Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Philippines: US State Department Annual Human Rights Report

RP ‘climate of impunity’ scored in annual rights report

ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C. - The US State Department released Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) its annual human rights report, citing among others, the Philippines for the “climate of impunity” in the murder of journalists, churchmen and political activists.

“Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture,” the report said.

The report was prepared by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “During the year there were a number of arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings apparently by elements of the security services and of political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors.”

The report comes amid mounting international pressure against the Arroyo administration. Last month, several Northern California religious leaders met with Jennifer Tang, a staff of California Sen. Barbara Boxer about alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Boxer is the new chairperson of the East Asian Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

One of the complainants, Presbyterian Rev. Larry Emery of Sacramento, California alleged he and other church members were detained by the military while visiting a rural village on a humanitarian mission last year. They were accused of being rebel sympathizers. Emery claimed the only reason they were not harmed was because he was an American citizen.

But the State Department report also assailed the New People’s Army for the use of landmines and suggested they were behind some of the activists’ murders.

The said the “climate of impunity” was bred in part by “widely held and accurate public perception” that the 115,000-man Philippine National Police (PNP) was corrupt.

“Members of the PNP were regularly accused of torture, of soliciting bribes, and of other illegal acts,” it noted, adding though that, “Efforts were underway to reform the institution in part to counter a widespread impression of official impunity”.

The report said that while PNP officers appear to be receptive to respecting human rights, “rank-and-file awareness… remained inadequate”.

The report noted that while the Arroyo administration “attempted interference in the freedom of the press and right of assembly” during the weeklong State of Emergency early last year, “the government generally respected these rights in practice”.

“The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Broadcast and print media were freewheeling and often criticized for lacking rigorous journalistic ethics,” it averred.

“They tended to reflect the particular political or economic orientations of owners, publishers, or patrons, some of whom were close associates of present or past high-level officials.”

But it was more critical of the violent assault on media practitioners. “In some situations,” the report showed, “it was difficult to discern if violence against journalists was carried out in retribution for their profession or if these journalists were the victims of random crime.”

Among the incidents named in the report were the killings of environmental activist Elpidio dela Victoria in Cebu; CPP-NDF leader Sotero Llamas in Albay; Alice Claver, wife of Bayan Muna leader Constancio Claver in an ambush in Kalinga province (Constancio was himself wounded in the attack); and Methodist church pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa in Albay.

The report also noted the lack of progress in the prosecution of suspects in the killing of striking workers at Hacienda Luisita; the March 2005 murder of Bayan Muna coordinator Felidito Dacut; and the deaths of United Church of Christ pastors in May and August 2005.

The report relied on the NGO Kabataan Consortium when it said at least 76 people were liquidated by vigilantes in Davao City last year; another 70 in Cebu. But the report added the killings appear to have popular support because the victims allegedly had ties to crime in the area.

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