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Amnesty Int’l warns of resurgence in extrajudicial killings

by Pesante-USA Thursday, May. 29, 2008 at 4:37 AM 213-241-0906

Amnesty International (AI) warned Wednesday that killings and abductions of left-wing activists in the country could surge again this year unless the government seriously prosecutes perpetrators. In its 2008 report on worldwide human rights, AI noted that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances across the country dipped last year due to international pressure.

Amnesty Int’l warns of resurgence in extrajudicial killings

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 19:27:00 05/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Amnesty International (AI) warned Wednesday that killings and abductions of left-wing activists in the country could surge again this year unless the government seriously prosecutes perpetrators.

In its 2008 report on worldwide human rights, AI noted that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances across the country dipped last year due to international pressure.

But the international rights watchdog observed that "few prosecutions were brought against those responsible for political killings and disappearances.''

In a rare instance, AI said, police filed murder charges against two soldiers for the 2006 killing of pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa in Albay, but these were subsequently dropped for lack of evidence.

"We fear that if there is no real prosecution of perpetrators it will not be farfetched to think there can be a resurgence of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,'' AI Philippines section director Aurora Parong said.

"There should be faster prosecution of perpetrators,'' she added.

According to AI, there were 33 victims of extrajudicial killings in 2007, down from 61 to 96 cases the previous year, while there were only several victims of disappearance last year.

These included the March 10 killing of Bayan Muna (People First) party-list member Siche Bustamante Gandinao, who campaigned against human rights violations in Misamis Oriental and who testified before the United Nations on the killing of her father-in-law, Dalmacio Gandinao, also a Bayan Muna member.

The decrease was an offshoot of the international pressure on the government to put a stop to extrajudicial executions following a visit by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to investigate the killings and disappearances, AI said.

While the number of cases decreased in 2007, AI noted that "life for activists and many others was colored'' by fear of execution and abduction.

The link between the military and political killings was "further established'' last year by national and international institutions, while there was strong opposition to the granting of more powers to the police and military under the anti-terrorism law, the group added.

"Public concern about political killings and disappearances mounted in 2007,'' Parong said, pointing to the summit on extrajudicial killings called by Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

This year, periodic political killings of leftist activists continued. They included the killing of trade unionist Gerardo Cristobal in March, the group said.

"In 2008 we have been informed that more than 80 cases were brought to court, but until now still we are waiting for justice to become a reality for victims and families of extrajudicial killings,'' Parong said.

Parong urged Malacañang, Congress and the judiciary to join forces in putting an end to the impunity with which the killings and disappearances were being carried out.

"Resurgence of human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances is not a far-fetched scenario if impunity remains. The survivors of martial law must not be made to die waiting for justice,'' she said.

Parong proposed that the government improve its witness protection program (WPP) in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, appoint competent judges to handle such cases, and exclude activists from its counter-insurgency program, among others.

"The witness protection program must be improved and command responsibility for human rights violations must be pursued. There must be a safeguard that unarmed civilians are not targeted within the counterinsurgency policy,'' she said.

"No stones should be left unturned to ensure justice to prevail in our nation,'' she added.

Parong said that the WPP was "so poor'' that the brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo refused to be placed under it and "be sheltered'' by the same government agencies who have a "bearing on their cases.''

The Court of Appeals recognized the involvement of retired Army general Jovito Palparan in the 2006 abduction of the Manalo brothers, according to AI.

"There are so many laws related to various aspects of human rights, which are just paper victories for people. Enforcement is the key aspect that needs to be done here in country,'' Parong said.

Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima agreed: ``There are many domestic laws on the protection of human rights. But there's lack of appreciation by people in the grassroots; they can’t grasp what are those rights.''

She said she was reviving the barangay (village) action center to educate barangay residents on their rights and to receive complaints on rights violations.

Parong also expressed concern over the appointment of former Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon as presidential adviser on the peace process, noting that killings and disappearances surged during his watch.

"One problem is the appointment of Esperon to the OPAP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. We're just hoping against hope that the presence of General Esperon will not be a big obstacle to the continuation of peace processes in the country,'' she said.

In 2007, arrests and detention of activists and progressive lawmakers, including the late Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran, continued. The Human Security Act was also passed, but so far, no one was charged for violation of this law.

"It remains as a Damocles sword above the heads of people,'' Parong said of the anti-terror law.

In the same year, talks between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front resumed but "with limited progress'' due to disagreement on the definition of ancestral domain, according to AI.

Talks with the communist rebels remain suspended.

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