Appendix III: Open letters to the Philippine authorities

1. A functioning and effective policing and judicial system is required if extra-judicial killings are to be properly prosecuted and prevented
AHRC-OL-002-2006, January 11, 2006

Hon. Raul Gonzalez
Department of Justice
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila

Fax: +63 2 521 1614

Dear Mr. Gonzalez,

PHILIPPINES: A functioning and effective policing and judicial system is required if extra-judicial killings are to be properly prosecuted and prevented

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is in receipt of your letter dated 13 December 2005 detailing the Philippine government’s response to our concern about the unabated incidents of extra-judicial killings and violence against activists, the lack of witness protection and the failures in police investigations. In your letter you said: “I assure you that the Philippine government never condones murders, assassinations, killings and other violent acts against activists or protesters. All reported killings incidents are promptly and meticulously investigated by the police and other intelligence unit”.

While we appreciate these assurances, there was no mention of exactly how this is being done or how justice and human rights protection are effectively being upheld. Your Department acknowledges the need for witnesses as an essential requirement for prosecution but, did not elaborate on how it is responding to ensure their protection and security, as stipulated in RA 6981, an Act for Witness Protection, Security and Benefit. As you are aware, the AHRC has previously sent you many letters requesting your intervention in providing protection to witnesses. Yet despite our request and your department’s obligations to implement the provisions of the Act, we are unaware of any action taken in the cases we have forwarded to you.

Under Section 3 of RA 6981, any person who has witnessed or has knowledge or information on the commission of a crime and has testified or is testifying or about to testify before any judicial or quasi-judicial body, or before any investigating authority, may be admitted into the programme. Additionally, one of the conditions is that any member of a family subjected to threats on their lives shall likewise be admitted. In line with this, the AHRC wishes to bring your attention your department’s failure to apply the conditions of the Act to potential witnesses and relatives of the dead.

We specifically draw your attention to the killings of activists who failed to receive security and protection from the police; a witness killed prior to testifying in court; another witness fleeing for fear of his life; and the many families who have failed to secure protection and as a result are reluctant to cooperate in any investigation for fear of their lives. Despite your department having been made aware of these situations, to our knowledge no adequate action has been taken.

Mr Norman Bocar, a lawyer from Eastern Samar, was killed on 1 September 2005. Prior to his death Bocar sought the help of the police for his security following serious threats against his life. It is not known however, whether the police acted on his request. The police investigation into his death has reached no conclusive findings and the perpetrators were not identified. The police formed “Task Force Bocar” to investigate the killing but this has failed to bring any justice to this case.

Mr Joel Reyes was killed on 16 March 2005 in Panganiban, Camarines Norte. The lone witness to his case, Dario Oresca, was also slain before he could testify in court. Even though the local police were aware of the threats made against Oresca, he was not placed under any protection. In a letter to the AHRC, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional office in Naga City, the Commission’s special investigator, Raymundo de Silva admitted failure of the RA 6981. De Silva said that the programme was not yet thoroughly understood by the populace.

Although De Silva concluded in his findings that the killing of Reyes and Oresca could have been perpetrated by a reformist armed group critical of the communist movement and identified two alleged perpetrators, named only as Ka Clito or Ka Abril and Ka Darlin or Ka Love, these persons have not been located. Thus, the case will be highly jeopardised by the absence of a prosecution witness in court.

Mr Felidito Dacut, a human rights lawyer, was slain on 14 March 2005 in Tacloban City. In a 30 May 2005 letter received by the AHRC from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional director, Mr Paquito Nacino stated that the witness in his case, Felix Dumlao, could no longer be located, thus jeopardising the process in prosecuting the perpetrators. Dumlao soon after went into hiding for fear for his life. The AHRC is unaware of any action taken by the government to locate him or provide him with security under RA 6981.

Mr Alfredo Malinao and Fr. Edison Lapuz were slain on 12 May 2005 in San Isidro, Leyte. An inquiry conducted by the CHR regional director, Mr Nacino has revealed that their relatives are either reluctant or not cooperating in their inquiry. The relatives’ reluctance to cooperate does not constitute a disinterest in pursuing this case, but rather demonstrates the fear they have for their security should they become involved.

Additionally, the AHRC has observed that of those investigations conducted into extra-judicial killings and violence against activists by the police, their actions have been completely inadequate. We are unaware of any effort to maximise the country’s forensic or scientific methods of investigation. If this in fact has been done, why then have the police failed to identify the suspects in most cases? Why too has the government failed to arrest and prosecute the hit-and-run squads who continually evade the law?

While we appreciate the government’s written concern and assurance that it will remedy this situation, mere words alone will not ensure this. Government’s assurances are empty and have no meaning to the families of the dead if they continue to endure serious threats to their lives and the perpetrators continue to remain at large.

Protection of human rights, in particular the right to life – as a non derogable right – is clearly stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippine government has ratified. However, there is a ‘key challenge of accountability’ regarding how these rights are enjoyed by Filipinos. In his annual report for 2005, Mr Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur for extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions clearly states that: “The essential thrust of international human rights law is to establish and uphold the principle of accountability for measure both to protect human rights and to respond fully and appropriately to violations of those rights.”

Thus, the responsibility of the Philippine government to properly intervene in this matter does not only include “prompt and meticulous” investigation, but also requires an adequate effort to protect victims and witnesses in order to prevent the violence from reoccurring. Therefore, it is essential that the witness protection mechanism be functional and effective and provided in all cases where required. This is a precondition to uphold the protection of human rights envisaged in the ICCPR Covenant.

Unless the government assumes responsibility and accountability to find effective remedies to prosecute the perpetrators of these killings and prevent further violence against its citizens, in particular against human rights and political activist, the competence of the country’s policing and judicial system will continue to be challenged.

I trust that these concerns that I have raised will be acted upon appropriately.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

2. Brutal beating of a person by the police was not a “justifiable degree of force”
AHRC-OL-004-2006, March 9, 2006

An Open Letter to the City Police Director of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO)

Senior Superintendent Alfredo Toroctocon
City Police Director
General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO)
Camp Fermin G. Lira
9500 General Santos City

Tel. No.: +63 83 554 6606
Pages: 2

Dear Sr. Supt. Toroctocon,

PHILIPPINES: Brutal beating of a person by the police was not a “justifiable degree of force”

The Asian Human Rights Commission is in receipt of your letter dated 21 January 2006 in which you deny allegations of torture on Haron Abubakar Buisan by elements of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO), and in particular the Special Weapon and Tactics (Swat), to which you are the Director.

Although not referring directly to Buisan’s case, you wrote that a certain “justifiable degree of force” could be applied as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) when a person resisted arrest in order to immobilise him. Do you subscribe as justifiable your police’s act of allegedly brutally beating Buisan even though there was no resistance on his part and that he was already in their custody?

We are aware that Buisan was kicked and repeatedly beaten all over his body with a stone following his arrest on 12 December 2005. We are also aware that Buisan was beaten despite there being no justifiable circumstance for the police to use force on him. He was not armed and did not resist when arrested at a police checkpoint. We are also aware that while he was subjected to custodial investigation at your headquarters, he was tortured further.

You mentioned that the Miranda Doctrine was observed by your men when arresting Buisan. Are you claiming that there was no violation when the arresting officers failed to inform Buisan of the nature of the charges against him upon arrest, to show him the valid warrants for his arrest, to inform him of his right to remain silent, and in denying him legal counsel of his choice while under custodial investigation?

If indeed these procedures and the doctrine were observed by your police during Buisan’s arrest, why are there reports regarding allegations of irregularities in the conduct of arrest, detention and treatment of the victim while in police custody? Furthermore, why have the police reportedly not been transparent with the victim’s family, in particular in providing them the results of the victim’s medical examination?

While we recognise the order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) by Judge Isaac Alvero V. Moran issued on 23 December 2005 denying the victim’s application for habeas corpus and subsequently confirming that Haron Abubakar Buisan and Ariel Bansalao, a person charged for robbery with homicide are the same, we strongly maintain the this does not give the police immunity in torturing the victim.

The use of torture in any circumstance is totally unacceptable. This is evident in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article 3, Section 12 (2) which stipulates that: “no torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him (any persons)”. Additionally, the Republic Act 7438 stipulates the rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation, which were clearly violated in this case.

We deeply regret that you have justified the acts of your men while arbitrarily denying the victim of his constitutional rights. We are extremely disappointed that no appropriate investigation was conducted and that the police involved have not had to answer to the allegations made against them. We urge you to take effective steps to comply with the existing complaint mechanism in the police service.

We are deeply concerned by the continued denial of appropriate medical treatment and rehabilitation for the victim to ensure his full recovery. As the arresting officers, the local police are obligated according to law to ensure the victim’s health. We are completely unaware of any intervention made by your office on this matter.

We take this opportunity to inform you of the order issued by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Oscar Noel on 17 January 2006 to conduct a reinvestigation into the charges of robbery with homicide against Buisan. We were informed that contrary to the earlier ruling, there is now reasonable ground to look into the victim’s claim of mistaken identity. We urge your full cooperation on this matter.

We trust that you will take effective action in this case.

Yours sincerely,

Kate Hurst
Urgent Appeal Programme Coordinator
Asian Human Rights Commission

3. Police chief must aim to identify, arrest and prosecute killers of human rights defenders
AHRC-OL-025-2006, July 6, 2006

An Open Letter to the new chief of the Philippine National Police by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Director General Oscar Calderon
Chief, Philippine National Police
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City

Tel: +63 2726 4361/4366/8763
Fax: +63 2724 8763

Dear General Calderon

PHILIPPINES: Police chief must aim to identify, arrest and prosecute killers of human rights defenders

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to congratulate you on your appointment as the new chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on 5 July 2006.

On the occasion of your appointment, the AHRC wishes to suggest to you that your top priority as police chief must be to address the unabated killings of human rights defenders and social activists in the Philippines. We are aware that you are well-informed of these killings, most of which remain unsolved.

Your predecessor, General Arturo Lomibao, gave assurances that these killings would be investigated and perpetrators arrested. We are disappointed that this did not happen prior to his retirement; however, we note that the PNP was made one of the lead agencies in Task Force Usig, a special unit mandated to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings, which was created in May 2006.

Nonetheless, the killings continue and questions about prior killings remain unanswered. In particular, we wish to draw to your attention the following recent cases, in which police have failed to investigate properly or recommend or afford protection to family members of victims or witnesses:

1. George Vigo (33) and his wife Maricel (a.k.a Macel) (36) were killed in Kidapawan City on 19 June 2006. The next day, Task Force Vigo was set up to investigate. The task force has not satisfied the victims’ families, whom it duped into signing a paper which they later realised was a complaint against an alleged perpetrator. The task force has worked unprofessionally and without actively involving the concerned families.

2. The investigation into the killing of Reverend Andy Pawican of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija on 21 May 2006 has also been inadequate. After his dead body was found, relatives reportedly informed a local police station. But instead of registering their account, the police insisted that Reverend Pawican died in an “encounter killing” in Sitio Lomboy, Barangay Tayabo, San Jose at early dawn that day. This assertion contradicts witness accounts.

3. Labour activist Gerardo Cristobal (35) of Imus, Cavite survived an attempt on his life on 28 April 2006, allegedly by local policemen. Cristobal was charged on the same day with frustrated murder of the police who allegedly planned to kill him. The complaint against Cristobal has been lodged by policemen whose subordinates were allegedly part of the extrajudicial killing plot. We are unaware of any impartial investigation conducted into this matter.

4. No conclusive findings have been reached into the shooting death of Enrico G. Cabanit (a.k.a. Ka Eric) of Panabo City, Davao del Norte at a public market on 24 April 2006. Cabanit was with his daughter, Daffodil, when they were attacked; she survived. We are unaware of any protection and security afforded to her and her family since. The police investigating the case have also been unable to establish the identities of the alleged perpetrators.

5. Even if the perpetrators are known, the police have been unable to make arrests. Activists Liezelda Estorba-Cu?ado (a.k.a. Inday) (30) and her partner Gerry (30) of Candijay, Bohol were killed on 3 April 2006. Witnesses identified the gunman as Joel Bayron, believed to be a member of the Barangay (village) Intelligence Network. But Bayron is not known to have been arrested and charged.

6. Similarly, peasant leader Amante Abelon survived an attack by gunmen in San Marcelino, Zambales on 20 March 2006; his wife Agnes and 5-year-old son Amante Jr. were killed. Amante, who was seriously wounded, is not known to have obtained any protection since. Witnesses to the killing have not come forward to testify for fear of their lives.

7. Likewise, witnesses to the presumed abduction of activist Audie Lucero (19) who was found dead near a hospital in Barangay Capitangan, Abucay, Bataan on 13 February 2006 have obtained no protection. Lucero was last seen on February 12 together with uniformed policemen, reportedly from Balanga Police Station, accompanied by military personnel. No adequate investigation is known to have been conducted into these allegations.

8. Activist Elena Mendiola (a.k.a. Baby) and her partner Ricardo Balauag were killed on 10 May 2006 in Barangay Garit, Echague, Isabela. Elena had survived an earlier attempt on 10 March 2006, after which she was not afforded any protection by the authorities. The lack of concern for her security, despite her life obviously being in danger, cost her and her partner their lives.

These are a few among the extraordinarily large number of killings that have been documented by the AHRC and other groups in recent times. Together they speak to a total failure of the criminal investigation, witness protection and policing system of the Philippines when it comes to the lives of human rights defenders and social activists.

The Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act (6981) does not appear to be operative at all. Nor are we aware of any efforts made by the police to recommend that persons at risk be recommended to the Department of Justice as beneficiaries under this law.

Over a month since Task Force Usig was created there is no evidence of any substantial progress in its work. No results of its findings or progress of its investigations have been made public, in order that concerned persons in the Philippines and abroad be able to discuss its work and engage the government on the basis of recommendations given by the task force.

The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore urges you as the new chief of the Philippine National Police to exhaust all possible means to prevent further killings and place the investigations of earlier incidents as your foremost priority. We call upon you to make a public commitment to the victims, their families and witnesses in these cases. It is not sufficient to say that simply addressing the unrelenting killings is a part of your agenda: it must be at the TOP of your agenda. Perpetrators must be identified, arrested and prosecuted. Witnesses and families must be protected. The killings must stop.

The credibility and efficiency of your leadership and that of the Philippine National Police, not to mention your country’s reputation internationally, rests upon your response to these killings. We sincerely hope that you will take your duty in this regard with the utmost seriousness and look forward to your firm action accordingly.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

4. Alleged rights abuses by army demand full investigations, not whitewashing
AHRC-OL-035-2006, July 27, 2006

An Open Letter to the new chief of the Philippine National Police by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Director General Oscar Calderon
Chief, Philippine National Police
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City

Fax: +63 2724 8763

Dear General Calderon

PHILIPPINES: Alleged rights abuses by army demand full investigations, not whitewashing

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has read with concern your interview published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of 25 July 2006 entitled, “PNP clears Palparan on killings”. The article refers to how you have exonerated Major General Jovito Palparan, the commander of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army from allegations of serious rights violations.

As you are aware, the AHRC has sent both you and your predecessor the details of a number of alleged grave human rights violations, including killings, by Palparan and his subordinates. We have rightly sought impartial and effective investigations into these. It therefore comes as a shock to the AHRC to read the remark attributed to you that, “[Palparan] was never implicated in any of our investigations so we have never asked for his statement (regarding the allegations).”

Allow us to take a moment to remind you of some of the recent incidents attributed to troops under the command of Major General Palparan:

1. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On the night of 13 October 2005, Tomas Paras, a 47-year-old rebel returnee was arbitrarily arrested and taken away by elements of 24th Infantry Battalion, one of whom was reportedly Staff Sergeant Elizaldo Betty. He has not been seen since. No investigation is known to have been conducted.

2. TORTURE & INTIMIDATION: In November 2005, labour leader Enrico Estarez was alleged to have been threatened by an officer and men attached to the 24th Infantry Battalion in San Miguel, Bulacan. Estarez went into hiding; three of his colleagues, namely Francis Paraon, Reynaldo Pizon and Herminio Zuniga, were reportedly tortured at a military detachment. No charges are known to have been laid. Estarez and his family have not received any government-sponsored protection.

3. INTIMIDATION: Since December 2005, 54-year-old Yolanda Lorenzana, her daughter Aileen Gutierez, and her ten children have left their village in Barangay Pinaod, San Ildefonso, Bulacan, for fear of the lives due to continuous harassment by the military. Elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion led by Master Sergeant Rollie Castillo allegedly forced Yolanda to disclose the whereabouts of two men, identified as “Emon” and “Ogie”, whom they claimed to be rebels and the sons of Lorenzana. There has been no known investigation into the family’s alleged intimidation.

4. EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 16 January 2006, 61-year-old activist Ofelia Rodriguez (a.k.a. Nanay Perla) of Barangay Divisoria, Mexico, Pampanga, was shot dead by two gunmen believed to be working for the military. Prior to the murder, 2nd Lt. John Paul Nicolas, head of the 69th Infantry Battalion, allegedly threatened to kill Rodriguez and had given a gun to her neighbour in order to carry out the killing. Earlier she was reportedly forced to state that she was a rebel leader. We are not aware of any progress in the murder investigation, or inquiries about the army’s alleged role.

5. ABDUCTION & EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 31 January 2006, Allan Ibasan and Dante Salgado were found dead at a funeral home a day after they were arrested and forcibly taken in Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac, allegedly by four military men attached to the 71st Infantry Battalion. It is reported that seven other villagers were harassed, namely Glen Ibasan (17), Cesar Andaya (44), Annie Salgado, Reynaldo Reyla, Ricky Salgado, Eduardo Magallanes, Dominic Reyla. Again the soldiers are not known to have not been investigated regarding their possible involvement in the killings.

6. EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 13 February 2006, 19-year-old activist Audie Lucero was found dead in Barangay Capitangan, Abucay, Bataan, nearby a hospital where a day earlier he was seen when the building was approached by Lubao (Pampanga) Police, and then by more than ten personnel of the 24th Infantry Battalion. Yet again, there is no known investigation into the alleged connection between his killing and the security forces present at the time.

7. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE & INTIMIDATION: On 14 February 2006, villagers Reynaldo Manalo (32) and Raymond Manalo (22) of Barangay Bohol na Mangga, San Ildefonso, Bulacan were reported to have been illegally arrested by elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion headed by Master Sergeant Rollie Castillo and subsequently disappeared in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Several of their relatives, namely Jesus Manalo, his wife Ester, Reynaldo’s wife Maria Leonora, and the victims’ cousin Celeste and seven children were also reportedly threatened. Reynaldo and Raymond’s whereabouts are unknown. Again, there is no known investigation of the troops’ alleged role.

8. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On 6 March 2006, labour leader Rogelio Concepcion (36) was forcibly abducted and disappeared by armed men in Barangay Mataas na Parang, San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Witnesses allege that military men were in the area at the time of the abduction, and that Concepcion was a target due to his criticism of a military deployment inside the factory where he worked as an organiser.

9. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On 3 April 2006, 24-year-old activist Ronald Intal of Barangay Asturias, Tarlac City, was forcibly abducted and subsequently disappeared, allegedly by armed men who were seen taking him towards a military detachment in Barangay Asturias, Tarlac City, where elements of the 70th Infantry Battalion are stationed. He has not been seen since. Those allegedly involved are not known to have been investigated.

As you will agree, these are serious allegations of grave abuses committed by troops under the command of Major General Palparan. In fact, they are but some among many such allegations. Yet in effect you have reportedly cleared him of wrongdoing even without having investigated these incidents or having called him to respond to the substantial allegations of rights violations committed by his subordinates.

Regardless of whether or not Major General Palparan was directly involved in any of the alleged abuses, which remain unclear, he is ultimately answerable for the actions of his men. As you will understand very well, the principle of command responsibility is central to the maintenance of discipline in any security force. Where an officer is shown to be beyond the law by virtue of his rank, and not liable for the wrongdoing of those under his orders, it sends a message that it is impunity rather than law that rules the day. It sends a message to the victims and their families that there is no point in seeking justice. It sends a message to the perpetrators of killings, torture and abductions that they are free to continue without fear of retribution. It is therefore essential that senior officers are held to account.

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly insists that unless these and other similar allegations are adequately and effectively investigated, there can be no justification to exonerate either Major General Palparan or any of his accused subordinates. We urge you to retract your publicly reported statement freeing the major general of responsibility, and instruct your subordinates to continue with their inquiries as their top priority. They must exhaust all means possible to ensure that conclusive and strong cases are brought before the courts and the perpetrators of these serious crimes fully prosecuted.

In this, we wish to remind you of the commitment given by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address on 24 July 2006: “In the harshest possible terms I condemn political killings. We together stopped judicial executions with the abolition of the death penalty. We urge witnesses to come forward. Together we will stop extrajudicial executions.”

Extrajudicial executions and related gross abuses of human rights will only stop, and witnesses come forward, when you as the chief of police recognise that the perpetrators of killings are members of the armed forces, police, paramilitaries and persons working for them, and make as a top priority the pursuit, investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators. We urge you to do this without delay, and respond to the commitment of your president in real and unequivocal terms that will send a message to the victims and perpetrators alike that these killings and abductions will not be tolerated.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

5. Urgent need for Ombudsman to demonstrate efficiency in resolving cases
AHRC-OL-053-2006, August 25, 2006

An Open Letter to the Deputy Ombudsman of the Philippines by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Mr Orlando Casimiro
Deputy Ombudsman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and
Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO)
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman (1104)
Quezon City

Fax: + 63 2 926 8747

Dear Mr Casimiro

PHILIPPINES: Urgent need for Ombudsman to demonstrate efficiency in resolving cases

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you having learnt of your letter to the editor published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 22 July 2006, entitled “Baseless complaint vs. graft-buster”. In the last paragraph of that letter you quote the 2005 Ombdusman’s annual report in order to assert that the part of the office under your authority is “the highest performing office in terms of cases resolved”. This remark seeks to give the impression that your agency is performing well.

We regret to differ. You are surely aware that the AHRC has in recent times actively and sincerely approached your office and sought intervention on a number of serious cases involving police and military personnel. We have rightly asked you to conduct thorough investigations, recommended the filing of appropriate charges in court, the imposition of sanctions and immediate action on the cases endorsed to you for review. Regrettably, the results of these requests have not been commensurate with our efforts. Allow us to remind you of some of these:

1. Your office has failed to act on the recommendation made by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR VIII) to file multiple murder and attempted murder charges against a military major, his two sergeants and a corporal involved in the killing of nine peasants in Palo, Leyte on 21 November 2005. The Commission endorsed its findings for your review in February but your office has yet to act on it. Charges cannot be filed in court as a result.

2. You also failed to act on the recommendations made by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor to file murder and attempted murder charges against two military lieutenants and their men involved in the killing of three persons and wounding of three others in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur on 8 February 2005. The prosecutor already endorsed the findings to you on July 2005, yet you have failed to resolve the case. The military men involved have not been formally charged in court.

3. We are not aware of any response from your office to the directives of a Regional Trial Court judge on 17 May 2006 to amend the charge of murder to homicide against a military sergeant and his 31 men involved in the killings of Bacar Japalali and his wife Carmen in Tagum City during September 2004. You are aware that the case cannot proceed in court unless your office responds to the judge’s directives to determine the nature of the charges against the military.

4. We are not aware of any result of your investigation into the alleged torture of Haron Abubakar Buisan, who was arrested due to mistaken identity by policemen in General Santos City on 12 December 2005. In a letter dated 10 January 2006 you assured us that there would be “an appropriate fact finding investigation” conducted by your office. But to our knowledge there has been no action against the accused police.

5. You made similar assurances concerning the case of slain activists Jose Manegdeg III of San Esteban, Ilocos Sur; Albert Terredano of Bangued, Abra; and Cathy Alcantara of Abucay, Bataan. You have been repeatedly requested to intervene into these cases, but again we are unaware of any conclusive investigation by your office. The perpetrators of these killings– alleged to have been state personnel or persons linked to them–have not even been identified, let alone arrested and charged.

We believe that you will agree with us that any claims of efficiency and high standards of performance by any government office, in particular yours, must be reflected of how this performance contributes to upholding the public interest. Where your office is concerned, there is a special obligation to meet the interests of the victims and family members who are seeking redress for the wrongful acts of military and law-enforcement officers.

When victims are denied speedy disposition of their cases due to inaction and unnecessary delays, while in the meantime they are forced to endure constant threats and insecurity, any public office responsible for this situation is not worthy of citation as “high performing”.  Only when the needs and interests of these persons and the public are fully met can such praise be given.

For the time being we must withhold any such praise from your office. However, we remain hopeful that this situation may change. We look forward to your office effectively and efficiently dealing with all of the abovementioned cases, as all cases of alleged gross violations by army and police officers that come to its attention, in order to fulfil public expectations as well as those of the parties with a direct interest. We will continue to submit cases to your office and will judge your performance not by numbers in an annual report but by what we clear action we can see in response to these.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

6. HRC Commissioner exhibits lack of concern for human rights crisis in the country
AHRC-OL-062-2006, November 6, 2006

An Open letter to the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Mrs. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP)
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City

Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188

Dear Commissioner Quisumbing,

PHILIPPINES: HRC Commissioner exhibits lack of concern for human rights crisis in the country

We are writing to you regarding the position you have taken, as reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 4, 2006, following the Philippines’ election on November 2, 2006, as a member of the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Philippines received the most votes in the election, gaining 188 out of 192 votes. 18 seats to the 54-member Council were being contested in this election.

You were quoted as having lauded Ambassador Lauro Baja Jr., the permanent representative of the Philippines to the UN for [his] “engineering an exceptional win for the Philippines, despite criticisms and negative reports from non-governmental organizations and the media.” Your remarks seem to discredit NGOs and the media for any “negative” reports concerning the country’s human rights record and imply that these reports are unhelpful, and this despite the unquestionable fact that a large number of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances are being perpetrated in the country.

While it can be said that the election of the Philippines to the ECOSOC Council is a victory at the diplomatic level for the country, this should not be seen as a vindication of the Philippines’ human rights record or a laundering thereof.

Having taken this position, can you confirm that you believe that the government’s current human rights record enables it to have the credibility and reputation required to represent the global community? Are you convinced that the government is in fact conducting itself in line with the highest standards concerning the implementation of human rights recognized in the International Covenants and Conventions to which the Philippines is party? Are you of the opinion that the government is effectively implementing its laws on economic and social reform, more specifically the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8425), Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 (RA 6657) and Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279)?

Furthermore, do you claim that your office has adequate capacity and the Constitutional mandate to investigate, seek justice and provide compensation for human rights victims involving economic and social rights?

We are disappointed by the position you have taken, since we do not believe that the situation of human rights in the Philippines is in any way a matter that can be celebrated, or that the Philippines can be considered as a credible ambassador of human rights at the international level. The attack on the credibility and roles of NGOs and the media from a person in your position is a serious concern. We strongly believe that the above questions require clear answers, in light of your recent comments. It would be interesting to understand how you can characterize the situation in the country as anything other than “negative” at present.

We would also like to draw your attention to why we believe the Philippines, under the current administration, does not deserve its ECOSOC seat or its membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

Extra-judicial killings and disappearance of social activists continue unabated

The relentless extra-judicial killing and forced disappearance as well as the continuing threats to activists and leaders from various sectors, including peasants seeking genuine land reform, fisher folks, the urban poor, labour groups and indigenous peoples’ groups, are a stark manifestation not only of the government’s inability to protect the lives of its citizens but also the undue punishment of those who seek to protect them. You are aware of the number of cases sent to your office and the fact that most of the perpetrators of these acts have not been identified, arrested and charged in court. In cases where suspects or perpetrators have been identified, there are rarely arrests and, even when there are, such cases are showing little or no progress in court. The activists and leaders facing threats, along with their families, have not been afforded any meaningful protection. The continuing insecurity of witnesses of killings and the families of the deceased is preventing the effective prosecution of perpetrators in court.

Ineffective implementation of poverty alleviation, agrarian reform and urban poor development laws

On Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8425):

In September 2005, we sent you hunger-related cases from General Santos City, the Municipality of Alabel in Sarangani and Guindolungan, Maguindanao. These cases involve hunger-related deaths, severe malnutrition, villagers being forced to eat poisonous frogs for lack of food, children forced to sleep with empty stomachs and villagers facing continuing threats of hunger due to sporadic fighting. Although interventions were made on this, the AHRC is unaware of any sustained support afforded to the affected families to combat the hunger and malnutrition. In fact, the family of an infant who died due to severe malnutrition in General Santos City is still experiencing hunger and extreme poverty to date.

Even the creation of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), which was mandated under Section 5 of RA 8425, to formulate and review policies on poverty-reduction, has had no significant positive impact on the lives of the majority of its planned beneficiaries. The rising number of hunger incidents all over the country underlines thee ineffective implementation of the NAPC’s poverty-reduction and social reform program.

On Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 (RA 6657):

After RA 6657 was enacted, most of the land reform beneficiaries have not been able to claim land ownership as provided for by the land reform law. Peasants and land reform beneficiaries are killed and harassed almost daily for asserting their Constitutional rights to land ownership. Some of the land reform beneficiaries were even only made aware of the law years after it was enacted. This is true of the cases of farm beneficiaries in Bondoc Peninsula in the province of Quezon, in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and in Balasan, Iloilo, as well as in other similar cases of farmers seeking genuine land reform around the country.

On Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279):

Although this law requires that relocation sites should be made available before urban poor villages are demolished, in practice, they are not. The AHRC is aware of a number of cases where urban poor villages have been illegally and violently demolished, with villagers being denied relocation sites and losing their livelihood due to these forced evictions. Take the case we sent to your offices regarding the settlers in Dacudao Compound in Agdao, Davao City in March 2005 and in Mactan, Lapu-lapu City in September 2006. These state-perpetrated forced evictions have had a significant negative impact on the lives of the affected settlers. They were not provided with relocation sites, compensation or alternative means of making a livelihood in order to ensure their subsistence. This is a further illustration of the government’s complete disregard for its citizens’ rights to adequate housing and economic rights.

Alongside these issues, the AHRC is also concerned that the Human Rights Commission does not have the Constitutional mandate to intervene with regard to economic, social and cultural rights violations. We are aware that Article XIII, Section 18 (1) of the Philippine Constitution stipulates that “the [Commission on Human Rights] investigates “violations involving civil and political rights”. While we appreciate that there have been efforts by the Commission to include investigation on economic, social and cultural rights violations, we are deeply concerned by its lack of a Constitutional mandate to carry out these activities. We strongly believe that unless the Commission has had a clear mandate it cannot effectively function and perform its duties. We are aware that the Commission’s ability to investigate violations of economic and social rights is restricted by mandate limitations. The capabilities of the Commission’s investigators concerning labour and agrarian related cases are not satisfactory.

How can the Commission perform its duties and function effectively with regard to economic, social and cultural rights when it has no Constitutional mandate to do so? What is the Commission doing to have this situation changed?

The AHRC is seriously concerned by your comments, notably as they appear to brand the media and NGOs as disruptive and “negative” forces when they take up human rights issues. The media and the NGOs play a significant role in the protection and promotion of human rights and in attempts to make the authorities accountable for their actions where violations occur. These activities should be welcomed by the Human Rights Commission, if it is indeed itself engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights in good faith. It is vital that the Human Rights Commission fulfill its mandate in a transparent and independent manner if it is to be of any value to the people of the Philippines – not just to the country’s authorities.

We trust that you will give serious consideration to these matters and will make a public statement of acknowledgement of the gravity of the human rights situation in the country and the importance of the roles of the free press and NGOs with regard to human rights and the creation of a just and humane society in the Philippines.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

7. The national information agency is not a mouthpiece for police propaganda
AHRC-OL-003-2007, January 19, 2006

An Open Letter to the Director of the Philippine Information Agency by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Secretary Condrado A. Limcaoco, Jr.
Philippine Information Agency (PIA)
PIA Building, Visayas Avenue, Diliman
Quezon City, Metro Manila

Tel: +63 2 920 4386
Fax: +63 2 920 1224

Dear Secretary Limcaoco

PHILIPPINES: The national information agency is not a mouthpiece for police propaganda

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you regarding the press release issued by the Philippine Information Agency on January 12 entitled, “PNP clarifies case of Herman Baria before Asian Human Rights Commission”. The press release consisted entirely of remarks by Police Chief Superintendent Geary L. Barias denying any wrongdoing by his subordinates in the killing of Hernan Baria and wounding of Romeo Catalan in Iloilo on 23 July 2005, and contained attacks on the AHRC for its call that there should be an independent inquiry into the incident.

The AHRC is outraged by the contents of this press release. While state officials are perfectly entitled to defend themselves against allegations of human rights abuses, it is not the responsibility of your agency to distribute such defences on their behalf. You are not public relations officers for the police. If they wish to respond, they have their own channels, and the concerned officers may hire legal counsel and obtain other support from the institutions established to assist them. The PIA Charter spells out its mission as “to provide for free flow of accurate, timely and relevant information” in order “to assist people in decision-making and identification of opportunities to improve quality of life” and “to enable citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic processes”. How have any of these functions been fulfilled by your distributing the police account of events that lead to the death of a person, which has never been independently verified?

By giving an entirely one-sided account of the killing and wounding, the press release impliedly validated the police account of what happened to the two victims, without your agency having the means or authority by which to verify the facts. In effect, your office has pre-empted the courts on matters over which they alone have jurisdiction: that is, to judge whether or not the police operation was “legitimate” as claimed, and whether or not any offences have been committed. It is for this purpose that the AHRC issued its appeal on the case: that there might be a credible, independent investigation by the concerned authorities followed by the necessary judicial intervention. Until this much is done, upon what grounds does your agency have any right to issue press releases on behalf of the police? Without this much being done, what part of your press release could be deemed “accurate”?

By reproducing what amounts to a factually erroneous rebuttal of some serious allegations against the police, your agency’s credibility has been severely damaged, as has that of the entire Philippine administration. It casts serious doubts on the sincerity of the state to afford redress to victims of killings, disappearances, torture and other gross abuses in the Philippines. It further isolates victims and their families, and boosts the impunity and fear that is spreading throughout the country. It also undermines the role of the justice system and increases public distrust in the capacity of the state to respond to the very grave human rights abuses that are going on constantly in the Philippines.

Your agency has a crucial role and great responsibility to the people of the Philippines. On this occasion you have somehow confused that role with the acting as a mouthpiece for police propaganda. The Asian Human Rights Commission urges you to rescue your reputation and restore some confidence in the work of the government of the Philippines on human rights issues by

1. Retracting the January 12 press release and issuing a public apology to the families of the victims without delay.

2. Conducting an inquiry to establish and discipline the person or persons in your office responsible for the press release.

3. Undertaking that no further such press releases will be issued in the future and that reporting by the agency will in fact be based upon facts rather than one-sided and unproven statements from the police or any other state officers.

The credibility and reputation of any media institution–be it public or private–depends on the accuracy, fairness and independence of its reporting. While your agency is justified in concentrating its reports on the work of state officials and their offices, you cannot afford to confuse this legitimate exercise with becoming an accomplice to contrived and manipulated information aimed at exonerating authorities from wrongdoing or achieving other dubious ends. Do not allow yourselves to be used. If you make that mistake, you will loose the trust of the public in the Philippines and very many other interested persons and organisations beyond its borders, and become known as nothing other than a mouthpiece for state propaganda.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

8. Retract statement justifying killing & order impartial investigation
AHRC-OL-004-2007, January 23, 2007

An Open Letter to the chief of the Philippine National Police by the Asian Human Rights Commission

General Oscar Calderon
Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City

Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
Fax: +63 2724 8763

Dear General Calderon

PHILIPPINES: Retract statement justifying killing & order impartial investigation

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to express our outrage at a recent statement by a senior police officer issued through the Philippine Information Agency asserting that the killing and wounding respectively of two men was due to a “legitimate police operation”, and to call for a retraction of the statements and a proper investigation into the incident, as demanded by human rights defenders in the Philippines and our organisation.

On January 12, the national information agency issued a press release quoting former Police Regional Office 6 director Chief Superintendent Geary Barias justifying the killing and wounding of two agrarian reform activists, Hernando Baria and Romeo Catalan, on 23 July 2005 in Balasan, Iloilo. The release goes on to accuse the AHRC of spreading false information about the incident.

The AHRC flatly rejects Barias’ assertions and demands that the Philippine National Police makes clear on what grounds and in what capacity he was making his remarks. No mention is made in the statement of any independent investigation ever having been conducted, as called for by our organisation. Nor is there any indication of under whose authority or in what capacity Barias was making the comments.

Whether the operation was legitimate and can be justified or not is in no way a matter for concerned the police to decide. Those police stand as the accused and comments in defence by the alleged perpetrators or their superiors are of relevance only inasmuch that they may be taken in evidence by independent investigators, and weighed against other statements and evidence by a judicial authority.

In October 2006 we in fact called upon you to order a fresh investigation into this incident. We are unaware of any impartial or independent investigation since that time. Therefore, the statement of January 12 through the official government mouthpiece amounts to nothing more than an attempt by the former commander of the accused to exonerate his own men and whitewash the case.

We take this opportunity to remind you of just some of the irregularities surrounding the incident, none of which were ever addressed in the Philippine Information Agency’s release:

1. Incorrect search warrant
The Regional Trial Court, Branch 66 in Iloilo issued a search warrant for “Herman Baria”, not Hernando Baria, the deceased victim. Under the rules of criminal procedure, valid warrants must carry the correct names of persons concerned. In this case the “legitimate police operation” was carried out on an invalid warrant, making it illegal.

2. Terms of warrant breached
The court granted the warrant to search the house of “Herman Baria” but the police used it to search a farmers’ training centre, entering around midnight and allegedly failing to identify themselves properly. A copy of the warrant also was not given to the concerned parties until 9am the following morning, although colleagues of the victims had arrived on the scene some six hours earlier.

3. False claim against victims
In his statement, Barias maintains that, “This police operation was a response to the request for protection by local residents against harassment by armed groups of land owner Susan Bedio [sic].” In fact, the victims were members of the Asao Farmers and Residents Association, which has been lobbying for Bedro’s landholdings to be turned over to peasants under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The claim that they could have been working for Bedro is wholly inconsistent with reality.

4. No protection given to victims
Baria and Catalan had reportedly been requesting police protection prior to the incident, without success. The failure to respond to their requests constitutes a serious violation of the Memorandum of Agreement of 3 May 1995 between the police, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Agrarian Reform, which obliges the police to render assistance to maintain peace and order in land reform cases (reiterated in Joint Circular No. 05-02).

5. Questionable evidence
The police claim to have recovered firearms and ammunitions from the two victims, but have not produced any independent and verifiable evidence to counter claims that they planted the weapons themselves. Nor are we aware of any other substantive evidence that would demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of either of the two men.

6. Inconsistent reports
According to the information received by the AHRC, the police seizure report states that Catalan was “not around” when the initial search was conducted. But the January 12 press release acknowledges that the operation resulted in the “wounding of Romeo Catalan”. Furthermore, it states that he is now “facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and armed resistance”. However, Catalan has never received any summons informing him of these or other charges. If charges have been laid, why has the respondent not been informed?

The Asian Human Rights Commission stands by our original demand that you order an impartial and independent investigation into this case and see its findings submitted to a judicial authority. It furthermore calls upon you to take disciplinary action against Chief Superintendent Geary Barias for his premature public defence of his subordinates, which amounts to a completely unacceptable breach of police conduct, and demands that his statement be retracted and an apology issued.

The unrelenting extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and lack of effective independent investigations where police are allegedly to have been involved are a cause for growing international alarm. Greater scrutiny is leading to more and more questions about the actual intentions of the authorities to address these killings. Your action is needed to prevent whitewashing and ensure that the families of victims, survivors and witnesses obtain the justice that they deserve, as well as to protect the credibility and reputation of your agency and the government of the Philippines.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

[Note: Since this letter was published the AHRC was made aware that Chief Superintendent Geary Barias is now head of Task Force Usig, the unit responsible for investigating alleged extrajudicial killings.]

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