‘Philippine Gov’t Lacks Political Will to Solve Human Rights Problems’
PUBLISHED ON December 20, 2008 AT 3:02 PM
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
An independent regional non-government organization said the Philippine government lacks the political will to solve the human rights problems of the country.
In its report on the Philippines, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said, “Many of the human rights problems facing the Philippines are well-known. At the heart of the problem is a lack of political will to implement solutions to problems, even though there are many recommendations about how to bring about these solutions.”
The AHRC cited the recommendations by members of the United Nations Human Rights Committee through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Philippines was subjected to the UPR process in April this year. Among the recommendations accepted by the Philippine government are: to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible, to strengthen the witness protection program, and to address the root causes of this issue. The government was also urged to take into account the recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston.
Alston visited the Philippines in February 2007 to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings. Among his recommendations are: that extrajudicial executions be eliminated from counterinsurgency operations; that the principle of command responsibility be ensured as basis for criminal liability to prosecute military officers; and, that the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) be abolished.
The AHRC noted that the UPR’s outcome also reaffirmed the findings of the Melo Commission. The Melo Commission was created by the President in 2007 in response to local and international pressures to put a stop to media and activist killings. The Commission called on the government to investigate complaints of killings against the military.
In 2007, the AHRC described as urgent the recommendations of the Melo Commission and Alston. The group noted, “However, one year later, the lack of progress illustrates the government’s inability and unwillingness to implement them.”
The group said further, “While there has been a welcome drop in the number of killings, there have been no effective prosecutions of those responsible, who continue to enjoy impunity, threatening the enjoyment of human rights at present and in the future.”
The AHRC recommended the creation of an independent mechanism to monitor and evaluate the actual implementation of the recommendations made by the concerned international and local agencies.
Writ of amparo
While the AHRC welcomed the Supreme Court’s adoption of the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data, the group noted that there have been strong reservations as to how judges are dealing with petitions. The group said, “…They [judges] are ignoring the fact that these writs are designed to provide urgent relief and not lead to exhaustive and lengthy procedures before decisions are issued. These are tools designed to protect the lives and security of persons.
The AHRC lamented that five petitions for writs have been rejected on the premise that the petitioners have failed to produce clear evidence of apparent or visible threats to their lives in recent times. “The courts’ decisions have run contrary to the writ’s intent as they cast the burden of proof concerning threats on the complainants,” it said.
The AHRC also expressed alarm over the ‘re-emergence and strengthening of the government’s long-standing policy of arming civilians.’ The group cited the creation of the Police Auxiliaries (PAX) by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The AHRC said, “The policy to arm civilians has given legitimacy to vigilantism and exposed civilians to greater risk of being caught in the armed conflict.” It said that vigilante groups reign in General Santos and Davao in Mindanao and Cebu in Visayas.
The group called on the government to abandon its policy of arming civilians and to disband the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) and the Police Auxiliaries (PAX). “The continued existence and operations of these armed militias have already obscured the notion of state responsibility, permitting abuses of authority and rights while enabling impunity,” the AHRC deemed.
The AHRC also called for the enactment of proposed laws regarding the criminalization of torture and enforced disappearance.
The group also said that no legislation concerning the principle of command responsibility with respect to extrajudicial killings has been enacted. The principle of command responsibility holds the higher ranking government official, military or otherwise, liable if he or she encourages, incites, tolerates or ignores any extrajudicial killing committed by a subordinate.
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