Keep Aid Conditional on Holding Rights Abusers Accountable

30 April 2012

The Philippine government’s pronouncements on improving human rights
have been mostly talk, and not much action. Progress will be measured by
results, in particular the prosecution of soldiers and officers
implicated in abuses. – Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director

(New York) – The United States should press senior Philippine officials
visiting Washington this week to fulfill the Aquino government’s
commitment to bring abusive military personnel to justice, Human Rights
Watch said today. The US government should also resist attempts to
remove a congressional hold on a portion of foreign aid to the
Philippines until significant progress has been made in that regard,
Human Rights Watch said.

On April 30 and May 1, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta are scheduled to meet with their Philippine
counterparts in Washington for a “2+2 dialogue” of joint meetings with
the foreign and defense ministers to discuss defense and strategic
security issues.

“The Philippine government’s pronouncements on improving human rights
have been mostly talk, and not much action,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy
Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Progress will be measured by
results, in particular the prosecution of soldiers and officers
implicated in abuses.”

The US government has not taken advantage of its strong relations with
the Philippine government to raise human rights concerns, Human Rights
Watch said. Clinton visited Manila in November 2011. On April 16, the
Philippines and the US began their largest Balikatan (“shoulder to
shoulder”) joint military exercises in several areas across the
Philippines, which both sides declared a success. But US officials,
including the US ambassador, failed to take advantage of Balikatan’s
opening ceremonies to speak of human rights concerns.

“The US missed a key opportunity to engage publicly with the Philippine
military about the need to end impunity for serious human rights
abuses,” Pearson said. “The US shouldn’t let such opportunities slide
and 2+2 is an important chance to rectify that oversight.”

Since 2008, the US government has withheld $2 million per year in
assistance to the Philippines. This assistance is supposed to be
released only if the State Department certifies that the Philippine
government “is taking effective steps to prosecute those responsible for
extra-judicial executions [EJEs], sustain the decline in the number of
EJEs, and strengthen government institutions working to eliminate EJEs.”
The conditions are based in part on recommendations to the Philippines
by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or
Arbitrary Executions. The Philippines has not met the conditions, Human
Rights Watch said, noting that the State Department since 2008 has never
made such a certification.

Philippine military claims that it has been bringing perpetrators to
justice are not supported by the available evidence, Human Rights Watch
said. In the past decade, state security forces in the Philippines have
been implicated in hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced
disappearances, particularly of leftist activists and sympathizers,
journalists and clergy. Although the number of cases has gone down since
President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010, there has not been
significant progress in prosecutions.

In the last decade only seven cases of extrajudicial killings, involving
11 defendants, have been successfully prosecuted, none since Aquino took
power and none involving active duty military personnel.

In a July 2011 report titled “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain,”Human
Rights Watch documented 10 cases of extrajudicial killings and
disappearances during the current Aquino administration for which there
is strong evidence of military involvement. Police investigations remain
inadequate, as they were in the previous administration, with
investigators frequently not visiting crime scenes or collecting only
the most obvious evidence. Evidence of military involvement is routinely
not pursued, investigations cease after the identification of one
suspect, and arrest warrants are frequently left unexecuted. Witnesses
are not adequately protected. Not one of these cases has been
successfully prosecuted.

In December, the Philippine Justice Department did issue an arrest
warrant for retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, charged with the
kidnapping and illegal detention of two students in 2006. However,
Palparan has been in hiding and able to evade arrest, allegedly with the
help of former colleagues in the armed forces.

Serious abuses by the communist New People’s Army and Islamist armed
groups are no justification for abuses by the Armed Forces of the
Philippines, Human Rights Watch said. The US government should make
clear that a disciplined and professional military is crucial for
ensuring the security of the civilian population.

US officials should also raise concerns about abuses by paramilitary
forces under the supervision of the armed forces, Human Rights Watch
said. Paramilitary members have been implicated in the killings of civil
society activists and in harassing communities deemed to be supporting
New People’s Army rebels. When he ran for president, Aquino promised to
rescind an executive order allowing for the creation of “private
armies,” but he has backtracked since, and also spoken positively about
allowing paramilitary forces to provide security for private
corporations, including mining companies.

“Clinton and Panetta should press for a commitment from their Philippine
counterparts for full military cooperation in the investigation of
abuses and disciplinary measures against those who fail to do so,”
Pearson said. “Too many Filipinos have endured abuses for the US to keep
looking the other way.”