Tuesday, March 13, 2007

PHILIPPINES: Rotten criminal justice system victimizes every Filipino

HK-based center/consultant to UN: GMA political will key to protection of Filipinos’ rights

RP criminal justice system ‘rotten’


By Michaela P. del Callar

Daily Tribune 04/02/2007

The “rotten criminal justice system” in the Philippines has caused the country’s failure to deliver justice to Filipinos and contributed to local widespread human rights violations.

This assessment is contained in a report of the Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), an independent regional non-government organization holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) of the United Nations of which the Philippines is a member and elected as vice president.

The 192-page report, made available recently, urges the government of President Arroyo to exercise political will for the protection of human rights in the Philippines.

It cites how the police and courts fail to investigate and solve various human rights violations because of the lack of sincerity of probers, despite well-established institutions in the country.

At the same time, ALRC calls for the government to reform the criminal justice system and fulfil the promises it made to the Filipinos in the laws.

“Institutions alone are not enough, political will is

needed for human rights protection, that is what the Philippines lacks,” Prof. Michael Davis from the Chinese University of Hong Kong says.

Commenting on the report, Basil Fernando, executive director of a Hong Kong-based regional rights group, says he believes that the Philippines has one of the best Constitutions “but the criminal justice system is subverted.”

“Not only activists are targeted, common people also suffer. The entire people of the Philippines are targeted under this rotten system. Even in a case of common murder, it is unlikely that any investigation or prosecution is carried out,” Fernando adds.

The report contains 110 cases of killing, torture, disappearance, abduction, illegal arrest and intimidation, which the Asian Human Rights Commission, a sister organization of ALRC, has documented since 2004.

Among the cases, 81 of them related to killing, but none of them has been solved.

According to ALRC, “command irresponsibility,” the non-existent witness protection program, the bias of state officers toward victims and their families and the irregularities in investigation and prosecution are major obstacles to resolving extra-judicial killings.”

As part of its recommendations, ALRC calls for the setting up of an independent commission to review the criminal justice system, implementation of the witness and victim protection scheme and strengthening of investigation agencies handling complaints against the military and police.

“The military should be held responsible what they do, the (Philippine) government has responsibility under international human rights law to do so,” Davis says.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has held the military responsible for most of the killings in a preliminary report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week but the Philippine government has rejected his findings.

Last Friday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo belittled Alston’s report, echoing the military line that the Arroyo administration has documents and witnesses to prove that local communist guerrillas are responsible for the extra-judicial executions.

“The government has documented instances (of killings) — the witnesses, including purges and specific charges (against) some people,” Romulo said.

He even claimed that the Philippines has received strong support and praises from the international community, particularly the European Union, for its adherence to human rights practices.

In a preliminary note presented before the 4th session of the UNHRC, Alston said an “order of battle” approach against communist insurgents is currently adopted and practiced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“A copy of a leaked document of this type from 2006 was provided to me and I am aware of no reason to doubt its authenticity,” he stressed as he asked the Philippine government to provide him a copy of the paper.

In military terms, an order of battle, Alston explained, is defined as an organizational tool used by military intelligence to list and analyze its enemy unit.

He said the document, co-signed by senior military and police officials, calls upon “all members of the intelligence community in the (relevant) region... to adopt and be guided by this update to enhance a more comprehensive and concerted effort against the CPP-NPA/NDF (Communists Party of the Philippines- New People’s Army/ National Democratic Front).”

Alston added the document, some 110 pages, lists hundreds of groups and individuals who have been classified on the basis of intelligence as members of organizations that the military deems “illegitimate.”

Poor folk in the country’s Northern Luzon region have apparently been classified as such.

In Nueva Vizcaya province, residents of a remote mountain town are said to be cowering in fear from alleged threats and harassments being committed the past weeks by elements of the Philippine Army.

Provincial officials yesterday said residents in Alfonso Castañeda had reported that Army elements from the 48th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division (ID) are practically lording it over the town and sowing fear and intimidation among the people, stressing that those who refuse to cooperate with them are accused of being communist sympathizers.

The provincial officials led by Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma denounced the reported abuses of elements of the 48th IB in Alfonso Castañeda, saying they would report the atrocities to Mrs. Arroyo.

“I am sure the President would not countenance such atrocities,” Cuaresma, a member of Partido Abante Nueva Vizcaya, said.

According to Alfonso Castañeda Mayor Alfredo Castillo Jr., the residents have begun abandoning their homes for fear of threats and intimidations from the Army.

Castillo himself is in hiding due to alleged threats on his life by some Army elements in the area.

“My constituents keep on sending text messages to us about Army abuses on them. They are being harassed or branded as communist sympathizers if they refuse to give in to their demands, including attending meetings with them,” he said.

The mayor also accused certain Army officials of direct politicking by urging the residents not to vote for or reelect some supposedly corrupt incumbent local officials.

This accusation was apparently bolstered by a recent public meeting of the 48th IB’s special operation team on counter-insurgency wherein an Army officer engaged in name-calling, singling out Castillo and other local officials as thieves.

The residents said the local police seemed helpless, with the Army practically dealing even with petty crimes.

But the Army officials assigned in the area vehemently denied the alleged harassments, even asking the crowd during a public meeting on communism by the special action team whether the reported harassments were true.

Col. Joselito Kakilala, commanding officer of the 48th IB, based in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, said the Army was not engaging in direct politicking and harassments.

According to Kakilala, his men were merely engaged in an anti-insurgency drive to ensure the defeat of the Maoist New People’s Army by 2010.

Army higher-ups, when apprised of the residents’ accusations, said they are ready to investigate the reported atrocities of the Army personnel conducting the anti-insurgency campaign in Alfonso Castañeda,

The town can be reached by a four-hour land trip via San Jose City and the towns of Rizal and Pantabangan in Nueva Ecija.

According to Lt. Gen.Bonifacio Gomez, commanding general of the 7th ID based in Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City, also in Nueva Ecija, he would ensure that there would be no whitewash of any investigations of the abuses allegedly committed by his men from the 48th IB.

“We will initiate an independent investigation in addition to that to be conducted through the chain of command to verify the findings. Aside from this, my men and the local officials had already talked about the problem,” Gomez said.

Ted Boehnert

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