PHILIPPINES: Ombudsman abdicates its power to review


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-031-2011
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Arbitrary arrest & detention, Enforced disappearances and abductions, Torture,

Dear friends, 

Further to our appeal, the Ombudsman also ceased its intervention into the disappearance and torture of a farmer, Ambrosio Derejeno. He was last seen alive in the custody of a paramilitary unit. In our letter of appeal to the Ombudsman, the AHRC expressed concern to the exclusion of two military colonels who are the commanding officers of the perpetrators from the criminal charges that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had recommend for prosecution. 


In September 13, 2010, we issued an appeal (AHRC-UAC-135-2010) on Ambrosio Derejeno, a farmer who disappeared after he was last seen alive and tortured by members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), a paramilitary unit. Two of the perpetrators, identified as Ilo and Lontoy Surio, are attached to the 63rd Infantry Battalion (IB) and the 20th IB, Philippine Army in Northern Samar. 

In our appeal, we expressed concern over the exclusion from the prosecution of “Arbitrary Detention”, under Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) the commanders of the perpetrators, namely Lt. Col. Paloma of the 63rd IB and Lt. Col. Narciso of the 20th IB. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR 8) has recommended for prosecution in its resolution (full text of the Resolution) dated July 1, 2010 after completing their investigation. 

In this case, Danilo Remonte, graft prevention and control officer of the Office of the Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO), wrote in his Final Report dated October 21, 2010 (full text of the report) to close and to terminate the case because:” (Their) Office is not empowered to review the actions of the CHR relative to its decision as to whom to include or exclude in the filing of charges”. 


In explaining the closure, Remonte is quoted verbatim in his letter below: 

“The AHRC claims that the regional office of the Commission on the Human Rights (CHR), had already taken cognizance of the case by way of recommending the filing of charges for the Arbitrary Detention against the alleged perpetrators. However, the AHRC is raising the issue of exoneration or non-inclusion of the military commanders in the charges, by invoking Sec. 13 of the Anti-Torture Act of 2009. (Record, pp. 01-02) 

On the least two (2) occasions, this Office had already explained to the AHRC the following: 

1. The CHR is granted the primary jurisdiction over human rights violations involving civil and political rights as mandated by the Constitution and E.O. 163, prescribing its powers and functions. 

2. Under RA 9745, otherwise known as the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the CHR has the primary authority and responsibility to provide legal assistance; investigate; exercise visitorial powers; monitor, and file of cases of violations of civil and political rights.” 


The explanations that the Ombudsman claimed were sent to the AHRC “on the least two (2) occasions”, where they ruled to close and terminate”, were questionable. 

In this case, the AHRC is well aware, as we have mentioned in our appeal to the Ombudsman, that the CHR 8 has already investigated the case; however, we question the CHR’s exclusion of the two military colonels in the charge for “Arbitrary Detention”. We asked the Ombudsman’s intervention to use its power to review complaints, whether or not military officers should be prosecuted in court, once the copy of CHR’s recommendation is submitted to them for prosecution. 

As we have already mentioned, under the legal process, any prosecution for criminal offense against members of the security forces– police and military–is subject to review and approval by the MOLEO before they could be filed in court. The CHR has no prosecutorial power. The findings of the CHR are also subject for review by the National Prosecution Service (NPS) of the Department of Justice (DoJ). 

All the criminal cases where members of the security forces stands accused, the NPS are required to obtain approval from the MOLEO before it could file the charge in court or whether or not they could proceed with the prosecution. Therefore, to argue that the MOLEO is “not empowered to review the actions of the CHR relative to its decision as to whom to include or exclude in the filing of charges” is not correct. 

The CHR 8 is aware, as explained in another case–on the killing of farmers (UP-141-2005UP-053-2006) in Palo, Leyte–on which the AHRC also asked them to investigate, that their recommendation is also subject to review and approval of the MOLEO. No criminal charges can be filed in court against security forces without their approval. 

Also, nothing in section 3, of the Executive Order 163, defining the CHR’s powers and functions that their actions, in this case the result of their investigations, could not be reviewed; and that “only the Courts may review such actions”. Rather, the CHR could “request the assistance of any department, bureau, office or agency in the performance of its functions”. 

For more readings about the prosecution system in the Philippines, visit here: Prosecution in the Philippines (article 2, Vol. 07 – No. 01 March 2008). 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (