Archive for August, 2011


Photo by the Medical Action Group (MAG)

by Hon. Jose Midas P. Marquez
Court Administrator
Chief, Public Information Office

(Note from the Blogger:  This article was delivered  by the author at the Media Launch of the Medical Action Group Project at the Citrine Emerald Room Function Hall, Diamond Hotel, Roxas Boulevard, Manila on 06 August 2011.  It is uploaded in this page as a possible mechanism for the protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).)

A pleasant morning to everyone.
 
Last December 2008, I spoke before your organization on the importance of medical documentation in relation to the case of the Manalo brothers, which is the first decision of the Supreme Court on the application of the Writ of Amparo, an extraordinary remedy promulgated by the Court available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated, or threatened with violation. Today, barely three years after, I am proud to say that the Supreme Court has not wavered in its quest in protecting and defending human rights, and has consistently issued resolutions which can be considered as triumphs in such mission.

The plight of missing political activist Jonas Joseph T. Burgos falls under this mission.  It was on 28 April 2007 when Jonas was abducted by several unidentified men while he was eating lunch at a restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. Eyewitnesses, including the restaurant’s employees, claim that Jonas was dragged into a van whose license plates were later traced to another vehicle impounded by the military in Bulacan. Up to now, the whereabouts of Jonas are unknown. Just last month, however the Court ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to produce Jonas, and to show cause why he should not be released from detention.[1]

Two months ago, the Court also ordered the AFP to release University of the Philippines (UP) student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, and farmer Manuel Merino, who have been missing for nearly five years and were allegedly abducted by armed men, and said that retired General Jovito Palparan and five others “appear responsible and accountable” for their disappearance.[2] The High Tribunal emphasized its order by putting the words “immediate release” in capital letters in its ruling.

The High Court added that its decision is final and executory, and thus, there is no need to file any motion for the execution of its decision. The Court said that “since the right to life, liberty and security of a person is at stake, the proceedings should not be delayed and execution of any decision thereon must be expedited as soon as possible since any form of delay even for a day may jeopardize the very rights that these writs seek to immediately protect.”

And late last year, the High Court ordered the CHR to conduct further investigation on Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas’s alleged abduction and torture by the military in 1999. Roxas alleged that she and companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc were resting in the house of one Mr. Jesus Paolo in Sitio Bagong Sikat, Barangay Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac when 15 heavily armed men barged in, ganged them up, blindfolded, and dragged them to a waiting van. She claimed that she was later taken to the military camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija where she was allegedly interrogated and tortured on suspicion of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

In this case of Roxas v. Arroyo,[3] the Court specifically tasked the CHR to identify the persons described in the cartographic sketches submitted by Roxas as well as their whereabouts, and to pursue any other leads relevant to her abduction and torture.

The Roxas case likewise brings me to another equally consequential point, and that is the importance of effective medical documentation in successfully prosecuting amparo cases, and other cases against violations of human rights. One of the documentary exhibits admitted in this case is the medical certificate of Roxas, which was executed right after she was freed.

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SONA 2011 (photo by TFDP)

By Renato G. Mabunga, PhD 

Background:

  • Ever since the decision of Mr. Benigno Simeon Aquino III to run as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines, he fails to provide the Filipino people with a concrete human rights agenda.
    • The fact remains that on major occasions, where the president should have drawn a roadmap on how his government would fair on human rights, the whole country is left hanging.
    • All we have heard are promises on specific issues under a paradigm of anti-corruption: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (without corruption, there’s no poverty). Its framework of good governance is packaged on this slogan (corruption); alleviating it to be the “end-all” and “be-all” of what has and will become of the Philippines.
    • During the campaign period 2010 the Philippine human rights community had asked all presidential candidates of their human rights agenda. The Aquino camp had only promised in a traditional political fashion to incorporate human rights agenda in its governance.
  • From the moment Noynoy Aquino started his bid for the presidency until his oath taking into office, The Philippine Online Chronicles has compiled 24 promises from the various sorties Aquino had attended to. These are the following:
    1. Expand irrigation development program
    2. Probe 2004 vote rigging
    3. Scrap GMA’s flagship programs
    4. Upgrade army and increase defense spending
    5. Closure to extrajudicial killings
    6. No favors to allies and supporters
    7. Strictly enforce environmental laws
    8. Make Freedom of Information (FOI )bill his administration’s priority
    9. Streamline government approval processes
    10. Adjust government pay scale
    11. No to Dictatorship
    12. Safer sources of renewable energy
    13. Population management via responsible parenthood
    14. Charter change only via constitutional convention
    15. Create jobs at home, reject overseas employment as development strategy
    16. No new or increase in taxes
    17. Distribute Hacienda Luisita to Farmers
    18. Justice for Massacre Victims
    19. Renew peace talks and decades-long insurgencies
    20. Investigate Gloria Arroyo
    21. Avoid foreign trips
    22. A Lean, Graft-free Government
    23. A holistic and comprehensive public health care system
    24. To Quit Smoking if he wins
  • True enough, in his inaugural speech he warned on the abuse of power by government officials. This signaled his slogan “ang matuwid na daan” (the straight path) with war against corruption as the centerpiece of his administration.
  • Viewing some of them from the perspective of human rights, one could say at least, there are some possibilities that his administration would champion human rights as a guidepost of his anti-corruption slogan. Especially, if we take to heart his pronouncements during his inaugural address:
    • 1. Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.’ Ito ang mga prinsipyong tinatayuan at nagsisilbing batayan ng ating administrasyon. (If there are no corrupt, there are no empoverished prople. This is the principle and basis of my administration.)
    • 2. de-kalidad na edukasyon, kabilang ang edukasyong bokasyonal para makapaghanap ng marangal na trabaho ang hindi makapag-kolehiyo; (Quality education, including vocational courses in aid of searching for dignified work for those unable to pursue higher/college education.)
    • 3. serbisyong pangkalusugan tulad ng PhilHealth para sa lahat sa loob ng tatlong taon; (Health services like PhilHealth for all in three year time.)
    • 4. Tirahan sa loob ng mga ligtas na komunidad. (Housing in safer communities.)
    • 5. Kung dati ay may fertilizer scam, ngayon ay may kalinga nang tunay para sa mga magsasaka. Tutulungan natin sila sa irigasyon, extension services, at sa pagbenta ng kanilang produkto sa pinakamataas na presyong maaari. (While there was fertilizer scam before, now genuine services for all peasants.  Let’s help by providing them irrigation, extension services, and capabilities to sell their products to much higher possible prices.)
    • 6. There can be no reconciliation without justice. Sa paglimot ng pagkakasala,sinisigurado mong mauulit muli ang mga pagkakasalang ito. (By simply forgetting the past wrongs doings, they are surely be repeated again.) 
    • 7. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.
    • 8. We shall defeat the enemy by wielding the tools of justice, social reform and equitable governance leading to a better life.
  • However, to compare these to his 10-point governance agenda (campaign platform), one can deduce them as mere band-aids to temporarily stop the bleeding of resources both human and natural.  Below are some broad strokes in his agenda which are Human Rights related:
    • Job creation – more on skill development thru TESDA and infrastructure building.
    • Mindanao – resumption of peace talks; Internal Refugees.
    • Reforms in the Judiciary – more on administrative/personnel build-up rather than incorporation of human rights frame into the current criminal justice system.
    • Education – for competitive advantage; infrastructure.
    • Health – philhealth for everyone; infrastructure.
    • Housing – in-city/on-site relocation. o Agrarian reform – irrigation; infrastructure.
  • All of these are packaged under anti-corruption campaign for social services which pre-supposes that internal systems within government departments are alright and policy-guidelines are adequate. It is no wonder that in his SONA ng “matuwid na daan”, there is: 
    • NO POLICY STATEMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS
    • No statement on the Human Security Act
    • No statement of legislations pending during the 14th congress on Extra-Judicial Killings, Enforced Disappearance, the Right to Information Bill, etc…
    • NO “MARCHING ORDERS” ON CURRENT HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS AND ISSUES
    • One liner on Extra-Judicial Killings during the post Arroyo administration and none on the EJKs during the previous administrations.
    • Nothing on enforced disappearances
    • NO CLEAR POLICY STATEMENT ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS, PROTOCOLS OR MECHANISMS THAT REMAIN PENDING
    • NOT A SINGLE WORD ON AGRARIAN REFORM OR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Where are we now in 2011(HR perspective):

  • Until at present, the current administration has not drawn up his Government’s human rights agenda.
    • The draft 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan of the Philippines for 2010-2014 (NHRAPP-2) has never been finalized and given attention. The 1st NHRAPP ended 11 years ago.
    • There is continuing extra-judicial killings amid repeated government announcement that it is not a policy of the administration.
      • Agta Tribal Leader case
      • Killings and harassments of environmental activists and journalists
      • In the One year of the Benigno Aquino Administration, 8 cases of Extra-judicial killings have been documented
    • UNSOLVED/UNADDRESSED ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES
      • For 16 years the bill criminalizing acts of enforced disappearance has not been passed.
      • Pending cases of enforced disappearance face a blank wall in search for the missing ones.
      • Two cases of enforced disappearance have been documented in the first year of Aquino administration.
    • “GUILT BY ASSOCIATION” CASES 
      • Ming Saladero Case 
      • Morong 43 case
      • Community “census” case in Central Luzon
      • Rita Melecio harassment case
    • On Torture 
      • Torture remains the standard operating procedure within the security forces. E.g. police torture case in NCR, Lenin Salas case, torture of petty criminals in Davao.
      • Torture and hazing are thought of as SOPs in the Philippine National Police training camps.
    • On Political Prisoners and humanitarian reasons
      • Tatay Umbrero case and the post humous executive clemency.
      • Hunger strike of political detainees calling for a Human Rights Agenda in the Aquino administration; prison reforms and release of all political prisoners.
  • With the current human rights environment, IMPUNITY and DE FACTO IMMUNITY exist.
  • SONA 2010 and 2011 failed to provide a clear road map for human rights protection and social justice dispensation under the Aquino Administration. A window of hope remains present however:
    • the Constitution remains clear in its mandate to guarantee full respect to human rights and ensure human dignity.
    • CSOs must remain vigilant and together with the oppressed sectors consistently engage and assert peoples’ and human rights demands.

While there is a window for hope, many things still need to be done:

  • THE PROMISE OF CLOSURE?
  • A CLEAR HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA/POLICY
  • SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION 
  • Laws on Extra-Judicial Killings and Criminalization of cases Enforced Disappearance
  • Incorporating International laws and IHL PRINCIPLES through ratification or adoption of HR conventions, protocols and mechanisms
  • Freedom of Information
  • STRENGTHENING TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN EXISTING STATE INSTITUTIONS TO GUARANTEE PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
  • STRENGTHENING COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AS NATIONAL MECHANISM FOR PROTECTION
  • ADOPTION OF THE ROME STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT to provide solid foundation to the question of Command Responsibility (Art. 28, Rome Statute of the ICC)
  • STRENGTHENING JUDICIAL REMEDIES 
    • Writ of Amparo
    • Writ of Habeas Data
    • Writ of Habeas Corpus
    • PROVIDING FOR BETTER PROTECTION MEASURES
      • Witness protection program
      • Sanctuary provisions
      • Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)
    • CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE OF JUDICIARY, EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE BRANCHES
      • Mainstreaming of human rights in all branches of government
      • Continuing human rights education for the security forces
      • Incorporation of human rights as a subject in school curricula
    • COMBATTING IMPUNITY
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