PNP chief cites its military past for rights abuses
“Birth pains” from the military past of the Philippine National Police may be a factor in the involvement of its members in extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo said Thursday.
“Somehow, there were dysfunctions that developed over the years,” Bacalzo said in a human rights (HR) forum at Camp Crame that was also attended by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and a delegation from the European Union led by Ambassador Guy Ledoux.
“The PNP has a long history,” Bacalzo said, adding that it was established in 1901 under the American regime, “became militarized” in 1936 under the Philippine Constabulary, and was separated from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 1991 and put under the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“So there are some, shall we say, birth pains, when the PNP was formed in 1991,” he said in answer to a question as to why the police and the military were the usual suspects in human rights violations.
However, Bacalzo said, measures such as the EU-Philippines Justice Support Program (Epjust)—which provides technical assistance and training to PNP personnel—were doing much to improve the institution’s human rights record.
“Through our programs, particularly our transformation program, we are laying down the foundations. I can say the police now are more HR-aware. They are now familiar with the procedures,” he said.
From November 2009 to July, Epjust had a budget of 3.9 million euro (or about P234 million) to improve police competence in collecting material evidence at crime scenes.
The EU delegation pledged another 10 million euro (or more than P600 million) for the next several months.
The diplomats also visited the PNP Crime Laboratory where they were shown forensic equipment provided by Epjust, such as DNA samples and fingerprint collection kits.
In a message read by Bacalzo, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo expressed satisfaction with the PNP’s increased capability to undertake criminal investigation.
De Lima said the Philippines’ human rights record had improved, disputing a report issued on Wednesday by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) that said none of the 10 cases it studied had progressed to prosecution.
She said that before President Aquino assumed office, there were 178 cases of extrajudicial killings, of which eight resulted in convictions, 59 were still being tried, 64 were dismissed, and 44 were archived for lack of evidence.
But since the start of Mr. Aquino’s term in June 2010, she said, there had been 27 reported extrajudicial killings of which only 10-12 had been confirmed.
“Suspects have been identified in eight cases, and five are undergoing trial while others are at the investigation stage… There has been movement,” De Lima said.
She said “some but not all of these cases” involved the police and the military.
De Lima said the target was “more convictions” of persons accused of perpetrating human rights abuses, especially extrajudicial killings.
She said it usually took the government “one to two” years to convict suspects, six to 12 months of which covered the preliminary investigation stage.
De Lima also noted disparities in the government count of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, and that of organizations such as the militant Karapatan.
“It is necessary to define guidelines and parameters of what qualifies extrajudicial killings,” she said.
Extrajudicial killings refer to the murder of political and social dissidents and other personalities by state agents.
EU Ambassador Ledoux said a lot more needs to be done by the government in terms of upholding human rights, though he acknowledged efforts toward this end.
“I believe that some breakthroughs have been made,” Ledoux said. “I nourish strong hopes that the major efforts made by the various stakeholders with our support will soon result in an increase in convictions of gunmen and masterminds of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.”
In its report, HRW said that with the Aquino administration’s “lack of political will” to address extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, the international community could push the Philippines to move in the right direction.
HRW also said that while the Aquino administration appeared more willing to tackle the problem than its predecessors, soldiers were still getting away with the unlawful targeting of mainly leftist activists. With a report from AFP
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