By MARY ANN MANJA BAYANG
(We are publishing the following to give our readers a briefer on the country’s human rights situation.This is the second of three parts. Click here to read the first part. — Ed.)
Roadmap to nowhere
Part IV paragraph 148 to paragraph 174 of the National Report entitled “Roadmap and Expectations” contain the commitments of the Arroyo government to human rights protection. It is telling that the Report devoted 26 paragraphs on issues such as poverty, gender equality, health, and other supposed commitment to respect human rights, but did not contain a single reference to extra judicial killings or enforced disappearance in its ‘roadmap’ a foreboding omen of things to come. Like the body of the report, the ‘commitments’ in Part IV are nothing more than generalized statements to appease the international concern over human rights violations, and will not lead to the systemic elimination of human rights violations in the country.
The HRC Review: Unanswered Questions
Even the report of Sec. Eduardo Ermita that the Philippine Report has been ‘applauded’ is not completely true. The Philippine delegation could not have gained unanimous “applause” if it failed to answer an important question—which of the supposed measures undertaken by government exactly contributed to the decrease in the killings considering that no serious and genuine investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators have taken place. According to National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Deputy Secretary General Edre Olalia who is in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), “Despite courtesy questions from allied countries, the stage-managed road show of lies, hypocrisy and fantasy did not prevent at least a sizable number of countries such as France, Norway, Slovenia, Japan, New Zealand, UK, Canada, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Algeria, Korea, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Mexico, and even the US to incessantly question or comment – though diplomatically but some very firmly – on the issues of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, women and children’s rights, migrant rights, corruption and non-signing or ratification to instruments against torture and disappearances.”
The applause of Romanian Ambassador who temporarily heads the Human Rights Council (HRC) cannot carry more importance than the pointed questions of some countries namely:
(i) Norway asked what government measures were exactly undertaken by the Philippine government and how it related to extra-judicial killings and disappearances. This is the question that cannot be answered by the Philippine government, ever, because the token measures such as Task Force Usig, the Melo commission or the human rights training for the military did not have any serious impact at all on the killings.
(ii) Canada expressed concern over the state of impunity prevailing in the Philippines, including the impact of Pres. Arroyo’s Administrative Order 197 on the Writ of Amparo. AO 197 declared that operations and any information related to extra judicial killings and enforced disappearance are confidential in nature, thereby, preempting the submission of evidence in an amparo petition.
(iii) Australia questioned the lack of information on the exact position of the Philippine government on the Alston Recommendations. Eduardo Ermita could not have answered this since the government refuses to recognize the Alston report and disagrees with its finding such as its recommendation for the government to take out extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances in its counter insurgency operations under Oplan Bantay Laya.
(iv) France and Switzerland not only reiterated its concern over the killings but commented over the ineffective prosecution of perpetrators. Japan and Brazil also raise issues on a similar vein. Since the killings and disappearances escalated in January 2001, the government has not reported the names of those convicted for these crimes mainly because none of the perpetrators were convicted so far.
(v) The United Kingdom asked about corruption and the delayed reporting of the Philippines to treaty monitoring bodies. This question is important in the light of the Philippine government refusal to submit its report on human rights conditions in the country or genuinely engage the complaints filed against it in various international mechanisms. In fact, Mexico even suggested that the Philippine National Plan should take into consideration the existing UN mechanisms and procedures, country visits and thematic reports of special rapporteurs. Sri Lanka was more direct as it asked for Philippine compliance with UN mechanisms.
(vi) Brazil recommended that the Philippines invite special rapporteurs while the U.S. asked about measures against torture committed by the police.
The Philippines did not sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and promises to do so during the review does not address charges of massive torture in military camps and police jails. Pres. Arroyo, afraid that she and many public officials will be haled to the International Criminal Court [ICC] for crimes against humanity or war crimes, refuses to submit the Rome treaty on the ICC to the Senate for concurrence even if the same was already signed by Pres. Joseph Estrada on December 28, 2000. Pres. Arroyo does not have immunity under the Rome Statute.