(New York) - One hundred days into his presidency, Philippine President Benigno Aquino's failure to decisively address ongoing human rights abuses jeopardizes his stated commitment to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch urged Aquino to fulfill his campaign commitments to abolish "private armies," provide justice for human rights abuses, and address impunity by the police and military. Aquino has yet to address these persistent problems with any long-term measures, Human Rights Watch said.
"President Aquino came into office with a mandate to abolish abusive forces and pursue justice for serious abuses," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "He made impassioned promises, but 100 days on we're still waiting for action."
Since Aquino took office on June 30, 2010, human rights organizations have reported killings of 3 journalists and 16 leftist activists. In the last 100 days, there have been no convictions for the hundreds of politically motivated killings over the past decade in which the security forces were implicated.
Aquino has himself said that the police have identified suspects in only 3 of the 19 recent killings, and a suspect has been arrested in only one of these cases. While Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has promised to create a "superbody" to investigate journalist killings, structural reforms to overcome police inaction rather than new ad hoc bodies are needed to investigate alleged political killings vigorously, Human Rights Watch said.
The aftermath of the November 23, 2009 massacre in Maguindanao province - in which at least 57 people on their way to register a political candidate were killed - highlights continuing concerns about government inaction, Human Rights Watch said. Although at least five individuals with knowledge of abuses by those implicated in the massacre have been killed, the government had done little to improve witness protection.
Aquino's proposed 80 percent budget increase for the witness protection program begins to properly fund the program. But his administration has not taken the necessary steps to make the program independent and accessible and to extend protection from the onset of a police investigation until it is no longer necessary, including after the trial.
The Maguindanao massacre trial, which began on September 8, 2010, involves only 19 of 195 persons accused - 127 others remain at large and 49 have not yet been arraigned. Aquino has done little to address two critical elements of the Maguindanao massacre - locally controlled "private armies" and government weapons' support to these forces. The government has created task forces to dismantle private armies in Masbate and Abra provinces, but private armies there continue to operate.
Aquino has directed the security forces to take control of official paramilitary forces, properly train them, and ensure that all forces are insulated from political entities. However, he continues to defend the use of these forces, which often provide manpower for private armies and have a history of perpetrating rights abuses. Nor has his administration imposed tougher controls on weapons procurement by local governments.
"Every day that goes by without systemic reform - within the security forces or the justice department or to the law - erodes Aquino's reputation," Pearson said. "These are not problems that can be easily solved, but to ignore them is to betray the people who put Aquino in office."