Not one human rights violator convicted–CHR chiefBy Maila Ager
Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Anne Rosales talks about the government’s efforts to curb human rights violations in the country but admits that not a single violator has been either arrested or sent to jail under the present administration.Video by INQUIRER.net’s Matikas Santos
MANILA, Philippines—Two years into the Aquino administration, not a single human rights violator has been sent to jail, Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Anne Rosales admitted to INQUIRER.net.
“Wala pa [None yet],” Rosales said when asked if a conviction was made by this government, adding, “That still has to be done”.
Her admission confirmed reports by the New York-based human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the State Department, which said that the Aquino government “has not successfully prosecuted a single case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance, including those committed during his presidency”.
In the report “No Justice Adds to the Pain,” HRW noted that there were 10 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since Aquino took office. No one, however, has been arrested for these cases, it added.
The State Department said the leading human rights problems in the Philippines were “continued arbitrary, unlawful and extrajudicial killings by national, provincial and local government agents and by anti-government insurgents; an under-resourced and understaffed justice system that resulted in limited investigations, few prosecutions and lengthy trials of human rights abuse cases; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power.”
Perhaps what can be considered a black mark in Aquino’s human rights record is his administration’s failure to bring to justice retired General Jovito Palparan, which Rosales attributed to efforts by some sectors to “coddle” the former military officer and the “weak criminal and justice system”.
Another is the failure of Congress to pass a measure that would compensate the 9,539 human rights victims of martial law that include Rosales herself.
When President Benigno Aquino III faced the nation in July 2011, he made a push for the passage of the measure.
“We aim to give due compensation to the victims of Martial Law…” Aquino told the jampacked gallery at the House of Representatives.
On March 26, 2012, the House of Representatives transmitted to the Senate the proposed measure compensating the human rights victims during the dictatorship of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“It was part of the last SONA of Pnoy [Aquino’s nickname] and I made sure that it passed the House,” said Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada, co-author of the measure in the House.
The bill, however, has remained pending in Congress.
No less than Rosales described the non-passage of the measure in Congress as an “injustice” to the martial law victims.
“Of course, there is injustice because it has been taking so long but they could not still pass it,” said Rosales.
“You can see here the level of appreciation of Congress on important things like these,” she lamented.
And even when she was the Akbayan Partylist group’s representative in the House, Rosales had pushed for the passage of the same bill – a fight she has continued up to now that she heads the CHR.
A ‘black mark’
Another nagging issue is the failure of the Aquino government to arrest Palparan.
It was in December 2011 that a warrant of arrest was issued against Palparan, who was charged with the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006.
But Palparan evaded arrest and has since been in hiding.
Unlike the past administration, Rosales said there were efforts by the Aquino administration to send Palparan to jail.
“It’s not as if the Palace, at the level of the executive, is not conscious of how it’s important to try and look for these people,” she said.
“But when we have a weak governing system, a weak criminal justice system that you’re operating on where the problems are structural and systemic, it’s going to take a little longer than expected or desired. That’s what it’s all about.”
But Rosales also was quick to defend the incumbent government, saying that unlike before when “they never bothered to look for him [Palparan], they never bothered to address these questions . . . now efforts are ongoing to look for him”.
“In the past administration, he [Palparan] was coddled, he was promoted. I tried to stop his promotion in the past administration but I failed. He was promoted,” Rosales said.
“In the current administration, he’s being looked for. But because of the past administration’s connection, it’s a little more difficult than usual,” she added.
The CHR chief suspected that Palparan was being “coddled” by people, whom he had taken care of when he was still in the military.
“They could be military or they could be politician or they could be business people, whom Palparan has taken care of well.”
This is just one “stumbling block” on why the authorities could not arrest Palparan, Rosales added.
‘Weak criminal system’
The second stumbling block, she said, was the “weak criminal system that needs to be strengthened, that needs to be enforced.”
But Rosales said that “the other side of it is the empowerment of the citizenry so that they can be…more vigilant. And then the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy has to be overhauled. You have to give it more energy, re-energized so that it becomes non-aligned, non-partisan and serves the people…”
Since Aquino’s assumption in office, Rosales said, the CHR has resolved a number of cases that were now either ready for filing or have been filed in court.
“Some are submitted straight to the court, some are submitted to the DOJ [Department of Justice] for further investigation of the prosecutors,” she said.
From July 2010 to June 2012, Rosales said the CHR has resolved 37 or 39 percent out of 96 complaints filed against the military, 108 or 41 percent out of 261 complaints against the police, and 33 or 36 percent out of 91 complaints against the armed groups.
But she clarified that the complaints have yet to be validated on the ground.
Unlike the military and the police, Rosales noted that the number of complaints against armed groups was low simply because they usually operated as underground units.
The most number of cases filed against the military was in Region XI (Davao) with 24 complaints, followed by Region VIII (Eastern Visayas) with 11, region V (Bicol) and Region XII (Soccskasargen) with 9, and the National Capital Region (NCR) with 8, among others.
The NCR, on the other hand, got the most number of complaints filed against the police with 34, followed by Eastern Visayas (31), Central Visayas (26), Zamboanga Peninsula (25), Western Visayas (22), Central Luzon (21), Northern Mindanao (17), Caraga (16), Davao and Ilocos (15), among others.
Davao recorded the highest number of cases filed against armed groups with 14, followed by Western Visayas (8), Eastern Visayas and Caraga (7), 5 in Bicol, among others.
Rosales pointed out that the police and military figures were recorded only under this present administration.
“It wasn’t like this I the past. I don’t know of any estimate that the past administration has made. What is the estimated performance, level of performance of CHR” Nothing. Because they weren’t doing it,” Rosales said.
Aside from filing cases against perpetrators, Rosales said the CHR was also closely coordinating military and police to protect the rights of every Filipino.
“This will have two thrusts. The first thrust is the validation process, the verification process [of complaints filed before the CHR]…Then the other thrust would be the human rights education – education on human rights and international humanitarian law,’ she said.
Rosales said there was a need to educate the people about their rights, saying that many are not still aware of their basic rights against illegal arrest and detention, for instance.
The custody of a person arrested by the military, she said, should be immediately given to the police, and should not be detained in a military camp or base.
“There should be a warrant of arrest and then the Miranda doctrine. You should have a lawyer. You shouldn’t be tortured. It is against the law for the military to detain anyone. Those arrested should be placed at the police custodial center and then brought to the BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] or provincial jail,” she said in Filipino.
While the fight against human rights violations may be a bit slow, Rosales assured that the Aquino government was taking action if not to totally end, reduce the number of violations in the country.
Read Part 1: Pagcor cuts coffee cost, no charges yet vs suspects
Read Part 2: Ombudsman is Aquino’s key weapon vs graft
Read part 3: Gov’t reforms take roots at ‘cheating capital’ of PH