President Benigno Aquino,III swears allegiance to the Philippine flag during the People Power anniversary in Manila on February 25, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

(New York) - President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines has done little during his first year in office to carry out his campaign commitments to justice for rights violations and to dismantle "private armies," Human Rights Watch said in a background paper released today.

"Falling Far Short: Aquino's First Year and Human Rights," assesses President Aquino's reforms, analyzes his missteps, and recommends measures to improve the climate for human rights.

"President Aquino's record during his first year in office shows that human rights have just not been his priority," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "He says he won't tolerate killings and disappearances, but he needs to do a lot more to stop them."

While a number of positive reforms have been undertaken in the past year, genuinely effective measures to investigate and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations by the military and police have fallen far short, Human Rights Watch said.

Killings and enforced disappearances have continued since Aquino took office. Despite strong evidence of military involvement in several cases, police investigations have stalled, the military persists in making blanket denials, and arrest warrants against alleged perpetrators have not been executed, Human Rights Watch said. Aquino continues to defend the use of poorly trained and supervised paramilitary forces, which have long been implicated in serious abuses to fight New People's Army insurgents and Islamist armed groups, in spite of their ongoing misuse as "private armies" of politicians and other power brokers.

Human Rights Watch praised Aquino for his commitment to the reproductive health bill, in the face of vehement opposition from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. Human Rights Watch also noted the leadership shown by the Philippines in negotiating the new International Labour Organization Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

"Despite championing reproductive rights and anti-corruption, Aquino's failure to address killings and disappearances will be his legacy if he doesn't act soon with effective reforms," Pearson said. "Aquino should show he's serious about accountability by sanctioning sloppy investigators and ordering the military to quit their blanket denials of abuse."