(New York, June 28, 2012) – President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines has not fulfilled his promises to hold accountable the security forces responsible for serious abuses since taking office two years ago. The Aquino government has not successfully prosecuted a single case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance, including those committed during his presidency, Human Rights Watch said.
In his inaugural speech on June 30, 2010, Aquino gave “marching orders” to the Justice Department to “begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all.” Five months later, at an event to commemorate human rights, he said that, “The culture of silence, injustice and impunity that once reigned is now a thing of the past.” And during his 2011 State of the Nation Address, Aquino reiterated this commitment, saying, “We are aware that the attainment of true justice does not end in the filing of cases, but in the conviction of criminals.”
“President Aquino has not lived up to his promises to bring those responsible for serious abuses to justice,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Concrete measures – rather than more promises – are needed now.”
Human Rights Watch today released a video, “Philippines: No Justice for Victims of Enforced Disappearances,” in which family members of the “disappeared” call on the president to live up to his promises of justice.
Human Rights Watch, in its 2011 report “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain,” documented 10 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since Aquino took office. No one has been arrested in any of these cases, and the three “disappeared” people remain missing.
The Aquino administration has not taken the needed steps to bring recent cases of serious abuse to trial, Human Rights Watch said.
In his first State of the Nation Address in July 2010, President Aquino noted the case of Francisco Baldomero, an activist from Aklan province who was killed on July 5, 2010, as among those “on their way to being resolved.” An arrest warrant has been issued for Dindo Ancero in the case, but he has not been apprehended and the case was “archived” – put on hold – in January 2011.
An arrest warrant was issued but never served for one of two suspects in the killing of Rene Quirante, a left-wing activist who was beaten and shot by uniformed men on October 1, 2010, in Negros Oriental province. A relative of Quirante’s has alleged that the suspect has been seen in the company of soldiers. “Nothing is happening,” Quirante’s relative told Human Rights Watch in April. “We’re growing tired of waiting for justice.”
Human Rights Watch has monitored progress on cases of killings and enforced disappearances under the previous administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If progress has been made, it is often because of the perseverance and courage of family members, rather than aggressive action by police and prosecutors, Human Rights Watch said.
For instance, in the 2006 disappearance of two university students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, family action was crucial in bringing the two soldiers to trial for their kidnapping and illegal detention. The trial for the two soldiers started in May. However, the men are not in civilian custody but are being held in a military camp. Two others implicated in the students’ disappearance, including retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, the commander in the area at the time, have evaded arrest. Human Rights Watch has received information that military and business interests are protecting General Palparan.
In the past decade, state security forces in the Philippines have been implicated in the torture, enforced disappearance, and killing of hundreds of leftist activists, journalists, and clergy. The communist New People’s Army and other insurgent groups have also been responsible for killings and other serious abuses. Under President Macapagal-Arroyo, government security forces conducted a massive campaign targeting groups deemed to be Communist Party fronts and their alleged members and supporters. The number of killings and disappearances implicating the military has gone down under the Aquino administration, but they continue.
The Philippines’s human rights record was scrutinized at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during its Universal Periodic Review in May. Several countries – including the United States, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Holy See – raised alarm over the continuing killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. During the sessions, several countries urged the Aquino administration to end impunity for these abuses.
Human Rights Watch has longstanding recommendations to Aquino to initiate the comprehensive reforms necessary to end impunity for serious abuses. He should order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personnel, including at the command level, who have been implicated in killings. He should also make clear to the police that they are responsible for vigorously pursuing any crimes committed by government officials and police officers and that if they do not, they will become the target of a criminal investigation. He should order the military to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating military abuses or themselves face sanctions. And he should take immediate steps to ensure that the country’s witness protection program is independent, accessible, and properly funded.
“As President Aquino himself pointed out, the conviction of those implicated in abuses is the true test of his commitment to his promise,” Pearson said. “So the government needs to move beyond simply identifying suspects and obtaining warrants to actually apprehending the suspects and putting them on trial.”