Int’l rights group hits De Lima for ‘premature’ boasts
MANILA, Philippines—An international human rights organization has scored Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for making “premature” boasts in Washington, D.C. about the Philippine government making significant progress in solving the problem of extrajudicial killings.
In a statement, Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said extrajudicial killings persisted in the Philippines and no military personnel involved have been successfully prosecuted.
“The question isn’t what the government plans to do, but what it has already done. Up to the present, there have been no successful prosecutions of military personnel for extrajudicial killings.”
Adams said that while the rate of killings has gone down since President Aquino came into office in May 2010, the killings continue.
“Unless the government prosecutes those responsible for past and recent abuses—and ensures that there are institutions capable of doing so—there is nothing to prevent these abuses from increasing again in the future,” he said.
HRW was among the international NGOs that attended the briefing by De Lima at the Philippine Embassy in the US capital.
De Lima, who recently met with American lawmakers and human rights groups in Washington, said the human rights situation in the Philippines had significantly improved, citing the establishment of human rights offices in the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines.
De Lima said the Aquino administration was serious about prosecuting those responsible for rights violations, adding that the government was also working to improve its witness protection program and upgrade the country’s investigative and forensic infrastructure.
In a separate statement, Carlos Conde, also of HRW, acknowledged some improvements such as an increase in the budget for the Witness Protection Program.
Conde said that more than indictments, his group wanted to see the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
“Right now, only a handful of cases are actually on trial. From 2001 to 2010, only seven have been convicted in an extrajudicial killings case. Under Aquino, not one has been convicted,” he said.
On the formation of human rights offices in the PNP and AFP, Conde said that based on his group’s research, their officers functioned more as adjuncts of their public affairs offices rather than as real investigative units.
“They are toothless to say the least but are being used to give the impression that the AFP and PNP are actually doing something to investigate and prosecute their own—but in reality they’re not,” he said.
Conde said De Lima admitted during the briefing that the reason for her trip to Washington was to meet with legislators, mostly Republicans, to lobby for the release of the $3 million in annual US military financing being withheld by the US government.
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