“What De Lima has reported to US Congressmen is an utter distortion and denial of the country’s human rights situation”– Hanimay Suazo, secretary general, Karapatan in Southern Mindanao
By MARILOU AGUIRRE-TUBURAN
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Human rights advocates questioned the validity of the report presented by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to US legislators on the “progress” that the Aquino administration has made in the field of human rights and its “efforts” to investigate and prosecute cases of extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and other human rights cases.
The state of impunity in the country continues because no perpetrators have been punished for their crimes, said Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao.
Suazo noted the “slow-paced” investigation on the case of slain Italian missionary Father Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio. She said, alleged perpetrators from the military and paramilitary group Bagani (warrior) were not included in the investigation.
“What De Lima has reported to US Congressmen is an utter distortion and denial of the country’s human rights situation,” Suazo said.
She aslo lamented the 385 political prisoners who are still languishing in jail, as well as the continuing vilification campaign against HR defenders and counter-insurgency operations that victimize countless civilians, including women, children and the elderly.
Pastor Sadrach Sabella, Karapatan secretary general in Socsksargends (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos, Davao del Sur) region, likewise questioned De Lima’s report to the American lawmakers.
Sabella told davaotoday.com that there is no significant achievement for the advancement of human rights under PNoy. He pointed out that cases of EJKs, abduction and militarization in the countryside “worsened” under the present administration.
Sabella said that even children were not spared from military’s abuses. He recounted that the military took photos of Jimboy, a 12-year old boy, after he was forced to wear an ammunition belt of a machine gun. A member of the 73rd Infantry Battalion also put Toto Bintay, a special child, inside a sack for three hours. He also said 205 students from Sitio (sub-village) Dlumay, Malapatan village were not able to graduate due to intense military operations, adding that seven teachers were also harassed by government troops who made the schools their temporary detachment.
Sabella also recounted that, from June 1 to 5 this year, during the composite operations of the military’s 73rd IB, 57th IB and 58th IB, two helicopters allegedly dropped bombs in Sitios Libwa and Bungaran in Kinabalan village, Malungon town. The bombings and indiscriminate firing forcibly evicted over a thousand civilians.
In Sitio Fayahlob, Danlag village, Tampakan town in South Cotabato, three houses were strafed by members of the 27th IB in November 25, 2011. Sabella said that militarization has been going on in the province since 2011 especially in areas where the large-scale mining company Xstrata SMI operates.
Sabella challenged De Lima to “present the true human rights situation in the country.”
Philippine officials in Washington, D. C. (District of Colombia) claimed that American legislators, led by Kentucky Representative Harold Rogers, are “satisfied” with the “progress” that the Philippines has made in the human rights front.
“We put in question the validity of the report. Because for the past two years under PNoy, no conviction was attained and nobody was held accountable (on EJK cases),” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, told davaotoday.com.
“The Philippine government is premature in boasting of significant progress on justice for past killings,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). He noted, “Up to the present, there have been no successful prosecutions of military personnel for EJKs.”
Under former President Gloria Arroyo, Karapatan recorded a total of 1,206 EJK victims and 206 victims of enforced disappearance. It was also under Arroyo when the cold-blooded Ampatuan massacre happened. Since PNoy came to power, the rights group recorded 102 EJK victims. Like its predecessors, the present administration has failed to prosecute suspects and convict perpetrators.
Military personnel who were accused of human rights violations like retired General Jovito Palparan and General Jorge Segovia, current Eastern Mindanao Command Chief, were even promoted by the Arroyo and Aquino governments, respectively.
Segovia was one of the respondents of the 15 million-peso damage suit filed by the Morong 43 health workers for their illegal arrest, detention and torture. On the other hand, Palparan was charged for serious illegal detention and kidnapping against UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. The two remain missing.
Karapatan Southern Mindanao’s Suazo said the government has not made any decisive move to arrest and prosecute Palparan nor ‘his boss’, (former president) Arroyo.
“Impunity’s very symbol, General Palparan, remains at large,” Suazo said.
“How could the Aquino government tolerate Palparan? What are the moves of the DOJ (Department of Justice) and De Lima on this matter?” Suazo added.
“Unless the government prosecutes those responsible for past and recent abuses, and ensure that there are institutions capable of doing so, there is nothing to prevent these abuses from increasing again in the future,” HRW’s Adams said.
De Lima is in Washington to push the Aquino Government’s efforts “in raising the awareness” on its “human rights achievements.” She reportedly met with officials of the Department of State and the Department of Defense and leaders of non-government agencies, aside from the American legislators led by Rep. Rogers who chairs the US House Committee on Appropriations.
“If De Lima and Aquino are reporting the so-called progress on human rights situation to justify the release of US grants for more military assistance, then we are sending this message to the American people: the human rights situation in the country has not significantly improved and in fact, impunity continues,” Palabay said. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com