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(New York) – The leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines should take concrete steps to hold accountable soldiers responsible for human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today to the military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Jesse D. Dellosa.

“General Dellosa should make a professional, accountable military his legacy,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “As a first step, the military needs to be cooperating with, rather than obstructing, civilian investigations.”

Human Rights Watch has seen little progress on key issues, including impunity for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, continued use of abusive paramilitary forces, the false tagging of children as rebel fighters, and the unlawful use of schools as camps or detachments. While the number of alleged extrajudicial killings has gone down significantly in recent years, the military has failed to address the longstanding problem of impunity.

The public rhetoric of senior military officers has improved since President Benigno Aquino III took office almost two years ago. But the public statements have not resulted in better military cooperation with investigating authorities, comprehensive internal investigations of implicated military personnel, or increased openness within the military structure, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch described specific actions that the military leadership should take. These include issuing a public order to all forces stating clearly that political activists, unionists, and members of civil society groups are not to be targeted as part of efforts against rebel fighters. The armed forces leadership should fully comply with all civilian inquiries and assist authorities in apprehending members of the armed forces, regardless of rank, implicated in extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations.

The Philippines faces multiple insurgencies from the communist New People’s Army and other armed groups that have been responsible for many serious abuses. In addressing these insurgencies, the government should respect its legal obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the failure of the government to apprehend retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who is wanted on an arrest warrant issued in December 2011 for his involvement in the 2006 kidnapping and illegal detention of two university students. Dellosa should publicly announce to all armed forces personnel that assisting Palparan in avoiding arrest or failing to cooperate with civilian authorities is obstructing justice and subject to prosecution.

“Every day that Palparan avoids arrest further damages the military’s reputation,” Pearson said. “The armed forces leadership needs to send a message that they, and not abusive officers, are in control.”

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