PHILIPPINES: Adequate protection and investigation integral to improve human rights

Any improvement in the condition of human rights in a country should be measured on the extent of protection that victims and families have obtained, and how the investigations are made by the police to ensure the possibility of the successful conviction of cases. Without this, any decline in the number of killings would be a superficial indicator if it were to evaluate the progress of human rights. The number of killings declined, but apart from the two convictions involving the killings of journalists, there have been no convictions in the documented cases of killings of activists.

Hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, amongst others, have made no progress, either in court or in the process of police investigation. A large number of complainants remain reluctant and extremely frightened in seeking legal action because of a deep-seated insecurity. When nobody makes complaints or testifies, the police are unable to perform their duties thereby undermining possibility of a successful conviction, as has long been happening. In view of this the victim’s confidence in the country’s justice system must decline.

It is a fact of life that victims seeking legal remedies can hardly obtained adequate protection; and are often object of threats and harassment. Largely it prevents most victims and complainants from seeking legal remedies. However, little attention has so far been paid by the government to ensure adequate protection and investigation into addressing the extreme fear victims suffer. The number of victims and their families seeking legal remedies had been negligible which demonstrates the extent of fear and severity of the problem.

The approval of the Supreme Court’s (SC) rule on the writ of amparo in October 24 is a welcome development as it addresses the element of protection. After the writ took effect, some victims of forcible abduction and disappearances and persons who were detained illegally were released from the custody of the security forces. The writ has the power to issue orders to provide a person whose life is threatened a judicial protection, inspection of camps by security forces and production of the documents in question in determining a person’s plight. It also requires the authorities to explain in detail what actions they have taken. It also gives remedies to victims who are facing threats and those who had been disappeared.

But despite this progress on judicial relief, only a handful of victims and their relatives have sought for this remedy. The extreme fears that are embedded in the psyche of these victims and their families have so long been deeply-rooted that even this remedy may not be sufficient to encourage them into complaining; but is nevertheless essential into developing practical solutions to these endemic problems. The writ has made the contribution of restoring the people’s declining confidence in the possibility of obtaining remedies from the judiciary.

Restoring confidence into the possibility of a judicial remedy is one thing. However, under the country’s criminal justice system the police and prosecutors have had an essential role in ensuring the progress of cases and possibility of successful prosecution of perpetrators. It is the certainty of punishment that deters the crime. It is in this area wherein the government continuously fails to adequately take action. Though they have acknowledged the severity of the problem, there has been negligible progress to ensure that the victims and their families obtain the necessary protection and that investigations into each case is adequate, which is a requirement in effectively pursuing the case in court.

The authorities still fail to adequately act on the question as to why most victims and their families continuously remain reluctant in cooperating with the authorities, in particular the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Justice (DoJ). They instead went on blaming them for their failure to cooperate. The PNP spent its time debating as to whether they should dismiss the number of deaths to defend the government’s records instead of improving their investigation methods. They likewise still fail to amend their policies classifying cases filed in court as solved, which made them effectively having no further responsibility on the progress of the case in court.

The task force they created, Task force Usig, a special investigation unit mandated to investigate the cases of extrajudicial killings of activists, have repeatedly failed to respond even on repeated appeals for the provisions of security for families of the dead facing threats. And, they in practice too fail to ensure that the cases they filed would progress in court, that the witnesses and the families of victims are encouraged to testify and file complaints respectively by ensuring their security.

For instance, the wife of a murdered activist and her two children were continuously denied any protection to ensure their safety despite the continuing threats they have long been facing. Task Force Usig apparently ignored repeated appeals despite having been properly informed of the family’s serious condition. The failure of the police to ensure this family’s safety has frightened and discouraged them from pursuing the case in court; and the possibility that a soldier allegedly involved in the killing would never be prosecuted.

Two years on, not even a report of the police investigation into the killing has been furnished to them. They also fail to ensure the safety of the witness that could have encouraged him to testify in court prompting him to retract his statement. The prosecutor handling the case had to dismiss it for lack of sufficient evidence. The victim’s family would be required to produce new evidence should they appeal the case, which should have been the duty of the police. Fear because of insecurity by the victim’s family and potential witnesses has made the police unable to effectively investigate the case yet they fail to adequate act on this.

The lack of protection results to lack of adequate investigation, and these are both the failure in the policing system. This is what most of the victims and families of the dead have long been facing once they attempt to seek remedies all over the country. No victims and witnesses would come forward to file a complaint and testify respectively unless they feel safe and secure, which is rarely obtainable. The police and the prosecutors also repeatedly failed to ensure that witnesses are included in the government’s witness protection programme; and even the programme had been ineffective by failing to give immediate protection to witnesses needing protection prior to and after the case is filed in court.

The witness protection programme does not consider affording protection to the witnesses unless the case to which they are supposed to testify is filed in court. But in most cases, complaints or charged could not even be filed or reach to court. The government’s pledge to strengthen the programme had so far not produced adequate results. Even before it is supposed to effectively implement this, the DoJ, in public had already cast the blame on the witness and complainants either for not coming or cooperating with them.

It is necessary to look into on how each of this institutions in the justice system and mechanism functions in finding reasonable solutions into addressing extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other worst forms of abuses of human rights in the country. For instance, are those responsible in the functioning of the police and prosecution performing their duties effectively? Were they held to account either for their neglect or incompetence? This discussion would add meaning to the ongoing struggle to improve protection of human rights in the Philippines.

Download the report: The State of Human Rights in Eleven Asian Nations in 2007: Philippines

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-282-2007
Countries : Philippines,