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MANILA, Philippines - Two years since assuming office, President Benigno Aquino III has failed to prosecute a single case of human rights violation including those committed during his term, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.
In its 2011 report, “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain,” the HRW documented 10 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since Aquino assumed office. In all of these cases, no one has been arrested while the three who disappeared were still missing, the group added.
The Aquino administration has not taken steps to bring these recent cases of serious abuse to trial, HRW said.
For instance, HRW said, an arrest warrant was issued but not served for one of two suspects in the killing of Rene Quirante, a left-wing activist who was killed last October 1, 2010, in Negros Oriental. A relative of Quirante has alleged that the suspect has been seen in the company of soldiers. “Nothing is happening,” Quirante’s relative told HRW in April. “We’re growing tired of waiting for justice.”
And if there was any progress in the cases, these were attributed to the perseverance of the victims' relatives themselves.
For instance, HRW said that in the 2006 disappearance of university students Karen Cadapan and Sherlyn Empeno, family action was attributed in bringing the two soldiers to trial. However, the group said the men were still not in civilian custody but are being held in a military camp.
In his inaugural speech last June 30, 2010, Aquino gave “marching orders” to 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.”
“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 HRW. “Concrete measures -- rather than more promises -- are needed now.”
In the past decade, state security forces in the Philippines have been implicated in the torture, enforced disappearance, and killing of hundreds of leftist activists, journalists, and clergy. The communist New People’s Army and other insurgent groups have also been responsible for killings and other serious abuses. Under former President Macapagal-Arroyo, government security forces conducted a massive campaign targeting groups deemed to be Communist Party fronts and their alleged members and supporters. The number of killings and disappearances implicating the military has gone down under the Aquino administration, but they continue.
The Philippines’s human rights record was scrutinized at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during its Universal Periodic Review in May. Several countries -- including the United States, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Holy See -- raised alarm over the continuing killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. During the sessions, several countries urged the Aquino administration to end impunity for these abuses.
Human Rights Watch has longstanding recommendations to Aquino to initiate the comprehensive reforms necessary to end impunity for serious abuses. He should order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personnel, including at the command level, who have been implicated in killings. He should also make clear 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. He should order the military to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating military abuses or themselves face sanctions. And he should take immediate steps to ensure that the country’s witness protection program is independent, accessible, and properly funded.
“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.”