Is the Philippines among the worst countries for human rights?

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Lumads from the Manobo tribe listen to the program during a protest near Malacañan on the annual Human Rights Day in 2014. Protesters called for a stop on extra-judicial killings, as well as calling for justice on human rights violations.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and South Sudan. These were tagged as the top countries where perpetrators implicated in journalists' killings go unpunished, according to the 2015 Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Unlike the countries mentioned above, the Philippines doesn't have a war or a large-scale armed conflict. Yet the CPJ and other rights groups named it as among the worst offenders when it comes to impunity — the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.

The Philippines was even tagged as the country with the highest impunity rates in the 2015 Global Impunity Index by the Impunity and Justice Research Center of the University of the Americas Puebla.

Local human rights watchdog Karapatan cited impunity as a reason for giving the Aquino administration a failing grade in the aspect of addressing human rights.

It said that this goes against what President Benigno Aquino III promised in his inaugural address, when he ordered then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to "begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all." Doing otherwise would be akin to giving consent to the crimes to occur "over and over again."

Even before his inaugural speech, Aquino had been vocal that he would do everything to stop extrajudicial killings, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said on Monday (December 7) over CNN Philippines' Agenda.

Unfortunately, Palabay said, Karapatan's records showed that there was a "failure" to achieve the commitment as not one of the perpetrators of human rights violations in the past administration were held accountable.

Although Aquino managed to significantly lessen the number of extrajudicial killings since he took office in 2010, politically motivated killings were still frequently reported, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its 2014 World Report.

Under Aquino's term, only two cases of extrajudicial killings resulted in convictions until 2013. "And even in those cases, the individuals believed most responsible for the killings have not faced justice," the report added.

Palabay cited the trial of of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as an example of the administration's failure.

Palparan was implicated in the 2006 kidnapping and illegal detention of two farmers in Bulacan as well as the kidnapping of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan for being suspected members of the communist New People's Army (NPA).

The two students remain missing.

"The trial of General Palparan is still ongoing and he enjoys some first or second class or third class amenities in Fort Bonifacio, which is not really a detention center if you ask us as human rights monitors," Palabay said.


Palabay also questioned Administrative Order No. 35, s. 2012 of the Aquino administration, tagging it as a form of "whitewashing." The order creates an interagency task force on extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, among others.

The task force is headed by the secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and has as members the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

"At the onset we expressed skepticism over the said task force because those institutions where perpetrators are allegedly from are inside that task force. So what partiality can we achieve from that structure alone?" Palabay questioned.

Former Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Loretta "Etta" Rosales also agreed.

"May problems tayo kung yung alleged perpetrators ay kabahagi nung nag-iimbestiga dahil yung impartiality nga niya could be affected," she said.

[Translation: "We will have problems if the alleged perpetrators are part of the investigation, because impartiality will be affected."]

But she said the president was not the only one to blame.

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Rosales said that the administration had been fair in delivering its human rights commitments. But she also described the human rights record of the Aquino administration as "volatile and fragile."

"You know the military and then the police, they have their own share of violations," she said.

"At the same time you can't put all the blame on them, because you have that flawed criminal justice system. You got these courts that take ages."

"The Ampatuan massacre for instance. These principals — and I'm talking about the Ampatuan clan — are in jail. So for all intents and purposes they are in jail. But the government must be able to address this. They are in jail but what's more important is the conviction, if they are really guilty," Rosales said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Related: Maguindanao massacre: 2,192 days, 0 convictions

Rosales said that there were also gains by the administration in the aspect of laws, one of which was the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 (Republic Act 10368), which was for the benefit of the victims of the martial law regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.


One of the human rights issues under the current administration is the issue of lumad killings. Rosales stated that the marginalization of lumads was brought about by "historical government neglect."

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"So the NPA started setting up schools. In fact it was even sponsored by rural missionaries. What's negative is that it's used to recruit NPA cadres," she said in a mix of Filipino and English.

In 2007, Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, found that the military was behind the extrajudicial killings of leftist activists.

Executions of activists were part of counterinsurgency operations against the communist rebels, he added.

On the other side, Alston also noted killings committed by the communist rebels under its system of "people's courts" and "revolutionary justice." He tagged death sentences imposed by the "people's courts" as vigilantism or murder.

Palabay, however, countered Rosales' point, saying that tagging schools as "NPA," for New People's Army, is dangerous as it is the rationale used by the AFP to enter a community and "commit worse forms of violence."

Related: Mindanao tribes want troops, rebels out of their communities

According to the AFP, the Alternative Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) was being used by the NPA to radicalize students.

Related: We were not misled into supporting lumads, actress tells general

Last September, the executive director of the school along with two other lumads were allegedly killed by members of the Magahat-Bagani, an alleged paramilitary group linked with the AFP.

Palabay cited a 2008 report by Alston, who recommended that paramilitary groups be disbanded. But the recommendation wasn't fully realized, she said.

"If you look at the administration's promises, what leaves really hanging is how the president is acting on many human rights issues."