A former member of a Philippine police task force linked to serious human rights violations has been deported by the United States, opening the door for the Philippines to address a legacy of impunity for rights abusers.
Regor Cadag Aguilar was a member of the task force from 1998 to 2001 and assigned to conduct surveillance on politicians, political leaders, businessmen, and journalists. One subject of the surveillance went missing and is presumed dead; another “political figure” was murdered; and an undetermined number were tortured allegedly on orders of Aguilar’s superiors. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) justified Aguilar’s deportation on evidence that included his admission that members of the unnamed task force had abducted, tortured, and murdered targets of surveillance.
Although ICE did not provide any additional details about the task force, its pattern of abuses mirrors that of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), formed in 1998 by then-President Joseph Estrada. PAOCTF has been implicated in unlawful surveillance of members of the political opposition, judges, and journalists. It allegedly carried out warrantless arrests and crimes such as kidnapping and murder. Then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo disbanded the PAOCTF in 2001. Neither she nor current President Benigno Aquino III has taken action against abusive task force members.
The fact that Aguilar was living freely in the US is a reminder of how elements of the Philippine security forces implicated in serious human rights abuses routinely evade prosecution. Philippine authorities should use the evidence that prompted Aguilar’s deportation to investigate the allegations against him and his fellow officers.
More importantly, the Philippine government should investigate and appropriately prosecute current and former government and security force officials implicated in past abuses. The routine failure to prosecute serious abuses – including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances – makes it more likely those abuses will continue in future administrations. The Philippines is slated to hold presidential elections in May. Pursuing justice for human rights abuses should be a priority of the next president, not just a response to the efforts of foreign police investigators.