Killings in Philippines leave deeply entrenched fear, distrust

Jan. 13, 2008

By the Asian Human Rights Commission

HONGKONG — At the height of the escalating incidents of the murder of activists, there was strong condemnation, both within and outside the country that forced the government to do something to stop the killing. Now that the number of killings has declined, condemnation has also decreased and discussion into finding reasonable remedies and redress for the victims had waned. It has even prompted the government to take the credit for the decline in the number of killings as proof of the improved human rights conditions in the country.

Whether the government’s action or international pressure had
contributed to the reduction in the number of deaths and enforced
disappearance, the reality remains that, for the main part, none of
those responsible have been identified or convicted. Their continued
anonymity and immunity remain a continuing threat to lives of the
activist. It leaves a deep psychological effect, fear and trauma, not
only in the activists but in every Filipino of the extent of their

People fear to go outside in public places as gunmen riding on
motorcycle might, and have in the past killed them, there is fear for
complainants to pursue cases in court, for witnesses to testify in
court because they might be targeted, there is fear of getting
involved with any investigating body; in short, fear has become a way
of life in the Philippines. Now, a threatening call or message from a
mobile phone from unknown person is enough to frighten anyone,
particularly those facing threats.

Not even the claims of the police of having obtained two cases of
convictions of perpetrators of killings could convince any activists,
the victims’ relatives and witnesses that the condition has improved.
This was not sufficient enough to ease the deeply entrenched fear and
tension in the aftermath of the targeted large scale extrajudicial
killings. The loss of faith and distrust remains deeply rooted
towards the police and military because of their continued inability
to identify, ensure conviction and hold to account those responsible
and this is particularly so with the security forces. Though some of
the police and soldiers were charged, they were later either
exonerated or had their case dismissed because of the poor
investigations carried out by the police.

The perpetrators, whether or not they are elements of the security
forces, have continued to enjoy immunity. At the height of the
killings, the people and groups concerned invested their time and
energy in campaigning to stop the killings. Rather than work to
reduce the number of killings and finding and prosecuting the
perpetrators, the government has instead invested its resources in
denial and counter criticisms. It is disappointing but not
surprising. Any government would exhaust all means to defend its
record. However, over time, the government of the Philippines has
either rejected or dismissed the validity of the number of deaths.
Sadly they have clearly missed the point; be it 100 or over 800, no
one has been held to account. The state has never given a plausible
explanation for this failure.

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