AI report: political killings, ‘disappearances’ continue under PNoy

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 July) – Pointing out the government’s alleged inability to resolve political killings and to stop more of these incidents from recurring, the Aquino government got a dismal rating of its human rights performance from Amnesty International.

In a report presented today, AI-Philippines director Aurora Parong said the human rights situation under Aquino had improved “only a little” compared to that under his predecessor and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

HUMAN RIGHTS. Dr. Aurora Parong, director of the Amnesty International Philippines, said the human rights situation under President Benigno Aquino III improved "only a little" during a media briefing in Davao City on Friday, July 15, 2011. MindaNews photo by Ruby Thursday More.

She particularly cited the slow-paced resolution to extra-judicial killings in the country and the occurrence of six cases during the first year of President Benigno Aquino III.

Asked how AI would rate the current administration, Parong said: “We cannot say how much because it is very little. Kakarampot lang talaga ang improvement, just a little above the passing rate.”

She said that out of 26 human rights action points, the Aquino administration achieved the following ratings: “some progress” in two points, “little change” in eight, “stagnant” in another eight;  “failed” in seven, and “regressed” in one point.

In its 18-page country report, the AI said the commitment of the Aquino administration to “end political killings, unlawful arrests, secret detention, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” had remained stagnant.

It said among the cases awaiting investigation and prosecution is the case of Casiano Abing, a 56-year old political activist in Samar who was shot dead in his home by an unidentified gunman, in August last year.

The report added that the Aquino administration failed when “it did not issue an executive order that clearly states your administration’s commitment to stop the practice of enforced disappearances in the country.”

AI likewise chided President for his first executive order, issued in July 2010, which established the abortive Truth Commission. “Unlike other truth commissions established around the world, President Aquino’s truth commission was given no mandate to address human rights violations.”

Among the “little changes” Parong cited was the ratification of the Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Act of 2011.

She, however, added the Aquino administration had not introduced a practical mechanism for immediate recourse for the families of victims of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.

“Whenever the families will report that a member of their family disappeared or when someone is arrested under a ‘John Doe’ warrant, they would immediately report to the police or military hotlines. Paano kung involved din ang police o military, saan sila hihingi ng tulong (where will they seek help)?” asked Parong.

The report noted a “little change” in the police and military’s effort to incorporate topics on human rights and international humanitarian law in their trainings.

In August 2010, the military launched the Armed Forces of the Philippines Human Rights Handbook as manifestation of its commitment to institutionalize human rights protection in its approach to warfare, the report read.

Five months later, the Philippine National Police also launched its Human Rights Desk Operations Manual.

But AI claimed that the Aquino administration has “regressed” as it failed to establish and provide resources, under CHR, for a specialized program for witness protection and sanctuary for families of victims of grave human rights violations.

Ritz Lee Santos, chair of AI Philippines, said applying for the program takes time and it has many requirements.

“While the witness is still processing his application for witness protection, what protection does the witness gets?” asked Santos.

He cited the case of supposed Ampatuan Massacre witness Suwaib Upham who was still applying for the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice when shot in June 2010.

Santos said the government must review the program since many witnesses may surface to testify on the massacre if they would be assured of their safety.

Meanwhile, AI also launched today its 2011 Report: The State of the World’s Human Rights.

The 400-page report tackled the Philippine situation in two pages, highlighting the political killings and the case of Upham.

Aside from unlawful killings, it also reported on incidents of torture and other methods of ill-treatment, indigenous peoples’ rights and reproductive rights.

“It’s just two pages but globally, it makes a difference,” said Santos. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)