DOJ bears burden of building trust of kin, witnesses in Calabarzon raids — Karapatan

DOJ bears burden of building trust of kin, witnesses in Calabarzon raids � Karapatan
Human rights groups and progressive formations gather at the Commission on Human Rights compound to condemn the Bloody Sunday raids in Calabarzon on March 7, 2021.
Karapatan, Release

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice should bear the burden of establishing the trust of victims of political killings as it moves forward in its probes, rights watchdog Karapatan said.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay issued a challenge to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and the department’s Administrative Order 35 Committee task force to build confidence of the families of the victims and the public. Most important of these is ensuring the trust of the families of victims, Palabay said.

“The burden is on them to assure the victims’ families that the investigations would not be used as a window dressing to cover up the deteriorating state of human rights in the country,” she added.

The DOJ-led AO 35, an inter-agency committee that looks into extrajudicial killings, is central to the government’s probe into killings of activists. Guevarra said last week that they referred the investigation into the bloody Calabarzon raids to the committee.

The committee is currently reviewing the status of cases under probe, including killings of peace consultant Randy Echanis and Karapatan paralegal Zara Alvarez whose murders remain unresolved even months after.

Guevarra admitted, in a Palace briefing Monday, that some of the cases remain unresolved, “because there is no evidence or no witnesses come forward to tell authorities of what they know.”

But Palabay noted that the victims, their families and witnesses “have rightful reasons to be reluctant and even critical of the government’s own investigation through the AO 35 Task Force.”

The Karapatan official pointed out that the committee has long been created but it has not made significant inroads in past killings nor was it able to stop the murders.

“Therefore, we are putting Secretary Guevarra and the AO 35 committee to task of building confidence and ensuring the trust of the families of victims, the public and most especially the witnesses in order for them to testify in the committee’s investigations,” she said.

International probe?

In the case of the bloody Calabarzon raids specifically, police and military officers are accused of the killings. The deadly raids also happened just days after President Rodrigo Duterte in a speech said “ignore human rights.”

Palabay said if the Philippine government is genuine in looking into the killings, they must have no problems with allowing international human rights bodies, including United Nations special rapporteurs, from investigating the “human rights crisis” in the country.

“Along with domestic mechanisms, an international, independent, international, and impartial investigation proves to be urgent and necessary if the government is really firm in concretely acting upon the demands of the victims and their kin. The Philippine government must not use their investigations to punish scapegoats but hold accountable those who have also enabled these atrocities — even from those in the highest echelons of State bureaucracy,” she added.

The UN Human Rights Council in October 2020 adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines—an action short of an on ground investigation that groups have been calling for.

The United Nations said it was “appalled” by the killings in the Calabarzon raids. Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: "We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and 'red-tagging' of human rights defenders.” — Kristine Joy Patag

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