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Strong rights, no remedy

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the Human Rights Day 2012
December 11, 2012

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has released its 15-page report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines this year. The report, titled "Strong rights, no remedy," gave detailed analysis on the absence, if not lack of adequate remedy and redress to any forms of violation of rights in the country's system of justice. The report is written in seven sections and each section gives analyses of the important events which took place this year, and by examining old cases and new cases it has documented, it evaluates what impact it has had on protection of rights.

The discourse on protection of rights, or the lack of it, in the Philippines has been very challenging in recent past. There is a strong perception -- domestically and internationally -- of the governments political will to protect rights. But whether their public statements and policy of protection of rights are translated into reality to the daily lives of the people who suffer have been questionable. There are rights, like freedom from torture, with no legal remedy in the past, now they have; perpetrators of gross human rights violations, like former president Gloria Arroyo and the military generals during her term, who could not be prosecuted in the past, are now being prosecuted.

The government has been engaged in legislating and ratifying domestic and international human rights treaties respectively, but in practice none of those accused of torture have been punished. Events and developments like this have resulted to renewed confidence on the government. By examining empirical cases, it is clear that there is a fundamental breakdown in the country's system of protection as described below.

Convicted chief justice & the court judges

This section examines the impact of the conviction of Renato Corona, former chief justice of the Supreme Court (SC) in an impeachment trial for his non-disclosure of his assets, on the discourse of judicial accountability and corruption amongst the judges in the lower courts all over the country. Corona's conviction has restored the confidence of the public on the executive and legislative for exercising their role as co-equal branches in safeguarding corrupt practices and abuses.

But Corona could be impeached and punished; however, in practice judges in lower courts subordinate to him breached due process rules and fundamental principles of fair trial as they exercise of their duty daily. Judges ignoring orders by the SC, admitting evidence taken by way of forced confession and torture, conniving with prosecutors in fabricating charges against human rights and political activists, delaying trial of cases, and others subverting due process is very common. They were never punished.

Old and new cases: no arrest, remedy

This section explains why the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons, which President Benigno Aquino III, is doomed to fail. This body, with a fresh mandate to investigate old and new cases, only repeats the ritual of creating task forces and special investigation bodies.

The inability and failure of similar special task forces before, notably the Task Force 211 in November 2007, to ensure that its prosecution based on the special investigation they earlier had conducted would result to conviction, identification of the accused and conclusion of cases, questions the competence and credibility to this new 'super body'. Also, the inability of the authorities to arrest former General Jovito Palparan and his accomplices for the enforced disappearance of activists despite the increases reward money for his arrest clearly illustrates that even if court issues arrest orders, perpetrators would not arrested.

If Palparan and other powerful and influential politicians, who had been identified as masterminding targeted attacks of human rights and political activists in high profile case could not be arrested despite being known in the country, it means the possibility of prosecuting perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and disappearances where the perpetrators are not identified--like the death squad in Davao City – is non-existent. Thus, the recommendation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to hold local officials accountable in Davao City would be meaningless.

Cycle of rights violations: massacre, killings, torture & disappearance

As expected, massacres and other forms of horrible violations happened this year, too. But these cases are no different to earlier documented cases that remain unresolved. If the perpetrators in the Maguindanao massacre in November 2009, after three years of trial, are still unpunished and other perpetrators remain at large, it would not be surprising that the massacre that documented this year, notably that of Capion family in October 18 in Tampakan, South Cotabato, would not be resolved, too.

One of the complainants in the case of the Maguindanao massacre, Myrna Reblando, widow of journalist Alejandro 'Bong' Reblando, had to leave the country for lack of adequate protection. Not only her that is being targeted, there have been potential witnesses who had been killed before they could testify, families of the victims offered bribe, if not being continuously being the object of threats and harassment with the deliberate intent for them to withdraw their complaint. They have no protection.

No remedy, redress: they be Filipinos or not

In the past, there are probabilities of prompt and effective intervention when foreign governments and their people take action from abroad on human rights issues. In this section it explains that even in cases of foreign nationals, Wilhelm Geertman and Fr. Fausto "Pops" Tentorio who were murdered on July 3, 2012 and October 17, 2011 in the country respectively, perpetrators are either unpunished or unidentified.

Wilhelm and Fr. Fausto had lived and worked for decades with the poor and vulnerable communities. If cases of these persons, who has representation from their foreign governments and pressures from their own people back home had not resulted to adequate remedy, will cases of Filipinos in their own country have? This section demonstrates numerous cases without remedies regardless of the identity and personal background of the victims. No remedy be they Filipino or not.

Prospects in the emerging justice system: Bangsamoro political entity

The signing of agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government on "Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro" offers prospects of peace and building of democratic institutions that would address the aspirations of the struggle of the Muslims in the south. The real challenge is how to build institutions of justice that would address the grievance of the Muslims who are often the usual suspects in terrorist activities after decades of subjugation.

This section draws the old experience on how cases of torture, arbitrary detention and fabrication of charges, had been committed with the operation of justice system – the police, prosecutors and judiciary. These lessons should be learned. Thus, it is important that fair trial and due process is to be fundamental values in this emerging justice institution in the proposed political entity if this agreement for political settlement on the Mindanao question is to survive.

Rights in the Philippines: on paper, not in practice

This section explains that by its legislation of domestic law and ratifying international human rights treaties, the government succeeded in making it appear on paper that not only it has 'political will' it is also a 'champion of human rights.' The perception it has created and 'diplomatic victory' is has obtained in doing so, has changed the landscaped of human rights discourse into becoming even more difficult. The government's records is being reviewed, not how in reality it afforded or not afforded remedy to violations of rights, but how many domestic laws, human rights treaties it has signed; and public statements of its government officials reaffirming protection of rights.

In conclusion, it is clear that without changes as to how the institutions of justice – police, prosecution and the judiciary – operate to ensure adequate protection of rights, there is no possibility that rights on paper would have remedy. If the very fabric of the system of protection of rights is flawed, no rights would have the possibility of obtaining any remedies.

This report is available at http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2012/ahrc-spr-009-2012.pdf/view