,” Pearson said. “So the government needs to move beyond simply identifying suspects and obtaining warrants to actually apprehending the suspects and putting them on trial.”

The military has boasted “zero” human rights violations in the first four months of 2012, a claim that even Commission on Human Rights chief Etta Rosales, an Aquino ally, found hard to believe.

In a report in May, Col Domingo Tutaan, head of the Armed Forces Human Rights Office, said the military did not commit a single human rights violation this year. Tutaan based his statement on a military board of inquiry conclusion that looked into complaints passed on to it by the Commission on Human Rights.

Rosales then told reporters: “How can the Board of Inquiry in two to three days or even a week validate and actually come up with a conclusion against 84 complaints from 15 regional offices and five more sub-offices of the CHR and say these are nothing?”

To address the human rights situation, Human Rights Watch is asking the President to initiate reforms necessary to end impunity for human rights abuses, among them:

  • Order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personnel, including at the command level, who have been implicated in the killings;
  • Clarify to the police that they are responsible for vigorously pursuing any crimes committed by government officials and police officers and that if they do not, they will become the target of a criminal investigation;
  • Order the military to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating military abuses or themselves face sanctions;
  • Take immediate steps to ensure that the country’s witness protection program is independent, accessible, and properly funded. –

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