Palace disputes group’s report on human rights cases

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang defended its human rights record yesterday, saying the administration exerted efforts to protect the people from violations but the slow pace of justice was admittedly affecting the perception on the Philippine situation.

Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2016 President Aquino’s six-year term in office would end in mid-2016 without achieving his promised goal to significantly improve human rights in the country.

It said there had been little accountability for the killings of indigenous leaders, activists and journalists and other serious abuses during his administration.

“Maybe what they are criticizing is the slow progress of cases and this matter is being addressed by our Supreme Court. This is a result of what we call ‘systemic weaknesses’ of the criminal justice system,” Presidential Communications Operation Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told reporters.

Coloma said Aquino and his family were victims of human rights violations themselves during the Marcos regime and thus would not have a policy tolerating abuses or violations.

“In his administration, respect for human rights became a guiding principle; the infrastructure to defend human rights had been strengthened through the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights,” Coloma said.

Citing a report from the CHR, Coloma said cases of human rights violations had dropped and that in 2012, Aquino created an inter-agency committee that formed special teams to probe human rights abuses.

Aquino created the group through Administrative Order No. 35 that he signed on Nov. 22, 2012 or a day before the 3rd anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, which left 58 people dead, mostly women and journalists.

The inter-agency committee exclusively handles cases of unexplained killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other human rights violations.

Coloma said the inter-agency committee reviewed all cases of unexplained killings and human rights violations, including in past administrations, for the filing of necessary charges.

“So it is not reasonable to say that strengthening of human rights did not move forward (under the Aquino administration),” Coloma said.

HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said “while the number of serious violations declined during Aquino’s administration, ongoing killings of prominent activists and the lack of successful prosecutions mean there’s nothing to prevent an upsurge of abuses in the future.”

In the first eight months of 2015, HRW said Philippine military and paramilitary groups allegedly killed more than a dozen tribal leaders and tribal community members, local rights groups reported.

Military operations in areas in Mindanao, heavily populated by indigenous peoples, contributed to the displacement of 243,000 since January, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many of those displaced faced inadequate food, shelter and health care.

Nine journalists were killed in 2015 – three of them over 10 days in August. Only one suspect was reported arrested in these attacks.

Killings of alleged petty criminals, drug dealers and others by “death squads” or contract killers in several cities continued unabated.

In some cases, local officials encouraged the killings, like presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, HRW said.

According to HRW, children throughout the Philippines face a wide range of human rights abuses.

As a September 2015 Human Rights Watch report documented, in small-scale gold mining, children are exposed to extremely hazardous work conditions, working deep underground, diving underwater to dig for gold and processing ore with toxic mercury.

Armed conflict prevented children in a number of areas from attending school and paramilitaries raided several schools, killing a school administrator in August.

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