PHILIPPINES: Police chief must aim to identify, arrest and prosecute killers of human rights defenders

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to congratulate you on your appointment as the new chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on 5 July 2006.

On the occasion of your appointment, the AHRC wishes to suggest to you that your top priority as police chief must be to address the unabated killings of human rights defenders and social activists in the Philippines. We are aware that you are well-informed of these killings, most of which remain unsolved.

Your predecessor, General Arturo Lomibao, gave assurances that these killings would be investigated and perpetrators arrested. We are disappointed that this did not happen prior to his retirement; however, we note that the PNP was made one of the lead agencies in Task Force Usig, a special unit mandated to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings, which was created in May 2006.

Nonetheless, the killings continue and questions about prior killings remain unanswered. In particular, we wish to draw to your attention the following recent cases, in which police have failed to investigate properly or recommend or afford protection to family members of victims or witnesses:

1. George Vigo (33) and his wife Maricel (a.k.a Macel) (36) were killed in Kidapawan City on 19 June 2006. The next day, Task Force Vigo was set up to investigate. The task force has not satisfied the victims’ families, whom it duped into signing a paper which they later realised was a complaint against an alleged perpetrator. The task force has worked unprofessionally and without actively involving the concerned families.

2. The investigation into the killing of Reverend Andy Pawican of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija on 21 May 2006 has also been inadequate. After his dead body was found, relatives reportedly informed a local police station. But instead of registering their account, the police insisted that Reverend Pawican died in an “encounter killing” in Sitio Lomboy, Barangay Tayabo, San Jose at early dawn that day. This assertion contradicts witness accounts.

3. Labour activist Gerardo Cristobal (35) of Imus, Cavite survived an attempt on his life on 28 April 2006, allegedly by local policemen. Cristobal was charged on the same day with frustrated murder of the police who allegedly planned to kill him. The complaint against Cristobal has been lodged by policemen whose subordinates were allegedly part of the extrajudicial killing plot. We are unaware of any impartial investigation conducted into this matter.

4. No conclusive findings have been reached into the shooting death of Enrico G. Cabanit (a.k.a. Ka Eric) of Panabo City, Davao del Norte at a public market on 24 April 2006. Cabanit was with his daughter, Daffodil, when they were attacked; she survived. We are unaware of any protection and security afforded to her and her family since. The police investigating the case have also been unable to establish the identities of the alleged perpetrators.

5. Even if the perpetrators are known, the police have been unable to make arrests. Activists Liezelda Estorba-Cu?ado (a.k.a. Inday) (30) and her partner Gerry (30) of Candijay, Bohol were killed on 3 April 2006. Witnesses identified the gunman as Joel Bayron, believed to be a member of the Barangay (village) Intelligence Network. But Bayron is not known to have been arrested and charged.

6. Similarly, peasant leader Amante Abelon survived an attack by gunmen in San Marcelino, Zambales on 20 March 2006; his wife Agnes and 5-year-old son Amante Jr. were killed. Amante, who was seriously wounded, is not known to have obtained any protection since. Witnesses to the killing have not come forward to testify for fear of their lives.

7. Likewise, witnesses to the presumed abduction of activist Audie Lucero (19) who was found dead near a hospital in Barangay Capitangan, Abucay, Bataan on 13 February 2006 have obtained no protection. Lucero was last seen on February 12 together with uniformed policemen, reportedly from Balanga Police Station, accompanied by military personnel. No adequate investigation is known to have been conducted into these allegations.

8. Activist Elena Mendiola (a.k.a. Baby) and her partner Ricardo Balauag were killed on 10 May 2006 in Barangay Garit, Echague, Isabela. Elena had survived an earlier attempt on 10 March 2006, after which she was not afforded any protection by the authorities. The lack of concern for her security, despite her life obviously being in danger, cost her and her partner their lives.

These are a few among the extraordinarily large number of killings that have been documented by the AHRC and other groups in recent times. Together they speak to a total failure of the criminal investigation, witness protection and policing system of the Philippines when it comes to the lives of human rights defenders and social activists.

The Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act (6981) does not appear to be operative at all. Nor are we aware of any efforts made by the police to recommend that persons at risk be recommended to the Department of Justice as beneficiaries under this law.

Over a month since Task Force Usig was created there is no evidence of any substantial progress in its work. No results of its findings or progress of its investigations have been made public, in order that concerned persons in the Philippines and abroad be able to discuss its work and engage the government on the basis of recommendations given by the task force.

The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore urges you as the new chief of the Philippine National Police to exhaust all possible means to prevent further killings and place the investigations of earlier incidents as your foremost priority. We call upon you to make a public commitment to the victims, their families and witnesses in these cases. It is not sufficient to say that simply addressing the unrelenting killings is a part of your agenda: it must be at the TOP of your agenda. Perpetrators must be identified, arrested and prosecuted. Witnesses and families must be protected. The killings must stop.

The credibility and efficiency of your leadership and that of the Philippine National Police, not to mention your country’s reputation internationally, rests upon your response to these killings. We sincerely hope that you will take your duty in this regard with the utmost seriousness and look forward to your firm action accordingly.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-025-2006
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines