Phl - US rights group finds not one case solved
MANILA, Philippines -- A year after starting an inquiry into extrajudicial killings and disappearances in the Philippines, the US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has returned to find that not one of the cases it investigated had been resolved.
“The problem is, of all the cases we investigated when we were here [in September] last year --17 extrajudicial killings and two disappearances -- there has not been a single conviction,” HRW member Bede Sheppard told Philippine Daily Inquirer editors Thursday.
Sheppard is the author of the recently released HRW report, “Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines.”
The 84-page report details how members of left-wing political parties and nongovernment organizations, political journalists, outspoken clergy, anti-mining activists and agricultural reform advocates had been gunned down or abducted, and how these crimes have gone uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
It also documents the involvement of the Armed Forces in the killings.
A summary of the report said the government’s failure to carry out credible investigations and prosecutions had contributed to “rampant impunity,” and that witnesses and the victims’ families were being “scared silent” for fear of becoming targets of reprisal.
At the meeting with the Inquirer, Sophie Richardson, HRW advocacy director for Asia, noted efforts by the Arroyo administration to address the issue. But she said she was unsure whether these efforts would have any effect.
“It appears that the administration, in response to domestic and international pressure, has undertaken a series of initiatives, all of which, if they actually were fully implemented, would make an extraordinary difference,” Richardson said.
“But I think it remains to be seen whether the designation of 99 special courts, the issuance of new writs, and having special summits are in fact going to make a difference,” she said.
In March, the Supreme Court designated 99 regional trial courts as special tribunals for the “speedy and expeditious resolution of these criminal cases ... involving the most brazen violations of human rights.”
In July, it convened a national consultative summit on the extrajudicial killings and disappearances to “search for solutions.”
The summit was attended by about 250 experts representing various government agencies, including the military and police, members of Congress and the judiciary, as well as NGOs, the academe, media and foreign groups.
New writs’ effectiveness
Richardson lauded the steps taken by the judiciary, but was again wary of their effectiveness.
“On one hand, we are encouraged that the judiciary is taking action to resolve this problem of either the military or police saying ‘We have no information, we’re not going to participate [in investigations],’” she said, adding:
“At the same time, we are concerned that these writs are being issued specifically to people who have in the past completely refused to comply with the writ of habeas corpus.
“It’s not entirely clear to us that they’re going to be any better at complying this time around.”
Under the writ of amparo, the rules of which were recently issued by the high court, state agents cannot merely deny that a missing person is in their custody, and are actually compelled to look for him/her.
The newly drafted writ of habeas data, on the other hand, can be used to gain access to military and police files, or can be resorted to by any citizen against any government agency to find out what information has been compiled against him/her.
Richardson said that aside from monitoring the implementation of the two new writs, the HRW would look out for the release of the Melo Commission’s final report to the public.
The commission, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, was formed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in August 2006 to look into the killings and disappearances.
Interviews and field investigations for “Scared Silent” were conducted between September and November 2006 in Metro Manila and the provinces of Albay, Bulacan, Compostela Valley, Davao, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Negros Oriental, North Cotabato, Nueva Ecija, Sorsogon and Tarlac.
The HRW spoke with witnesses and family members and close friends of victims of killings and disappearances that took place between October 2005 and November 2006. One case involved the killing of Pastor Jemias Tinambacan of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, who was provincial chair of the militant Bayan Muna and executive director of the Mission for Indigenous and Self-Reliant People’s Assistance.
It spoke as well as with more than 50 government officials, including from the police and the military, lawmakers, academics, lawyers, diplomats and representatives of NGOs and civil society groups.“It is just completely inadequate for President Arroyo to keep going out in public and saying, ‘Oh but we don’t have a state policy of killing people,’” Richardson
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