Int’l watchdog to keep keen eye on PH rights cases
MANILA, Philippines—An international human rights watchdog said it would monitor the new “superbody” President Benigno Aquino III has created to investigate and monitor high-profile rights abuse cases “to see whether it results in prompt and serious action against abusers or is just more government smoke and mirrors.”
Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said government action against human rights violators “has long suffered” from a lack of political will and little cooperation among government agencies.
“The creation of the interagency committee could be aimed at addressing both those concerns, or it could be a public relations effort,” Adams said in a statement.
In an executive order he signed last week, Mr. Aquino established an interagency committee on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations.
It will be led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and include the defense and interior secretaries, the military and national police chiefs, among its members.
The creation of the rights body came amid criticism that violations had continued under Mr. Aquino. His administration has been assailed by rights groups for supposedly failing to stop the “culture of impunity,” prosecute perpetrators of these crimes and bring them to justice since assuming office in June 2010.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa on Tuesday said the committee would undertake an inventory of all human rights cases pending in the courts, investigate new ones and take steps to rapidly resolve the crimes.
The body will assign special teams to investigate the cases for the identification of the perpetrators, with a special focus on “high-profile” cases perpetrated under the previous Arroyo administration.
A key unresolved case is the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre of 58 civilians and journalists allegedly by the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao where the trial has dragged on due to legal maneuvers to delay proceedings.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the fact that the committee is composed of key government officials should assure the families of the victims that this time the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“It’s composed really of the highest levels in government. We are doing this in cooperation with not just members of the executive but also independent constitutional bodies like the Commission on Human Rights as observers as well as the Office of the Ombudsman,” she said.