Extrajudicial killings: Culture of impunity remains
Fernando Baldomero was taking his 12-year-old son to school when he was shot by two motorcycle-riding men in front of his house.
The killing of Baldomero, an activist and a municipal councilor at Lezo, Aklan province, on July 5, 2010, posed an early challenge to the then newly installed President Aquino.
There were six killings during Aquino’s first week in office.
In his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) later that month, Aquino said the suspects in the Baldomero case and in two other cases had been identified. “We will not stop the pursuit of (those involved in) these killings until justice has been achieved. We will hold the murderers accountable,” he said.
Five years later, and with Aquino’s final Sona to be delivered Monday, Baldomero’s family has not attained justice.
“It’s very ironic that his father (Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.) was also a victim of extrajudicial killing. We had hoped that he would put a stop to impunity but the opposite has happened,” said Ernan, Baldomero’s eldest son.
As of June 2015, there were 262 cases of extrajudicial killings, including Baldomero’s, according to the Karapatan human rights group.
“The situation is still very worrisome,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher for the Asia division of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “While we recognize that the numbers have gone down compared with (those during) the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the same policy continues,” he said.
US also alarmed
The “insufficient” response of the Aquino administration on the issue of extrajudicial killings prompted Human Rights Watch and similar groups in the United States to write to the US Senate in July urging it to continue to impose restrictions on military funding for the Philippines.
“Every appropriations bill since 2008 has imposed a restriction on foreign military financing to the Philippines because of its military’s alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings,” the human rights groups said in their letter.
They noted that activists, human rights defenders, church workers, labor organizers and antimining advocates had been targeted in Philippine military counterinsurgency operations.
Peasants are the most common victims of extrajudicial killings with 158 documented cases, followed by indigenous people with 63, Karapatan said.
“The pattern of abuses is very much the same with the previous regime. They are targeted, threatened, harassed and vilified as communists or communist sympathizers. That gives the military the license to kill them,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
“Once you start red-baiting, it would be easy to kill them since the military’s mentality is that if you’re a communist, you’re an enemy, regardless of the fact that being a communist is not illegal,” Conde said.
Before he was killed, Baldomero was labeled as the leader of the communist movement in Aklan by officers of the 3rd Infantry Division, according to Ernan.
Baldomero, provincial chair of the militant Bayan Muna party-list group, was once a member of the New People’s Army. After being released from jail, he put up a lumber business and settled in Lezo.
When he was killed, he had just been reelected municipal councilor.
Who was mastermind?
Baldomero’s case has been archived at the Aklan Regional Trial Court as the suspect has not been arrested.
“Since the police have filed a case against a suspect, the killing is deemed solved. But there’s no thorough investigation to arrest the suspect and prove if it was really he who killed my father,” said Ernan, now vice president of Hustisya, an organization of families of victims of extrajudicial killings.
“I want to know who the mastermind was. Who gave the order? The suspect must have been a hired killer,” Ernan said.
According to Conde, for impunity to end, the criminal justice system must be in working order.
“There have been efforts to reform the system by declogging the courts and making the police, the courts and the Department of Justice work harmoniously. But the impact is not that significant to make a dent on the problem,” he said.
One of the campaign promises Aquino failed to keep was to revoke Executive Order No. 546. The EO, signed in 2006 by then President Arroyo, has allowed political warlords like members of the Ampatuan clan to create their own private armies “which (are) responsible for a lot of abuses,” Conde said.
According to Conde, a “plus point” for Aquino was the arrest of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan in 2014.
Palparan has been labeled “The Butcher” by militants for his alleged role in the torture and killing of activists. He is being tried in a Bulacan court for his supposed involvement in the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
The students’ families and activists protested the “rock star treatment of the Butcher” when Palparan was transferred from the Bulacan jail to the military barracks in Taguig City.
Palabay also lamented that farmer-activist Jonas Burgos and others who disappeared during the Arroyo administration remain missing. Every year, Edita Burgos, Jonas’ mother, reminds Aquino of his promise to find out the truth about her son’s disappearance.
With the promotion of military officials implicated in these abuses, “we think this last year of Mr. Aquino will be a bloody one in terms of human rights violations,” Palabay claimed.
She said the military’s counterinsurgency campaign was missing the point. “Killing protesters is not the way forward. The way forward is to institute meaningful reforms to resolve the economic crisis,” she said.
Human Rights Watch is looking into two other tracks of extrajudicial killings—media killings and summary executions by death squads.
“This cannot go on, this breakdown of law and order,” Conde said. “If the rule of law works, the government should be able to prosecute military personnel who are implicated. It can (also) prosecute politicians, police officers implicated in the killings of journalists (and) ordinary citizens.”
In a statement, Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Aquino’s final Sona was his best and last chance “to demonstrate that his human rights commitments are not empty political rhetoric.”
“President Aquino’s record on human rights is five years of squandered opportunity,” Kine said.
Task Force Usig
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Jose Luis Martin Gascon claimed there was a marked decline in extrajudicial killings from 2010 to 2014, compared to the years before the Aquino administration. But he conceded the murders had not stopped despite the administration’s concerted efforts to stop them because of the slow rate of convictions and the culture of impunity.
“The perpetrators believe they can evade prosecution,” Gascon said.
Data from the Philippine National Police showed that from July 1, 2010, there had been 11 cases of activists killed because of their work or ideological inclinations. The PNP’s Task Force Usig is mandated to monitor cases of extrajudicial or political killings, as well as murders of journalists.
Of the 11 cases, four have been filed in court while two are in the preliminary investigation stage. Four are now considered to be “cold cases.”
There were also 14 cases of mediamen killed in the same period, which the PNP said were considered an attack on press freedom. Ten of the cases are with the courts while one has resulted in a conviction.
Aquino issued Administrative Order No. 35 creating a committee to handle extrajudicial killings and other human rights violation cases.
“The challenge is to see that the actions taken result in convictions and to completely stop (the killings),” Gascon said.
The CHR has quick reaction teams to assist people whose rights or lives are under grave threat. It also investigates extrajudicial killings.
According to Gascon, the CHR is also the convenor of the National Monitoring Mechanism that works with human rights advocates and law enforcers to monitor the prosecution of cases and bring attention to new ones.
The PNP and the Armed Forces have also set up their own human rights affairs offices.
Gascon said these were some of the steps the administration had taken to address the problem as the President promised in his 2010 and 2011 Sonas.
But it would require the concerted efforts of all stakeholders to create a robust justice system, he said.
“Other reforms must begin (to stop) this culture of impunity, such as political bossism, proliferation of loose firearms and the breakdown of law and order,” he said.
Baldomero’s family deplored the government failure to solve his murder.
“(The President) promised that he will be given justice. But no one has been arrested,” Ernan said.
He said his family was losing hope those behind the murder would be punished because “even the President’s promise has not been good enough.”
On Aug. 3, 2010, the Aklan police filed a murder complaint against Dindo Ancero, a resident of Bogo City in Cebu, and unidentified men in connection with the murder.
The RTC later ordered the arrest of Ancero but the case was archived due to the authorities’ failure to arrest Ancero.
“As the most powerful person in the country, (Aquino) can very well ensure that my father’s killers are caught along with the mastermind. But he has failed to do so,” Ernan said.
Baldomero’s family and colleagues had blamed military agents or hired assassins for the killing.
Baldomero’s unsolved murder will be among the issues to be raised in protest actions during the Sona. Protests will be held in Iloilo, Capiz and Aklan.
In Estancia town in Iloilo, about 1,000 mostly survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) will also join a protest rally to decry the failure of government to distribute housing assistance to survivors.
Typhoon survivors will also join rallies in Aklan and Capiz, according to Bayan.
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