PHILIPPINES: Stopping the extra-judicial killings must be a priority in your State of the Nation Address (Sona)

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to you in advance of your State on Monday, July 24. While we look forward to what you will be reporting regarding the present situation of your country and future plans, we would like to draw your attention to the state of human rights in the Philippines, which we hope you will appropriately address during your speech.

As you are aware, the government of the Philippines has repeatedly been urged to act decisively and bring to a halt the wave of extra-judicial killings of activists, human rights defenders, journalists, church leaders and others that have been perpetrated your country. As a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the government of the Philippines is obligated to “adopt legislative and other measures to prevent such [these] violations” as was clearly stated by the Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on December 2003, para. 8 (a). To date, the government has failed to make any substantial progress in this regard and has therefore flouted its international obligations. The killings continue without reprieve.

We are extremely alarmed that, despite the continuing attacks and violence against activists and their families, the government’s response has been completely inadequate and insufficient. If there are any actions being taken, they have failed to lead to the identification, arrest or effective prosecution of the perpetrators of these killings. Furthermore, there is also a lack of effective implementation laws to ensure that human rights are protected in your country.

Although we appreciate the creation of Task Force Usig, which is tasked with investigating each of these cases involving the killing of activists, we are not aware of any substantial progress resulting from its work. The consolidated findings and recommendations of Task Force Usig have not even made available to the public. Members of the international community have already resoundingly condemned these killings and the government’s inadequate response. This condemnation is in part contained in the petition submitted by the AHRC to the Consulate of the Philippines in Hong Kong on July 19, 2006. The petition was addressed to the Secretary of the Department of Justice (DoJ), Raul Gonzalez.

The reputation of the Philippines with regard to upholding the highest standards of human rights, as a newly-elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, is contingent on its immediate action to eradicate these extra-judicial and senseless killings. The government must send a strong message to the Filipino people and to the international community, that it does not and will not tolerate these murders. It must prove itself capable of protecting the lives of its citizens, upholding the rule of law and ending the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these grave abuses.

Firstly, we urge you to include in your address a clear and unequivocal statement of condemnation of extra-judicial killings by the police, armed forces and any other state agency, either perpetrated by themselves or via proxies. 

Secondly, we urge you to ensure the effective implementation of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981). There have been a number of cases that we have reported where witnesses and families of the dead have been unable to get protection. The program does not appear to be functioning at all. We are not aware of any witnesses, families of the dead or persons facing death or other serious threats that are being provided with protection and security by the state. Although we have repeatedly called for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to address this, the response has been negligible. In order to provide protection and security and to ensure the welfare of witnesses, the families of the dead and those facing threats, it is essential for the State to effectively investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. 

Your assurances to the families of the dead that justice will be served, including the creation of Task Force Usig, will be meaningless if the first steps in seeking justice and reparation for their deep losses are flawed by ineffective policing and prosecution. We are extremely disappointed that the government of the Philippines has not yet acknowledged this problem. As you are aware, a number of task forces to investigate these killings have already been created and disbanded, with the results of their findings having either been inconclusive or inaccurate, resulting in the failure of the cases to even reach court. Consider the case of slain activists George and his wife Maricel, who were killed on June 19 in Kidapawan City. A special investigating unit handling their case has already been disbanded, despite the family of the victims’ dissatisfaction with their findings. We are deeply concerned that this situation may be repeated with Task Force Usig.

In addition, we urge you to endorse, as a priority, legislation on the protection of rights pending before the Senate and Congress. Amongst them is House Bill No. 1556, an Act Defining and Penalizing The Crime of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance; and House Bill No. 4307, an Anti-Torture Act of 2005. As you are aware, most of the killed activists were forcibly abducted and brutally tortured before they were found dead. One example is the case of 19-year-old activist Audie Lucero of Abucay, Bataan. He was found dead on February 13, a day after he was reported missing. Another activist, Reverend Andy Pawican was found dead on May 21, after military agents allegedly forcibly abducted him after he had concluded a mass in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija. His dead body bore torture marks. You are aware that, as a State party to the ICCPR, the government is obliged to take legislative measures to ensure that the provisions contained in the Covenant are reflected in the country’s penal code by enacting an enabling law. This, however, has not been acted upon by the government. Torture and forced disappearance are still not crimes in your country. The absence of an enabling law denies victims of human rights violations the possibility of seeking justice and is totally unacceptable. When you address the members of Congress on July 24, we urge you to use your presidential intervention to begin redressing this situation.

While we appreciate that you took the lead in pushing for legislation to abolish the death penalty, we still insist that given the Philippines government’s lack of legislative and others measures to stop the ongoing killings, the abolition of the death penalty will have little impact. While the government abolished state-sanctioned killings, its inability to stop extra-judicial killings, to protect the lives of its citizens and to ensure justice is served in a court of law, makes a mockery of the government’s action. The government cannot ignore the increasing demands from your countrymen and the international community to stop these extra-judicial killings.

We call upon you and the government of the Philippines to acknowledge this problem and to act decisively to resolve this extremely serious situation. The extra-judicial violation of the right to life is the worst of all human rights violations, and the government of the Philippines is becoming notorious internationally for this, which is surely something you and your government must be seeking to avoid. This problem cannot be remedied through mere assurances and promises but requires concrete, urgent, transparent and effective action. We urge you to publicly state and send a strong message that the government and yourself, as head of state, are still in control of the situation and will be bringing an end to the extra-judicial killings. The government of the Philippines has claimed to the international community that it adheres to the highest standards of human rights—it must now follow its words with actions.

The AHRC looks forward to learning that your government has followed the abolition of the death penalty with the abolition of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong