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Home Columns Dissenting Opinion The Arroyo Administration Treats Extrajudicial Killings as PR Problem, Instead of Solving the Crimes Against Humanity
The Arroyo Administration Treats Extrajudicial Killings as PR Problem, Instead of Solving the Crimes Against Humanity PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Dissenting Opinion
Written by Ado Paglinawan   
Monday, 04 May 2009 05:59

F ilipino community advocate Mon Ramirez says "The e-mail thread on the Botomo@yahoogroups.com on political killings in the country comes at just the right time. The 42nd session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) is currently being held in Geneva and the Philippine government has sent a rather big delegation of 27 functionaries led by former General Ermita."

 

Mr. Ramirez further says: "I am aghast at the efforts of the Philippine government to treat the issue of political and extrajudicial killings as a public relations event. And I am equally disappointed at the efforts of some quarters in e-mail groups to dilute this issue as being apparent and not serious. Yet, we are not dealing with perceptions here but reality on the ground."  

 

Remembering Marlene Esperat

 

 

Mr. Ramirez continues: I got involved in the study of this issue when our chief whistleblower of the fertilizer scam, Marlene Esperat, a broadcast journalist, was assassinated in front of her children who were eating dinner at inside her home in Sultan Kudarat. The cold-blooded murder happened on March of 2005, eight months after she filed a case in the Ombudsman against current Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and then Undersecretary Jocelyn 'Jocjoc' Bolante for lost fertilizer funds amounting to P432-million disbursed through the National Food Authority that Yap then headed . . .

 

* Editor’s Note: Please read an earlier article written by Mr. Paglinawan about the changes in the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which are predicted to lead to more human-rights violations in the country: It Looks Like the 2010 Elections Will Be Canceled Or Postponed by the Arroyo Clique 

 

As a result, together with friends in Washington, DC, we engaged in a two-pronged advocacy in effect prosecuting the fertilizer scam and supporting lobby against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

 

Our efforts have so far been successful, as the following happened:

 

1.) Jocjoc Bolante was detained by immigration for three years and denied asylum to the United States. He has been deported to the Philippines; the Philippine Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has finished the first portion of the investigation about scams in the agriculture department and is poised to continue investigating new discoveries about Messrs. Yap and Bolante.

 

2.) Working with staffers in Capitol Hill, we also caused the investigation by the US Senate of the extrajudicial killings taking advantage of an incident that victimized a Methodist pastor. Then President Bush gave a quick ear as he attended Sunday service at one of the denomination's churches in Washington, DC. Our diplomatic connections also wired the United Nations into the loop and that will partly explain why matters have reached as far as the UNCAT.

 

3.) The US State Department tried to snow-job the March 14, 2007, Senate hearing but it was overwhelmed by more comprehensive testimonies and reports that followed, provoking Senator Barbara Boxer of California to advise Asst. Secretary Eric G. John and his companion to be more prepared in their reports and to be more circumspective in their conclusions.

 

4.) As a rejoinder, Senator Tim Webb of Virginia asked why the assistant secretary seemed to be in denial of the gravity of the situation when UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston himself had already come out in media exposing the severity of the problem.  

 

* The whole Senate proceedings could be accessed     through http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/2007/hrg070314p.html 

 

* A broader perspective could be referenced from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Extrajudicial_killings_and_forced_disappearances

_in_the_Philippines

 

* More of UN Rapporteur Alston’s findings can be accessed at http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20071128-103513/Alston_report%3A_AFP_behind_killings.

 

At Geneva, Switzerland, former General Eduardo Ermita, Gloria Arroyo's executive secretary, again tried to snow-job the problem before the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UCAT). Again the PR thrust of the Office of the Philippine President failed to impress the international body.

 

Today, to fully appreciate what is happening on the ground, it would be best to read the latest report by Karapatan http://www.karapatan.org/node/275.

 

By providing these reference materials, I hope readers will view this matter with least levity just because there is no overt proclamation of martial law in the Philippines.

 

Soon, Gen. Victor Ibrado takes over as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff and as the election fever towards May 2010 assumes a crescendo, Mon Ramirez and I predict another onslaught of political killings in the countryside as the Arroyo political machine weed out the opposition ranks.

 

General Ibrado, a brother of Mike Aroyo's classmate, takes over the position of Gen. Alexander B. Yano, who has said that as a professional soldier, he would not be become party to vested interests.

 

When recently asked by Mike Arroyo "will you support the charter change?", the general resonated the Philippine Constitution to the First Gentleman saying "With all due respects, Sir, the Armed Forces is the protector of the people, and therefore I cannot be partisan to any political activity."

 

Read more about it in http://www.filamimage.com/files/2009_042909paglinawan.pdf.

 

P olitical killings dropped during General Yano's watch and criminal prosecution against suspects accelerated. The handwriting on the wall seems to suggest the opposite rising in the horizon, with prosecution dropping and the killings accelerating.  News Clip: Philippine UPR Watch

* Philippine Government Showcase Bombarded with a Barrage of Queries  from UN Body against Torture

Dateline Geneva, Switzerland – The rather oversized 27-member Philippine government delegation to the 42nd Session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, faced a continuous barrage of questions from all ten members of the said Committee after retired General Ermita read the Philippine government report on April 28, the scheduled start of the review of the Philippine government’s compliance with its commitments under the anti-torture convention.

With an unusually large group to represent the Philippine government in the review of its compliance to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Secretary Ermita boasted to the Committee that their delegation of senior officials and technical experts is a proof of the government’s “unwavering commitment to human rights” particularly the Convention. He gloated that the Philippine Government is “proud of the gains it has achieved with regard to its compliance with the Convention” and is one with the Committee in “championing the cause of human rights.” He claimed to the Committee in the presence of Philippine and international human rights NGOs, torture survivors farmer Raymond Manalo and Pastor Berlin Guerrero, the Philippine Human Rights Commission Chairperson Leila de Lima, House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights Chairperson Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, and the press that the government “neither engages in nor encourages acts of torture.”

After former General Ermita`s opening statement which lasted for half an hour, a litany questions and comments very critical of the report began to rain heavily on the delegation.

 

Felice Gaer, CAT`s rapporteur for the Philippines asked Mr. Ermita why the Philippines, which ratified the treaty against torture 20 years ago, took so long before a report has been made.  Ms. Gaer also commented on the lack of substance of the 49-page Philippine report.

She also observed that the government seems to have many safeguards in place in order to prevent torture but asked why torture is continuously being practiced by military, police and security forces.


Xuexian Wang, the Committee’s vice chairperson and another rapporteur on the Philippines, asked Secretary Ermita if the government knew of  the 1,016 documented victims of torture reported by Karapatan which the organization’ s secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez  reported to the Committee.


Earlier, human rights group Karapatan, torture victims Manalo and Guerrero, together with other human rights NGOs, briefed the Committee members on the human rights situation under the Arroyo administration. In the meeting, Committee members showed keen  interest in the real score of human rights and spoke well of the courage of the victims to tell their tales of ordeals to the UN committee.

 

In an opportunity considered by Geneva-based human rights NGOs as “seldom or rare,” Manalo and Guerrero were allowed by the UNCAT to personally testify before the Committee. A former member of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also made the same comment.

 Another member of the Committee asked Ermita about what the government is doing to increase the security of human rights defenders. This query sprang from the killings of several members of Karapatan particularly the killing of Eden Marcellana and farmer Eddie Gumanoy, who are believed to be victims of former Gen. Jovito Palparan-ordered extrajudicial executions.

The range of questions which lasted one and a half hours in a room at Palais Wilson – half of which were occupied by members of the Philippine government delegation and the Philippine Mission to the UN – run the gamut of issues like extrajudicial killings, disappearances, the Human Security Act, command responsibility, impunity, exploitation of migrants, children and women, judicial procedure and mechanisms, and the specific cases of labor lawyer Remigdio Saladero Jr., peace advocate Angie Ipong, Manalo brothers, UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, among others.

At the end of the fielding of questions, Mr. Ermita told the Committee that his delegation will have to meet and said that they will answer the questions at the April 29 afternoon session reserved for the Philippine government replies.

With the observation that the “high-level” Philippine government delegation presented a belated report that was long in rhetoric and short in meaning because it was replete with merely formal guarantees, a litany of laws - both relevant and others ridiculously irrelevant- and a ticker-tape parade of human rights bodies and structures, Atty. Edre Olalia, Karapatan Special Legal Consultant for UN Mechanisms foresees that the government`s reply to the stream of issues and questions raised by the Committee would either make clear the government`s total disregard for human rights or simply prove once again that it is all the while lying through its teeth and pretending as champion for human rights before the international community.

 


* The Philippine UPR Watch is a network of human rights advocates and families of victims of human rights abuses. It has sent delegations last April and June 2008 to
Geneva, Switzerland to attend sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council particularly for the Universal Periodic Review. # # #   



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Last Updated on Monday, 04 May 2009 07:00
 
Comments (1)
1 Sunday, 10 May 2009 21:54
US-Arroyo Gov’t fails to stop killings anew--UN report

MANILA, Philippines – The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has failed to institute substantive reforms recommended two years ago by the United Nations’ special rapporteur to put a stop to extrajudicial killing in the Philippines.

And the President's statement that the military should end the insurgency "once and for all" by 2010 remained the justification of military officials in tagging political and civil society organizations as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army.

These are some of the observations made by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings in a recent report.

"Overall, the most important shortcoming has been the Government's failure to institutionalize or implement the many necessary reforms that have been identified. In the absence of such steps, the progress that has been made remains fragile and easily reversed," Alston said in his 16-page report.

Alston said the follow-up report was based on information provided by the government as well as through consultations with domestic and international civil society, and by reference to publicly available reports and materials.

Dated April 29 and submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, Alston's report was a follow up to his findings and recommendations, published in April 2008, following his February 2007 investigation into the killings and abductions of activists and journalists largely blamed on state security forces.

In his follow-up report, Alston took note of the rise in the Davao Death Squad killings and the failure of the local and national government's to end the culture of impunity.

UN's Alton's Report

Alston said the government still "deserves credit" for enacting reforms that partially fulfilled his recommendations.

Specifically, he said, the government has sent a strong albeit informal message to the military "which resulted in a significant decrease in the number of killings" and has issued "strong policy statements" affirming its commitment against extrajudicial killings.

Alston noted that from the 220 reported deaths in 2006, the figures dropped to 94 in 2007 and 64 in 2008.

"While current levels are significantly lower than before, they still remain a cause for great alarm, and reflect the failure to make the recommended structural reforms," Alston said.

Alston observed that most of "the Government's formal actions in response to the Special Rapporteur's recommendations have been symbolic, and lack the substantive and preventive dimensions necessary to end the culture of impunity."

Alston noted that President Arroyo should be more transparent on what "concrete steps have or have not been taken" by her government and the Armed Forces to end measures in its counterinsurgency campaign that have led to the executions of civilians.

"Moreover, forced disappearances and illegal detentions remain all too common, as does the bringing of trumped-up charges against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims," he said.

The government has not yet abolished the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), as recommended by Alston, because he said its main purpose was to prosecute members of the communist party.

Many of the rebels were not "reachable by legal processes," Alston noted, adding "The temptation to execute such individuals thus remains."

The principle of command responsibility has not been applied in alleged human rights violations by state agents, Alston said, noting that one proof was the report that retired Army Major General Jovito Palparan was to be appointed to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. (Palparan is now a partylist representative in Congress).

The Witness Protection Program has not been improved since 2007, which has been "one of the most significant causes of continued impunity in the Philippines," Alston said.

The government has not even taken the steps to implement policies that would allow congressional oversight of the military and the police, Alston said, arguing that "congressional oversight could be the entry point for much-needed reforms to the AFP and PNP, as well as for more generally promoting a human rights based approach within the security sector."

No Perscution of Cases

There has only been one successful government prosecution of a perpetrator of an extrajudicial killing and no convictions at all of any member of the Armed Forces for the murders of leftist activists even if an enlisted man had been arrested for the 2005 murder of activist Ricardo Ramos, Alston said.

Alston noted with curiosity that while the government claimed that a long judicial process prevented it from prosecuting suspects in the killings of the activists, the same did not appear to be an obstacle in the cases of slain journalists.

He also said there remained a "great disparity" in the number of extrajudicial cases recorded by civil society groups and those acknowledged by the government.

Alston added that the Office of the Ombudsman has done little to respond to the cases of extrajudicial killings while the lack of resources continued to hamper the work of an otherwise "more vocal" Commission on Human Rights.

Writ of Amparo Underutilized

Alston said that the Supreme Court has been responsive to the recommendations, particularly in issuing the writs of amparo and habeas data.

However, the writ of amparo "appears to remain underutilized, and even misunderstood in some courts" while the writ of habeas data has been untested because of the financial costs it entails.

"The Supreme Court should be encouraged to further develop the effectiveness of these measures of relief," Alston said.

He added that the high court has yet to use its "constitutional powers over the practice of law to impress upon prosecutors their duty to uphold and protect human rights and to provide reasoned decisions for probable-cause determinations."

The AJLPP is still following the developments in the violations of human rights in the Philippines and ongoing civil war in Mindanao. # # #

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