Aquino’s human rights tack gets failing mark

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/1 December)—President Benigno Aquino III has dismally failed to address human rights issues in the country after almost three years in power, a researcher from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia said during the Fifth Mindanao Human Rights Summit held here last Thursday.

Carlos Conde, researcher of HRW Asia and the summit’s keynote speaker, stressed that there is still no conviction on extrajudicial killings (EJK) under the Aquino administration, which is a debacle to end the culture of impunity reigning in the country.

The number of convictions measures the scale of impunity, according to him, citing that during former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s almost a decade in power, there were only 10 convictions on EJK cases.

Human rights group Karapatan counted that from 2001 to date, there are 1,320 extrajudicial killings in the country, including 114 cases under the Aquino administration.

Out of 114 killings, 11 were in Southern Mindanao, and also under Aquino’s term, there were 127 frustrated extrajudicial killings, Karapatan’s record showed.

Extrajudicial killings, as defined in the Supreme Court of the Philippines Administrative Order 25-2007, are “due to the political affiliation of the victims; the method of attack; and involvement or acquiescence of state agents in the commission of the killings.”

In a November 2012 joint report by Panalipdan Mindanao, Kalumaran, Barug Katungod Mindanao and Karapatan-Mindanao chapter, 34 environment defenders, including 26 indigenous people, have been killed in Mindanao since Aquino’s presidency.

Included in these cases were the killings of Italian priest Fr. Tentorio “Pops” Fausto in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on October 17, 2011 and the “massacre” of the Capion family within the Tampakan mining concession area of Xstrata Copper-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur last October 18.

The report also cited that “an estimated 1,177 families with 6,033 individuals have been forcibly evacuated in the course of intense military operations carried out by the Philippine Army, most notably in the Caraga, Northern Mindanao, and Southern Mindanao regions.”

Conde said that correct data and good research are “keys in fighting impunity.”

Having correct data on human rights violations will counter the government’s propaganda that human rights situation has already improved in the country, he added.

Conde noted the government lacks concrete actions although it reported to the international community like the United Nations and the European Union that it has enacted several laws to protect human rights in the country.

While it is true that the government had crafted many human rights laws, he said that the state failed in implementing them and has always been reactive, such as the creation of a “super body,” which, according to Conde, is not necessary.

Created through Administrative Order 35 and signed by the President last November 22, the super body is a nine-member inter-agency committee that will probe cases of extrajudicial killings, prioritizing those committed during the past Arroyo administration.

Revoke EO 546

If President Benigno Aquino III is really serious about ending political violence, he should have revoked Executive Order (EO) 546 that allows local officials to create private armies, Conde said.

He noted that dismantling private armies was one of Aquino’s campaign promises and that he has not done anything about it after serving almost half of his presidential term.

“We are worried that politicians will justify their arming [of goons] using EO 546, especially during the electoral campaign” Conde said, adding that the existence of private armies led to the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao three years ago.

Conde also said that families of victims of extrajudicial killings have to band together and continue speaking out with the media.

Their sense of hope is the source of strength of local non-government organizations and the international community to continue helping them in their pursuit for justice, he added.

Supported by the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, the summit was attended by around 200 representatives from the indigenous people and small-scale mining sector, including families and relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

Most of them came from Talaingod in Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Bukidnon, Osamis Oriental, Basilan, Zamboanga City, Surigao del Sur, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Sarangani. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)