US group debunks reports PH rights situation has improved

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/26 September) – A New York-based human rights group downplayed claims made by Philippine officials that the human rights situation in the country has improved and that United States lawmakers were happy with the efforts being undertaken by President Aquino on the matter.

In a statement today, Brad Adams, director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, cited the persistence of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and the government’s failure to prosecute suspects.

“The Philippine government is premature in boasting of significant progress on justice for past killings. The question isn’t what the government plans to do, but what it has already done. Up to the present, there have been no successful prosecutions of military personnel for EJKs,” he said.

“While the rate of killing has certainly gone down since Aquino came to office in 2010, killings continue. Unless the government prosecutes those responsible for past and recent abuses – and ensure that there are institutions capable of doing so – there is nothing to prevent these abuses from increasing again in the future,” he added.

Adams was reacting to a news item posted on the website of the Philippine Embassy in Washington on Sunday.

It quoted leading members of the US House of Representatives as saying they were “satisfied with the efforts being undertaken by President Aquino to address concerns that were earlier raised at Capitol Hill over the human rights situation in the Philippines.”

The favorable sentiment of the US lawmakers reportedly came after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima spoke “on the progress that Manila has made in the human rights front.”

The Philippine Embassy emphasized that among those who appreciated De Lima’s report was Kentucky Rep. Harold Rogers, chair of the powerful House committee on appropriations.

Washington has often tied its financial and military aid to the Philippines to the country’s human rights situation.

“We think we were able to bring our message across that the Philippines has been making significant progress as far as the human rights situation is concerned and that the Philippine Government continues to take concrete steps to address human rights issues,” the report quoted Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. as having said.

Militant groups however have presented a different picture of the human rights situation under Aquino. They said abuses by state security forces have continued.

In a statement on Monday, Karapatan said it has documented 99 extrajudicial killings under the Aquino government.

Allegations of human rights violations have persisted against the backdrop of a decades-old communist-led insurgency which the military has tried to suppress since the Marcos era.

The New People’s Army, military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging an armed struggle since 1969 that feeds on agrarian unrest and perceived injustices in the countryside.

Through their political arm, the National Democratic Front, the rebels have engaged the government in peace talks since 1986. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)