MANILA, Philippines—An international human rights watchdog called on US President Barack Obama to raise the issue of impunity with President Benigno Aquino III when they meet at the White House Friday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday that security forces in the Philippines “have been implicated in hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances” since 2001.
“Victims have included leftist activists, journalists, alleged insurgents, environmentalists, and clergy,” the group said in a statement. “Killings have dropped significantly since President Aquino took office in 2010, but new cases have been reported and few of those responsible have been held accountable.”
“Obama needs to speak frankly with Aquino about addressing Philippine security forces’ abusive record,” HRW Asia advocacy director John Sifton said.
“Accountability for abuses is not only a matter of justice for victims, but vital for the Philippines’ future as a rights-respecting democracy,” he said.
Paramilitary forces that are under the supervision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or the local government “have in past years been implicated in unlawful killings of civil society activists and alleged insurgents,” HRW said.
Aquino had made a campaign promise back in 2010 that he would revoke an executive order allowing “private armies” to be created, but he has not fulfilled that promise and even stated about using them to protect private corporations, such as mining companies.
Sifton said that “ending abuses entails real changes. Accountability in the long term means ensuring that security forces are professional, subject to regular command, and disciplined under the rule of law.”
“In the last decade, only seven cases of extrajudicial killings, involving 11 defendants, have been successfully prosecuted – none since Aquino took power and none involving active duty military personnel,” HRW said.
“Rather than arguing, making promises, and offering excuses, President Aquino should focus on ending and prosecuting extrajudicial executions,” Sifton said. “He should let actions do the talking.”
The Philippines recently took part in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review last May 29 in Geneva, Switzerland where Washington pressed Manila to “end impunity for extrajudicial killings and to take control over paramilitary forces under military command, which have a long history of abuses,” HRW said.
The review was last conducted under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2008 when the US withheld $2 to $3 million annual assistance unless the Philippines would take “effective steps to prosecute those responsible for extra-judicial executions [EJEs], sustain the decline in the number of EJEs, and strengthen government institutions working to eliminate EJEs.”
The US State Department has refused to release the funds up to now despite a request made by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs in May.