[From the web] UPDATE (Philippines): Ombudsman claims no obligation to protect complainants, witnesses – AHRC

Dear friends,

Despite our appeal, the Office of the Ombudsman also ceased its intervention into the disappearance of three mining activists who were forcibly abducted. The Ombudsman was asked to use its authority to protect the families of the victims and witnesses, as a requirement in pursuing the prosecution of the soldiers involved, but they claimed they neither have the obligation nor resources to do so.

DETAILS OF TERMINATED CASES:

In June 2010, we issued an appeal on this case (AHRC-UAC-076-2010) to draw attention to the disappearance of three mining activists, namely Ronron Landingin, Jinky Garcia and Daryl Fortuna. They were abducted on 9 March 2010 by five unknown persons armed with pistols from their homes in Barangay (village) Inhobol, Masinloc.

On March 12, 2010, the whereabouts of the disappeared victims became known to the villagers. Persons fitting their descriptions had been seen them in the custody of the 24th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army (PA) with their hands cuffed. On 15 March 2010 the parents of Ronron were able to speak to him via his mobile phone, and he told them that he believed that the soldiers had taken him to Pangasinan, another province.

In our letter to the Ombudsman, being the body investigating violations committed by the members of the security forces, we asked them to use their authority to ensure that the relatives of the victims were given protection, as it is necessary before any criminal prosecution could proceed; and also to protect the witnesses who have personal knowledge –the victims’ whereabouts and who took custody of them.

JUSTIFYING THE CLOSURE

In this case, Danilo Remonte, graft prevention and control officer of the Office of the Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO), wrote in his Final Report (full text of the report) dated July 7, 2010, that: “the instant Request for Assistance (RAS) be considered CLOSED and TERMINATED”.

As quoted verbatim, Remonte argued in justifying his report that:

“The AHRC is urging this Office to ensure the protection of the families of the victims and their witnesses considering that without such protection, the pursuit of legal action may become untenable…

It is quite unfortunate that this Office neither has the resources nor the logistics to accommodate the above request of the AHRC.

RA 6981, otherwise known as “Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act” and its implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) is under the exclusive administration of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Thus the foregoing request of the AHRC must necessarily be referred to the same.”

COMMENTS: “OMBUDSMAN HAS OBLIGATION TO PROTECT”

The AHRC is well aware that it is the Department of Justice (DoJ) who administers and implements the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981). In our previous reports, we have examined in detail how the law lacks provisions to meet the needs of the witnesses and how the Act is applied in reality.

For further reading: Reforms required to protect witnesses in the Philippines.

In this case however, the protection that we asked the Ombudsman should take action on is not limited to the provision to section 3 of RA 6981, which defines the conditions on who qualifies for “Admission into the Program”.

The families of victims Daryl Fortuna and Jinky Garcia, whom we already mentioned in our correspondence to the Ombudsman to have “expressed willingness to pursue the case but unless protection and security are assured for relatives and witnesses, the case will not progress in the courts”, do not qualify for Admission into the programme.

Therefore, it was pointless for the Ombudsman that the “request of the AHRC must necessarily be referred to the same” since they are not qualified anyway. While the DoJ could not accommodate protection, contrary to the Ombudsman’s claims that protection to the families was the “exclusive administration” of the DoJ, the Ombudsman has the legal obligation to protect the witnesses.

Under the Ombudsman Act of 1989, section 32, on Rights and Duties of Witness, the Ombudsman could “furnish him such security for his person and his family as may be warranted by the circumstances. For this purpose, the Ombudsman may, at its expense, call upon any police or constabulary unit to provide the said security”

Therefore, there should have been no question as to whether or not the Ombudsman has the jurisdiction or could use its resources for this purpose; or, that only the DoJ has the legal obligation to do so. The protection of witnesses is not the exclusive jurisdiction of the DoJ; and the Ombudsman has the legal obligation to protect complainants and the families of victims who are fearful for their lives but do not qualify under the RA 6981.

The Ombudsman, as required by section 26 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989, has the legal obligation to protect the interest of the complainants, purposely to: “Inquiries: 3(c) correct the omission; and (e) take any other steps as may be necessary under the circumstances to protect and preserve the rights of the complainant”.

Also, apart from protecting the families of the disappeared and the witnesses, the Ombudsman should have also taken action into the complaint of the AHRC about the failure of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to make public the results of their investigation. When the investigation was conducted on this case, there was no information as to whether or not the soldiers involved have been imposed with sanctions.

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)
AHRC Philippines page: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/philippines

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4 thoughts on “[From the web] UPDATE (Philippines): Ombudsman claims no obligation to protect complainants, witnesses – AHRC

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