PHILIPPINES: Killings leave deeply entrenched fear and distrust

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 insecurity.

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.

The government has, in fact, found ways to conveniently excuse their actions and to defend its record. They use the concept that they are not perceived to be so bad when compared to other countries. They use the fact that they were voted for election to the UN Human Rights Council as recognition for supposedly protecting human rights. However all this has been a superficial victory of downplaying the extent and gravity of the problem. Unfortunately, what is really speaks of is the government¡¦s indifference to the problem is born out of the lack of knowledge of the real suffering of the people.

The police invest most of its time explaining that the number of death should be around 100 rather than what has so far been claimed by local groups. Their debates over the number of deaths even went on as far as defining these murders as “unexplained killings” to which they preferred rather that “extrajudicial killings”. By defining these murders as unexplained it obviously reduces its responsibility and gives them a convenient excuse for their continued inability and incompetence. Regardless of the numbers, there is no denying that they could not even ensure a conviction higher that than two. An unlikely attempt for a State claiming to adhere the notion of human rights to suppress international outcry by way of using statistics and superficial methods of indicators. It has not even improved its misleading definition of solved cases by ensuring conviction or giving adequate remedies to victims than merely filing a case with the prosecutor’s office.

The practice has been that when a prosecutor recommends the filing of a case, presented by the police, in court, regardless of whether it ever goes to trial, as far as the police are concerned the case is solve. It explains the high number of cases filed in court but the possibility of these perpetrators ever being convicted is petty.

Over the years, the government’s action has been tantamount to indirect refusal to take responsibility for these murders. The long standing condition of the lack of security and protection and the impossibility of prosecuting perpetrators remains, regardless of the decline in the number of killings. The discussion on finding any reasonable solution to this has also not moved from debating over numbers and blaming who’s responsible.

The government’s state of denial mutated from the complicity of the security forces for these murders towards their obvious inability to hold the perpetrators to account and ensure protection and security to their citizens. The practical problem within the justice institution, the police, prosecution and the judiciary, have since been obviously denied. Why do cases not progress in court? Why do victims and complainants refuse to file complaints? Why are the victims not able to obtain any protection, remedies and redress? Why do the perpetrators remain unknown and assured of complete impunity?

The inability and failure of these justice institutions to function and to carry out the duties expected of them must be given more attention to add meaning to the ongoing discussion. Unless these basic problems are given adequate action there is hardly anything that can be done in finding reasonable and long term solutions. Otherwise, recurrence of the phenomenon of large scale murders and enforced disappearance remains inevitable.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-007-2008
Countries : Philippines,