Int’l watchdog says impunity still reigns


2 June 2013

There has been progress such as in passing laws for human rights and
providing a ‘veneer of transparency,’ but none in walking the talk and
producing results.

MANILA – Although the number of cases of extrajudicial killings has gone
down, “impunity remains a huge problem under the Aquino administration,”
according to an international human rights watchdog.

In a chat with online journalists and bloggers on May 29, Phelim Kine,
deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, said: “We recognize
that there has been some progress… [but] there has been no successful
prosecution of extrajudicial killings since 2010.”

HRW praised the Aquino administration for the passage of important laws
related to the protection and promotion of human rights such as
Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act and the Human Rights
Victim Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

But Kine said walking the talk is the next step. In the same vein,
Carlos Conde, researcher for HRW Asia division, told reporters and
bloggers: “The challenge [for the government] is to implement these laws

Conde raised the alarm over how the government has not yet formed the
Human Rights Claims Board. This would have been crucial in implementing
the Human Rights Victim Reparation and Recognition Act. “We do not want
to speculate but the delay in the formation of the Claims Board concerns
us. Some of the victims have died already,” he said.

Poor mechanisms

Kine said the human rights mechanisms developed by the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police are “not
effective in stopping abuses.”

During the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
both the AFP and the PNP had set up Human Rights Offices that still
exist today. Kine said the HR offices of both agencies are “just talking
shops and not about identifying abuses.”

Kine said the appointment as AFP spokesman of Domingo Tutaan Jr., former
chief of the AFP Human Rights Office, reinforces their view that the AFP
Human Rights Office is just a “talking shop” and not doing much.
“Instead of transparency, it provides a veneer of accountability without
delivering results,” Kine said.

Conde shared that the HRW had approached the AFP Human Rights Office
several times for specific cases of human rights violations but the
latter was not “much help.”

Classic example

Asked to comment on the case of Jonas Burgos, Kine said the refusal of
the Philippine Army to enforce disciplinary actions against the Army
officer implicated in the abduction “gives the impression that rhetoric
does not match action.”

Recently, the Court of Appeals affirmed its earlier decision holding the
military accountable for the disappearance of Jonas, son of the late
press freedom fighter, Jose Burgos Jr. The appellate court also
identified Army Major Harry Baliaga Jr. as responsible for the
abduction. But Baliaga remains in active service.

“The Jonas Burgos case is one of the few cases with strong pieces of
evidence and yet the military is not suspending or disciplining one of
its men,” Conde said.

“It’s a case of government’s foot dragging, which cements the impression
that impunity in the Philippines is alive and well,” Kine said.

Trumped-up charges vs activists

Asked to comment on the reported cases of filing of trumped-up charges
against activists, Kine replied: “We’re always carefully monitoring
government laws being used to attack or undermine work of civil society
organizers or anyone who challenges the state.”

Kine said, however, that they have yet to verify reports in the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan has noted that while the number of
extrajudicial killings has gone down, cases of arrests of activists have
increased. Based on Karapatan’s documentation, 148 activists have been
arrested and detained under the Aquino administration.

After analyzing the events that preceded cases of human rights
violations, Conde noted that “trumped up charges are part of modus
operandi” of perpetrators of abuses. He said “Extrajudicial killings are
a progression of violations – from surveillance to vilification to
arrest.” (