GMA vows “swift justice” for victims of HR violations

“We plan to introduce into the new Congress sweeping legislation that will transform our nation’s response to political violence and remove this stain from our nation. Legislation that will guarantee swift justice through more funding for special courts to prosecute human rights violators. Also legislation that will strengthen the rights of victims, including more money for enforcement. We will impose tougher penalties for human rights violators and for anyone committing a crime with a firearm,” Ms Arroyo said at the closing of the two-day Mindanao Peace and Security Summit attended mostly by government officials.

The predominantly government summit, however, wanted legislation for another reason: for a “national peace policy” legislated so that the peace process in Mindanao can move on regardless of the leadership changes in the executive and legislative branches of government.

Ms Arroyo’s first order to “begin the implementation” of the Human Security Act, was to increase the security of “vital power and transportation facilities in Mindanao.” She said the HSA should be used as “a tool to prevent multi-billion peso hydroelectric dams and power grids from being whacked by terrorists.”

The HSA, she emphasized, “is about defending our way of life.”

“The people have a civic and collective duty to protect essential infrastructure which their taxes paid for,” she said, adding “our community assets are at stake. We will suffer blackouts or erratic cellphone signals if these conveniences are disrupted by terrorism. Pag walang koryente, walang trabaho.”

She tasked the military to “become even more professional every day at the same time  (that) they fight to eliminate the armed terrorist threats to the nation – whether from religious extremists or communist terrorists. Whatever ideology is being pursued that undermines our stability must be defeated.”

She also noted the need to “strengthen our institutions of government including local governments to ensure that civil rights and social justice are available to all Filipinos, not just a privileged few. We must weed out corruption, we must stop political violence, we must  build a strong system of justice that people can trust.”

“Political violence has been with this nation for way too long. Among our ranks here in this Summit, we have friends and colleagues who have been gunned down in spurts of mindless violence. Spikes of election and political violence, while less, still remain too high. Even one death is one death too many for the people who are fighting to be a part of our democratic society,” Ms Arroyo said.

She even cited the killing of journalists in her 16-minute speech. “This violence extends to the men and women in the media who have put their lives on the line to do their job. We must protect our journalists from violence just as we must protect all innocent civilians.”

She warned armed persons who kill innocent civilians that they will be “tracked down and prosecuted.”

“If you are a communist terrorist, we will stop you. If you are a religious terrorist, we will stop you. If you are a rogue element of our own police or military, we will stop you,” she said.

She did not define what she meant by  “religious terrorist.”

Turning to the public servants in uniform, she said they have a “moral obligation to uphold the Constitution and to protect the innocent. For this reason, any violent crime that a member of the law enforcement or military community may commit against innocent people is even more wrong and must be stopped. No one is above the law.”

The Supreme Court next week is convening a multisectoral summit on extrajudicial killings.

Apparently anticipating the Supreme Court summit, Ms Arroyo said, “we are entering a new era of civil and human rights. The front line of this effort is built on lifting up our poor and liberating them from poverty. That is the most fundamental human right – to live in dignity free from the fear of hunger and want.”

“No less important is to bring political stability to every region so that our people can live in peace, free from the fear of harassment, kidnapping and plunder that are so often part of the — communist terrorists, especially the terrorists who flog — a failed ideology. The civil rights of our people will be upheld as we tie down and eliminate enemies of peace and prosperity.

The summit she convened on the HSA, however, invited officials from various government agencies but not from the Commission on Human Rights. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)