Hold aid to PH if impunity continues, HR group asks US gov’t

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/30 April) – The New York-based Human Rights Watch today said the United States should press the Aquino government into bringing abusive military personnel to justice as a precondition for additional aid.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the US government should “resist attempts to remove a congressional hold on a portion of foreign aid to the Philippines until significant progress has been made in that regard.”

On April 30 and May 1, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are scheduled to meet with their Philippine counterparts in Washington for a “2+2 dialogue” of joint meetings with the foreign and defense ministers to discuss defense and strategic security issues.

“The Philippine government’s pronouncements on improving human rights have been mostly talk, and not much action,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the statement as having said. “Progress will be measured by results, in particular the prosecution of soldiers and officers implicated in abuses.”

The group said the US government has not taken advantage of its strong relations with the Philippine government to raise human rights concerns.

It cited Clinton’s visit to Manila in November 2011 and the 11-day military exercises called Balikatan between the two countries that started on April 16.

“The US missed a key opportunity to engage publicly with the Philippine military about the need to end impunity for serious human rights abuses,” Pearson said. “The US shouldn’t let such opportunities slide and 2+2 is an important chance to rectify that oversight.”

Since 2008, the US government has withheld $2 million to $3 million per year in assistance to the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said.

It added this assistance is supposed to be released only if the State Department certifies that the Philippine government “is taking effective steps to prosecute those responsible for extra-judicial executions [EJEs], sustain the decline in the number of EJEs, and strengthen government institutions working to eliminate EJEs.”

The conditions are based in part on recommendations to the Philippines by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. The Philippines has not met the conditions, Human Rights Watch said, noting that the State Department since 2008 has never made such a certification.

Human Rights Watch said extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of leftists have persisted under Aquino.

“Although the number of cases has gone down since President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010, there has not been significant progress in prosecutions,” it said.

The group also refuted the Philippine military’s claim that it has brought suspects to justice, saying that in the last decade only seven cases of extrajudicial killings, involving 11 defendants, have been successfully prosecuted, none since Aquino took power and none involving active duty military personnel.

Human Rights Watch noted the case of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who is facing kidnapping charges for the disappearance of two UP students in 2006. Palparan has remained in hiding. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)