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AI dares Aquino administration on human rights

/ 06:02 AM December 10, 2014
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. AP Photo

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. AP Photo

MANILA, Philippines–Amnesty International has challenged the Aquino administration to go beyond lip service and make its commitment to human rights real by stamping out torture, enforced disappearances and killings.

With only 18 months left before President Aquino ends his term, the group urged the President to make human rights the centerpiece of his legacy.

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Hazel Galang-Folli, the group’s campaigner for Southeast Asia, said on Tuesday the government must undertake a “concerted effort” to wipe out human rights abuses and end the culture of impunity.

“This must start with effective prevention and where it fails, thorough and effective investigations, robust prosecutions and a streamlined independent complaints mechanism to ensure no one is above the law,” Folli said.

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Aquino promise

The rights group noted that Aquino had made several pronouncements even before he was elected President promising to uphold human rights.

In a speech in 2010 during the anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the President referred to his assassinated father, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., as a human rights victim as well.

“While these speeches spoke of commitment to human rights and to ending the abuse of power under the Aquino administration, these statements risk becoming mere lip service and empty promises,” Folli said.

Amnesty International pointed out that not one perpetrator of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, or torture had been punished.

In a report card on Aquino’s performance on human rights, the international group noted some progress regarding legislation, such as the enactment of Republic Act No. 10353, or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act.

Dismal ratings

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But in other aspects, the group said Aquino got dismal ratings of “stagnant,” “little change,” “failed,” or “regressed.”

These were on such issues as ending political killings, unlawful arrests, secret detention, enforced disappearances, and torture; issuing an executive order about commitment to stop enforced disappearances; establishing accountability over the military, police and other state forces to ensure witness protection.

Other failures included revoking Executive Order No. 546 directing the police to support the military in its counterinsurgency work; ensuring that the police and military incorporate human rights and international standards as integral components of training; ensuring that the police and military implement human rights-based policies on rules of engagement.

‘Zero tolerance policy’

The administration also failed in providing sufficient resources and mandate to the human rights offices of the military and the police for the conduct of investigations; establishing resources for a specialized program for witness protection and sanctuary for families of victims of rights violations; committing to a realistic timeline in resolving serious cases of rights violations; and making human rights a priority in government bodies.

Folli stressed that from a zero conviction rate for human rights violations, the government must move to a zero tolerance policy for torture and other human rights violations.

Karapatan, a local human rights group, called Aquino’s statements on human rights “farcical,” noting that he used human rights issues while campaigning for the presidency but failed to deliver justice for the victims four years into his office.

Violators promoted

“He used human rights issues during his presidential campaign … to look different from the Arroyo administration, but after four years in office, political killings continue and justice has yet to be rendered to the victims and their families,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.

The militant group slammed the military’s counterinsurgency campaign, dubbed Oplan Bayanihan, as instrumental in the attacks on communities, illegal arrests and killings of activists in the name of “peace and development and respect for human rights.”

In urban areas where demolitions and protest actions are common, police brutality is passed off as “maintenance of peace and order,” Palabay said.

Like Amnesty International, Karapatan noted that no perpetrators had been made accountable for violations of human rights.

Palabay added that some military officials allegedly involved in human rights violations were even promoted.

“There is absolutely no reason why Filipinos should be thankful to the Aquino administration regarding human rights concerns,” Palabay said.

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TAGS: Amnesty Insternational, Benigno Aquino III, Hazel Galang-Folli
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