Six suggestions to improve the criminal justice system of the Philippines

Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong

The Asian Legal Resource Centre and Asian Human Rights Commission call for the following steps to be taken as top priorities in order to address the grave problems afflicting the criminal justice system of the Philippines, which deeply undermine the possibility of all persons in the country obtaining their fundamental human rights and cause a loss of respect and expectations in the role of institutions for the rule of law in the Philippines and the functioning of the state itself.

1. An independent commission be established with the guidance and technical support of key United Nations agencies and other international bodies, comprising of senior judges, competent jurists, reputed academics and representatives from civil society, including human rights organizations, to undertake a comprehensive review of the country’s criminal justice system, and specifically the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases, by way of public consultations and other relevant methods, in order to identify defects and hindrances and make full recommendations to the government and notify the public of the same, in full, within six months.

2. In the interim, both the Department of Justice and Philippine National Police clarify and widely publicise a rational, accessible and comprehensive system of witness and victim protection in accordance with the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981), together with an explicit set of operational guidelines for police that clearly stipulate officers’ duties to provide protection and spell out the sanctions that will be taken against officers failing to comply. A full review of the implementation and limitations of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act must be included as part of the work of the abovementioned independent commission.

3. The strengthening of agencies for the receipt, investigation and prosecution of complaints against police and military officials to ensure that grievances by the victims are properly addressed and acted upon and that complainants obtain adequate protection, and interim measures immediately introduced by which to hold police accountable, through an explicit set of sanctions, for cases that have been filed in court that are found to have been deliberately fabricated.

4. The use of labelling by the armed forces and other agencies be brought to an immediate end by an explicit directive from the government that the practice is prohibited and that officials found responsible for such practices will be removed from their positions and investigated for criminal liability in subsequent killings, attempted killings or other incidents that may have occurred in consequence.

5. The findings of the Melo Commission be followed by immediate investigations and prosecutions of persons identified as responsibile for extrajudicial killings and other abuses, whether directly or by virtue of command responsibility.

6. The enactment of domestic laws and establishing of implementing agencies in accordance with the requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signing of the new International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, implementation of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee of December 2003 and issuance of a standing invitation to all United Nations human rights experts to visit the country.

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