DOJ-led panel drops 29 of 350 cases of torture, EJKs
MANILA, Philippines — A multiagency body tasked with investigating gross human rights violations committed over the past 12 years has stopped looking into 29 of around 350 cases due to the absence of witnesses or lack of interest by complainants, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Tuesday.
Guevarra said the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) headed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) was also reviewing 1,800 incidents of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), including 263 allegedly committed by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The IAC was created in 2012 by then President Benigno Aquino III through Administrative Order No. 35. It was mandated to probe allegations of extrajudicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearances, torture and other “grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons” since the Arroyo administration.
“We delisted from our inventory certain old cases where witnesses could not be found or where complainants had desisted, with the exception of enforced disappearance cases which shall continue to be in the active file,” Guevarra told reporters.
“There were 29 extrajudicial killings and torture cases that were delisted for lack of witnesses or lack of interest on the part of the complainants,” he said.
Guevarra said the delisting was among the decisions made by the IAC during its meeting on May 12.
Aquino issued AO 35, which was drafted by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in response to the calls from various groups to investigate many killings of activists and journalists during the Arroyo administration and to prevent similar incidents from happening.
‘Bloody Sunday’ too
Cases under President Duterte, who succeeded Aquino and who will be leaving office on June 30, have been added.
These include the “Bloody Sunday” killings of nine activists in simultaneous raids by soldiers and police on their homes in Rizal, Batangas, and Cavite provinces on March 7, 2021.
In December last year, Guevarra said the IAC recommended filing a murder complaint against 17 police officers in the killing of one of the nine, labor leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, the Cavite provincial coordinator for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
In addition to the DOJ, the IAC also includes the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Office of the Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, Presidential Human Rights Committee, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.
The incidents that were delisted were from the Southern Tagalog region and Eastern Visayas, which are traditionally known as hotbeds of the communist insurgency, Guevarra said.
The justice secretary said the majority of all the cases “reached the investigation stage” conducted by the PNP, the Commission on Human Rights, and the National Prosecution Service of the DOJ.
“The review of unsolved AO 35 cases in other regions is still going on,” he said.
He said the committee had received from the military reports on 263 incidents of alleged IHL violations by the NPA.
Asked if the body was also investigating similar offenses supposedly committed by state forces, Guevarra only said that they had not finished the review of some 1,800 incidents reported to the committee.
Guevarra said the IAC adopted changes in its operational guidelines to make its work “more efficient,” such as the creation of “small working groups” to speed up the investigation of IHL violations.
“We streamlined the procedure for determining whether a case falls under the ambit of AO 35 or constitutes an ordinary crime,” he said.
The working groups would prioritize IHL cases that had been documented by the AFP, Guevarra said. These include the recruitment of children as armed combatants, he said.
Guevarra said the members of the small working groups would be responsible for building up a case, securing sworn statements from witnesses, and summoning “armed respondents” whose addresses were still unknown.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.