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Human Rights Developments

The most important political development in the Philippines in 1992 was the peaceful transition of power from Corazon Aquino to Fidel Ramos on June 30, after a presidential election in which Ramos won a plurality (23.8 percent) of the popular vote. Ramos had a poor human rights record as head of the notoriously abusive Philippines Constabulary under Ferdinand Marcos. He was also criticized for failing to enforce his own human rights directives while serving first as Chief of the Staff of the Armed Forces and then as Secretary of National Defense in the Aquino administration. His election was thus greeted with some concernby Philippine human rights monitors.

Nevertheless, President Ramos made some significant moves within a month of taking office. He proposed the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act (Republic Act No. 1700) under which the Communist Party of the Philippines (cpp) had been outlawed; an extension of an Aquino-era amnesty for former rebels of the New People's Army (npa), the armed wing of the cpp; the formation of a National Unification Commission to open peace talks with the rebels; and a review of all cases of suspected rebels currently in detention. Repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act was approved by the Philippines Congress and went into effect on September 22, leading to the release of several well known prisoners such as Rodolfo Salas, former head of the cpp. Salas was freed one day before his six-year term expired. However, human rights organizations estimated that several hundred suspected rebels continued to be detained on criminal charges, particularly illegal possession of firearms. They alleged that in many cases, the charges were either spurious or politically motivated.

There was concern that President Ramos was not taking adequate steps to curb abuses by the paramilitary force, Citizens Armed Forces-Geographical Unit (cafgu). He said he would reduce the size of cafgu, depending on the number of rebels who take advantage of the amnesty program, but in September, he proposed that a new urban paramilitary force be created, the Auxiliary Police Force. It was not clear if strict controls over recruitment, training and supervision of the new force would be imposed from the outset to prevent abuses.

A well-established pattern of human rights violations continued in 1992, although with fewer reported violations than in previous years. Over a dozen disappearances of persons associated with community organizations suspected of rebel connections were reported; one example was that of Ricardo Lirasa, a member of the Basic Christian Communities in Negros Occidental who was arrested by cafgu members in May and subsequently disappeared. Extrajudicial executions of suspected rebels by cafgu members and soldiers were reported from Negros Occidental, Agusan del Sur, Zamboanga del Sur, and other provinces.

The Right to Monitor

There are no legal restrictions on human rights organizations in the Philippines. Antonio A. Ayo, Jr. and Santiago Ceneta, two lawyers from the Camarines Norte branch of the human rights organization, the Free Legal Assistance Group (flag), were charged with subversion in 1991 for allegedly aiding the npa. flag maintained that the charges were in fact a form of harassment against lawyers who defended suspected npa members. Both lawyers went on trial in 1992 but the charges against them were dropped when the Anti-Subversion Act was repealed.

U.S. Policy

The Philippines Senate voted to have the U.S. withdraw its military bases, and the United States completed its withdrawal from the Subic Bay naval base on November 24. During hisconfirmation hearing in July, U.S. Ambassador Richard Solomon stated that the U.S. would continue to assist the Philippine military with information, training and maintenance under the 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense treaty. In June, the administration said that it had ceased supplying military equipment and training to the Philippines National Police (pnp), formed 18 months earlier after the dissolution of the Philippines Constabulary, which had been part of the military. The State Department had determined, Solomon said, that such aid would have violated Section 660 of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits training or financial support for civilian police forces. The pnp continues to receive aid under other U.S. programs.

U.S. aid to the Philippines took a dramatic downward turn in 1992, from $567.9 million in fiscal year 1991 to $218.7 million in fiscal year 1992. For fiscal year 1993, Congress provided $40 million for the Multilateral Assistance Initiative; the foreign aid bill required that at least $25 million of those funds be channeled through private voluntary organizations and cooperatives. Additional funding not earmarked by Congress included $25 million in Economic Support Funds, $30 million for development assistance, $45 million requested for security assistance, and $2.4 million for International Military Education and Training.

In its report on the foreign aid bill, the House Appropriations Committee urged the administration to use its influence with Manila "to seek justice in many of the outstanding cases involving reports of human rights atrocities by Philippine security forces or individuals within their control." Ambassador Solomon, in his confirmation hearings, acknowledged that "extrajudicial violence" in the government's counterinsurgency campaign was a problem but was unable to suggest possible steps that might be taken to promote human rights more effectively.

A jury in a U.S. district court found the late Ferdinand Marcos's estate liable for torture; the court will next determine the amount of compensation owed to his victims.

The Work of Asia Watch

In January and February, Asia Watch conducted a five-week investigation of human rights abuses by the cafgu paramilitary force, and in April issued a report of its findings. Defending the Earth, a joint report of Human Rights Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council, included a chapter documenting politically motivated abuses against environmental activists and reporters in the Philippines, and another Human Rights Watch report, Indivisible Human Rights: The Relationship of Political and Civil Rights to Survival, Subsistence and Poverty, included a chapter on the forced eviction of the indigenous T'boli people from their ancestral land in Mindanao by landlords linked to the armed forces.

Asia Watch met twice with Philippine embassy officials in Washington, including the ambassador, to discuss the abuse of Filipina domestic workers in Kuwait as well as human rights concerns in the Philippines.

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