Human rights in Aquino’s ‘righteous path’

“We have a democracy in name but not in fact.” – Manuel Diokno, president of the Free Legal Action Group


MANILA –Fr. Fausto Tentorio was finally laid to rest. Well-loved by members of the Manobo tribe whom he served for more than 30 years, Tentorio was shot at eight times by a lone gunman while he was getting into his pick-up truck parked inside a church compound in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, October 17.

A day after the Italian missionary was murdered, President Benigno S. Aquino III said, “Regardless of who did the crime, they will have to pay. That has been the direction of this administration from the start—you do the crime, you will be in jail.”

Three days after the incident, at the sitio Upper Lumbo, brgy. Kabalantian of the same town,peasant leader Ramon Batoy was shot at close range in front of his pregnant wife and two children by suspected state agents, human rights group Karapatan reported. Col. Joven Gonzales, commanding officer of the 57th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army claimed that the death of Batoy was a result of a legitimate encounter with the New People’s Army (NPA) . Two other civilians, Noli Badol and Celso Batol, were reportedly arrested and tortured by the soldiers.

In his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), Aquino delivered a strong message against impunity. His words, however, have not resulted in stopping human rights abuses. Fifteen months since Aquino assumed the presidency, human rights violations continue. Karapatan documented 54 victims of extrajudicial killings, eight victims of enforced disappearances and 29 victims of torture.

In a report released in July, Human Rights Watch pointed out that there have been only seven successfully prosecuted cases of extrajudicial killings, resulting in the conviction of 12 perpetrators.

The New York-based human rights watchdog added that while the military and police, as well as paramilitary forces, have been implicated in many of these killings, there has not been a single conviction of active military personnel. The group also noted that no senior military officer has been convicted either for direct involvement in these violations or as a matter of command responsibility.

The charges filed in relation to killings of journalists are not promising either.

Apart from the Ampatuan trial, there are 15 cases in court in relation to killings of journalists. Preliminary investigation in the murder of Palawan journalist Gerry Ortega led to the filing of charges against the alleged gunman but the perceived masterminds were dropped from the case.

Prima Quinsayas of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) said that of the 122 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986, only ten had convictions. Not one of the masterminds was included, only the gunmen and accomplices, said Quinsayas.

Measures wanting

Aquino did not heed most of the recommendations put forward by various human rights groups. In fact, upon Aquino’s inauguration in June 2010, human rights watchdog Amnesty International put forward concrete recommendations to put an end to the killings.

One of these is the issuance of an executive order that clearly states the administration’s commitment to stop the practice of enforced disappearances in the country. In particular, the group called for the establishment of a presidential commission that will review all cases of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances during the last decade, in cooperation with independent bodies, with the aim of enabling speedy prosecutions.

AI noted that the Truth Commission formed by Aquino does not include human rights violations.

In December 2010, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima created a task force headed by Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III to review the unresolved cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Pursuant to the directive issued by de Lima, Baraan said they held dialogues with various government agencies.

Finding the PNP’s Task Force Usig and later the Task Force 211 insufficient, Baraan has submitted a proposal to de Lima regarding the creation of a special presidential committee for the prevention of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and media killings. He said previous task forces had only been monitoring cases.

“The president can delegate his commander-in-chief powers to the committee,” Baraan said, adding that the committee should be given the authority to enter military barracks and installations and require explanations from the military and police, file administrative cases arising from command responsibility, among others. “We need a committee that is pro-active.”

Asked to comment on Baraan’s proposal, lawyer Manuel Diokno, president of the Free Legal Action Group (Flag) and dean of the College of Law of De La Salle Univesity (DLSU) said he likes the idea. He added, however, “I don’t think the president has shown any indication that he is open to any of these proposals.”

Linda Hornilla, former DOJ undersecretary, shot down Baraan’s proposal. Also speaking to fellows of the workshop, Hornilla said there are confidential information that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would not want the public to know.

“Another thing is the delegation of commander-in-chief authority. This is a huge and enormous power, place it in the hands of a group, not just an individual, that will be a security problem for the military,” Hornilla said.

AI also pushed for legislation that specifically criminalizes enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Malacanang, however, has not included any of the bills pertaining to the protection of human rights in 12 priority legislative measures in the 15th Congress. Several bills, including the Marcos compensation bill, bills criminalizing enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, a bill for the protection of human rights defenders, among others, continue to gather dust.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, whose party list group filed many of these bills, pointed out the lack of human rights agenda of the Aquino administration. He said bills on human rights are often relegated to the “graveyard shift.”

AI said the government should ensure that the military exercises full control over all state-sponsored militias and paramilitary groups and that the Department of National Defense clearly defines and differentiates their purposes, particularly the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA), Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO), police auxiliaries, barangay defense forces, chain of command and accountability mechanisms, or otherwise disarm and disband them.

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  1. Dapat binanggit na second best story ito ng 15th Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop ng UP College of Mass Communication.

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