- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 2778 Hour
- Reading permission
Aquino wrong by rights
By Mark Dearn
MANILA - An effigy of Philippine President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino burned in front of the Malacanang Palace in Manila this week as thousands of people took to the streets on Human Rights Day. The annual mobilization is of increasing significance to Philippine activists, often the targets of human-rights violations the government is failing to tackle.
In spite of Aquino's repeated rhetoric of reformism, backed by his story of being the son of a victim of an extra-judicial killing - Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, the anti-Marcos senator assassinated in 1983 on the tarmac of the Manila airport that now bears his name - the killing of campaigning activists have not ebbed.
Indeed, the promotion last week of a military general with a well-known abduction case pending against him was seen as a bitter slight amidst a human rights-themed week during which the army aimed to promote an image of working for "human rights-based governance" and the government launched an inter-agency committee focused on solving and prosecuting old and new human rights cases.
In Aquino's state of the nation address in June he emphasized: "We will protect everybody's rights, even of those who oppose us." However, rights alliance Karapatan estimates that in the two years to that moment - the duration of Aquino's presidency - there were 99 extra-judicial killings, 11 enforced disappearances, 67 cases of torture and 216 cases of illegal arrest with detention.
The year began with hope of a human-rights breakthrough. An arrest warrant was issued for General Jovito Palparan under charges related to the 2006 kidnapping of two still missing University of the Philippines students and a peasant farmer now believed to be dead. But Palparan, a man loathed and feared in equal measure by activists for his record of abuses and unabashed vitriol for leftists, has disappeared, surfacing only through statements decrying the legitimacy of the court case against him.
Progress in the country's other headline human-rights story, 2009's "Maguindanao massacre", has been sluggish at best. Three years on there are no convictions for the 57 killings, with 93 wanted men still at large.
The year has also been marked by increasing international recognition that Aquino's rights rhetoric is failing to match reality. In May's Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations' Human Rights Council, 22 countries lined up to condemn continuing extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and impunity in the Philippines.
The United States noted that "impunity in human-rights violations" continues; France was "alarmed by extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances and continuing violations against journalists and human-rights defenders"; Japan said, "extra-judicial killings continue as a significant political issue". Six countries asked the Philippines to act on the unmet requests of UN special rapporteurs to visit the Philippines to examine the human-rights situation.
In July, Dutch national and land reform campaigner Willem Geertman was shot dead just outside his office in Central Luzon. While the government initially followed the police line of a robbery gone wrong, witnesses reported Geertman as having been forced to his knees before being executed with shots to the head. Fellow campaigners have pointed to "military agents" as culpable.
In the same month, a joint statement from the UN Special Rapporteurs on human-rights defenders, and on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told of a "significant increase" in reports of killings and death threats against human-rights defenders since the murder of Italian priest Fausto Tenorio in 2011.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been scathing in their criticism. Human Rights Watch's 2012 World Report notes "the military and police still commit human rights violations with impunity", with the government making "little progress" in spite of its promises.
Nominal pressure has been exerted by the US. However, while the Philippine government is keen to recoup the US$10 million withheld from its military aid conditional on improvement in human rights violations, it represents only 10% of a military assistance budget that is unlikely to wane in the face of increasing tensions in the South China Sea.
The political will of Aquino to carry through his claimed reformist mantra is questionable. Human rights rapporteurs are refused entry, and human rights specialists who have engaged in work with the administration speak of little determination to reform. Given the significant institutional blocks to meaningful human-rights reform, without strong political will there remains little hope of progress.
The cases of Palparan and the Maguindanao massacre demonstrate that the move from arrest warrant to arrest, prosecution and conviction is seldom achieved in the Philippine criminal justice system. Prominent voices on the need for judicial reform, such as renowned human-rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, have spoken of the continued presence of political "backers" in a flawed judicial system, with a particular focus on the Supreme Court.
The European Union, building on an 18-month project to improve prosecution of human-rights cases which ended last year, plans the launch of a "justice for all" program that will channel some 10 million euros (US$12.9 million) to 2015 in the hope of generating equitable access to justice and an improvement in criminal justice for "disadvantaged" groups, including human rights and social activists.