Open Letter to President Benigno Aquino III–End Impunity Now!

Submitted on Fri, 11/14/2014 – 10:06 Karapatan
Press statement

Ampatuan massacre (Nov. 13, 2009). Hacienda Luisita massacre (Nov. 16, 2004). Supertyphoon Yolanda (Nov. 8, 2013). Murder of botanist Leonard Co and his companions (Nov. 15, 2010). Murder of campus journalist and human rights worker Benjaline Hernandez (birthday on Nov. 21). The brutal killing of Jennifer Laude (40th day on Nov. 20, 2014).

The month of November reminds us of all these tragedies and each bears an ugly label: Impunity.

Five years after the gruesome killing of 58 individuals, of whom 32 were journalists, the families of victims still grope in the dark. They held on to your promise of resolving the case before your term ends but now, their hope on your word is dying. The court granted bail for 41 of the accused. At least three witnesses have been killed. The Ampatuans continue to wield their political and economic clout.

Under your administration, the Ombudsman dismissed the plea of families of victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre to prosecute those responsible for the killings and rights violations. After ten long years, no one has been made accountable for the killing of seven farmworkers in the vast land controlled by your clan for almost 60 years. Eight more farmworkers and supporters were slain after the massacre. To this day, harassment continues as your family wrests control of the land despite the Supreme Court final ruling to distribute the land to the farmers.

In the case of Benjaline Hernandez, justice remains elusive as the main suspect — Sgt. Antonio Torilla — was allowed to post bail. This despite a resolution issued by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in July 2010 holding the Philippine government responsible for her death. Torilla is still active with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

One year after Yolanda struck the Visayas provinces, the survivors themselves belied your claims that rehabilitation and recovery in Yolanda-­‐affected areas are on track. What they experience from your administration is the opposite – abandonment and criminal negligence.

This Nov. 15, we also commemorate the killing of world-­‐renowned botanist Leonard Co and his companions Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo in Kananga, Leyte by 38 members of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Phil. Army led by Lt. Federico Tutaan, brother of AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan. Charges of lesser degree were filed by the Department of Justice, thus the perpetrators filed for bail and are now scot-­‐free, continuing their killing spree in Leyte province. This military unit’s latest victim is peasant leader and typhoon Yolanda relief worker Jeffrey Custodio of Carigara, Leyte.

Co, Cortez, Borromeo and Custodio are among the victims of the brutal attacks of your administration, through counter-­‐insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, against the Filipino people. From July 2010 to October 2014, human rights group Karapatan has recorded 222 victims of extrajudicial killing, 221 victims of frustrated killing, 691 victims of illegal arrest and detention, and more than 46,000 individuals who forcibly evacuated due to military operations.

The situation of the people in Mindanao, many of them farmers and indigenous peoples, is a testament to these continuing rights abuses, made worse by the pervading climate of impunity and unpeace. More than half of the troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are sowing terror in Mindanao, all of them acting as security forces of warlords and transnational corporations ravaging the area’s mineral and land resources.

The murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a US Marine and all the still unsolved cases of abuses by the US military in Philippine territory are all consequences of a mendicant foreign policy that gives the US government a license to violate people’s rights and trample on our sovereignty as a nation. Your AFP and your entire administration defend to the hilt the injustice sanctioned by the Visiting Forces Agreement and other US-­‐PH unequal treaties.