Rights group says abuses go unpunished under Aquino

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/28 June) – President Benigno S. Aquino III has failed to fulfill his promise to hold accountable the security forces responsible for serious abuses since taking office two years ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a statement issued days before he enters his third year in office, Human Rights Watch said Aquino “has not successfully prosecuted a single case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance, including those committed during his presidency.”

Upon assuming the presidency, Aquino gave “marching orders” to the Justice department 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’,” the New York-based human rights monitor said.

It added that 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.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said “concrete measures – rather than more promises – are needed now.”

“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.”

The group said it has also monitored progress on cases of killings and enforced disappearances under the previous administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. However, it noted that if progress has been made, “it is often because of the perseverance and courage of family members, rather than aggressive action by police and prosecutors.”

Human Rights Watch cited the 2006 disappearance of two university students, Karen Cadapan and Sherlyn Empeno, where family action was crucial in bringing the two soldiers to trial for their kidnapping and illegal detention.

“The trial for the two soldiers started in May. However, the men are not in civilian custody but are being held in a military camp. Two others implicated in the students’ disappearance, including retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, the commander in the area at the time, have evaded arrest,” it said.

Philippine human rights groups have called Palparan “The Butcher” for his alleged role in several extrajudicial killings and “disappearances” of Left-wing activists. They are suspecting that the retired general is being coddled by his supporters in the military.

“The number of killings and disappearances implicating the military has gone down under the Aquino administration, but they continue,” Human Rights Watch said.

Last month, the country’s human rights record was scrutinized at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during its Universal Periodic Review. 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. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)