Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?
By Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
I. General Overview
President Benigno Aquino III considered 2012 a year of continued resurgence of the economy bolstered with increased confidence in good governance. He took pride in the dramatic leaps the country has taken in the global competitive index of the World Economic Forum; the unprecedented attainment of investment-grade status from the most respected credit ratings agencies in the world; and the astounding 6.8 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012.
Amidst this enthusiasm, cases of extra-judicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests as well as other political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights violations increase halfway into the Aquino administration. What becomes alarming “is the growing number of threats and killings of rights defenders” as observed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, and on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns.
In 2012 alone, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) reported 43 cases of EJK involving 48 victims; 14 cases of Enforced Disappearance involving 17 victims; and, 39 cases of Torture involving 63 victims. There were 65 documented cases of arrest and detention by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines involving 133 individuals. The spate of arrests came after the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND) announced its Php467 million bounty for some undisclosed list of 235 communist leaders. This list would definitely be used to harass political activists and leaders of peoples’ organizations with or without legal charges and would constitute another institutionalized utter disregard of the right to due process.
In an October 2012 interview with Radio New Zealand, President Aquino brushed aside criticism of his human rights records as simply “leftist propaganda”. He issued Administrative Order (AO) 35 in November “creating the inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons”. He promoted military officers charged with cases of human rights violations. Brig. Gen Eduardo Añowas appointed chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He was among those charged in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas Burgos. Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and before him Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia who was assigned to head the Eastern Mindanao Command. Baladad and Segovia were among those charged in the illegal arrest and torture of the Morong 43.
2012 also witnessed positive developments in policy reforms. The President signed into law Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which is restrained for implementation by the Supreme Court following petitions of unconstitutionality by the Catholic Church; the Compensation for Martial Law Victims Act, early 2013, providing compensation, recognition and acceptance of the historical facts of grave human rights violation during Martial Law; the Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 288 or the ARMM Human Rights Commission Charter of 2012, an independent regional national human rights institution vested with the powers and mandate of the national Commission on Human Rights within the autonomous region; Republic Act (RA) 101361 or the Kasambahay Law in January 2013, an act instituting polices for the protection and welfare of domestic helpers; the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, an act defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance; and the Ratification of the Rome Statute.
A. A Culture of Impunity Persists: Still No National Human Rights Action Plan
However, until today, President Aquino has never finalized and signed the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), highlight during the 1stand 2nd Philippine Universal Periodic Review Process (UPR) in 2008 and 2012; a framework that would guide Government’s compliance with its international human rights obligations. It has failed to ensure greater transparency through a general right of access to official information – a Freedom of Information (FOI) law. The right to information is not only on the accessibility of police blotters and military camp records but also of transparency of business plans and records containing also financial reports affecting people, their sources of subsistence and the environment, particularly in areas of extractive industries. The CHRP has neither called to task the Aquino administration on the NHRAP nor determinedly consolidated its reach on the necessity of the FOI as a right and an indispensable component in the fight against corruption through its regional offices, seminars, trainings, lectures, talks and information dissemination.
Though there is a noted decline in terms of statistics, very few have been made to pay for what they have wrongly done. According to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), “government and the security sector have miserably failed to diligently investigate and appropriately prosecute the past and present violations. The culture of impunity persists.” This culture of impunity in the realm of civil and political rights is rooted in the impunity of economic, social and cultural rights. Most of the reported cases arise from situations of struggle against mining operations, destruction of environment, demolitions of urban poor communities, land and work, and corruption in the bureaucracy. Lately, violations are directed at human rights defenders.
Government’s denial of human rights as a pillar of development and good governance laid down an environment that perpetuates a culture of impunity, emboldens perpetrators, condones and sets out new targets for violations. This is the general backdrop against which the Commission on Human Rights Philippines (CHRP) reported 2012 as a year of considerable achievements with serious human rights challenges. “Despite wide-ranging positive developments such as the passage of major human rights laws, the CHRP continues to grapple with serious human rights challenges like in the face of unabated human rights violations, particularly summary killings.”
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