[Statement] The next year: a breakthrough or a breakdown against impunity

Photo by PAHRA


The first year of a newly elected presidency is often described as “necessarily a time of transition, of learning the proverbial ropes…..”. Last week, an editorial in Philippine Daily Inquirer even went to the extent of saying that “ President Aquino’s first achievement is to inaugurate, slowly, perhaps not too steadily, but also surely, the post-Arroyo era”. For the human rights victims and the human rights defenders, this is farthest from the truth.

Last December 22, 2010, President Aquino launched the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or “Bayanihan”to replace the Operation BantayLaya. The name Bayanihanfor the new plan was deliberate since the new security agenda claims focus  “for a multi-stakeholder approach to peace and security plan and the protection of our rights and liberties”. In his cover letter for the Bayanihan document, the President stated that the IPSP “opens up space for the involvement of the Filipino people in defining, shaping, and ensuring our peace and security as a nation”. A new paradigm shift is in the offing.

With good faith, we took the challenge of the new President. We entered into multi-sectoral dialogues and human rights case conferences together with the top Human Rights Officers of the AFP and the PNP and some of their high ranking territorial commanders.  Agreements were made and these buoyed high spirits in the speedy resolution of human rights cases.  In the case conference, the Commission on Human Rights pointed out to both the AFP and PNP that the delay in the submission of copies of the agreed reports  would also hinder the speedy resolution of the human rights violations presented in the said conference. Since March 2010, no copies  were submitted to the CHR.

The much delayed NAPOLCOM investigation on Col. Mukaram’s role in the first torture case under Pres. Aquino’s regime in August last year and the snail-paced preliminary investigation of state prosecutors in Pampanga are insults for the human rights victims and the relatives. All these dragging paper trails are justified as necessary documentation to ensure the speedy resolution of the cases filed. What an irony!

The decision to  move and form the Truth Commission to unravel the extent of corruption of the past regime and consequently, send the culprits  to the jail is most welcome.  The judicious use of people’s money should always  be ensured at all times.But far more significantly stolen from the national wealth are lives of our people, Filipinos who died, no thanks to the security forced initiated political  killings and other human rights violations. For  human lives always takes precedence over the millions of pesos.

The current President has been indecisive and glaringly wanting in this direction. Victims of extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, illegal arrests and torture during the past regime still clamor for justice. Not one of these cases has been solved and the perpetuators still roam free.

Subverting his own inaugural promise to adhere to the rule of law and respect for human rights, President Aquino allowed human rights violations to continue to be committed during his first year term. The culture of impunity has not stopped!

In Central Luzon, a new phenomenon was added–the  systematic and continuous assault on the physical and psychological security of persons and communities. Community leaders receive letters with enclosed bullets or black ribbons, get “notices” for military “visits” or are regularly “invited” to military camps or detachments of combat forces.In Bulucan, peasant members and organizers of  Aniban ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura  (AMA) as well as a legal political movement, SANLAKAS were subjected to the vilification campaign of the AFP. Such psychological torture drives some to deep depression and grave anxiety. In Samar, a poor peasant hanged himself in his home to be finally “free” from this continuous physical and psychological assault.

These seemingly separate yet related events  only show the sharpening of the contradiction between the demand for ‘changes’ on one hand and the ossified and inflexible structures and procedures of the institutions of the security forces.  It also magnifies that contradiction between the President’s personal and political experiences of past human rights violations and the demands of leadership to end the prevailing culture of impunity.

The Aquino government  continues to promote and safeguard the interest of transnational corporations, implement the  dictates of the international financial institutions and in the process make the operation of finance capital unrestricted.  All these have made the nation a theatre for a systematic violations of economic, cultural and social rights of the people. Human rights pronouncements have become more rhetorics than substance.  More words, less action.  There is no national agenda for human rights.  But this is a national agenda for capital over human rights to boot.

The Hanjin Heavy Industries and Constructing Philippines, Inc.in Zambales is one of its living epitome. Its workers are subjected to recurring accidents due to   unsafe working conditions, maltreatment, lack of medical facilities, and suffer from low wages. Acquiescing to the phenomenon of contractualization short-changes the workers to a quality of life worthy of one’s dignity.

President Benigno C. Aquino, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is failing miserably in his avowed paradigm shift to  uphold the primacy of human rights in matters of governance, security, development, trade and environment.  His leadership in making human rights the preferred values of his administration and a hallmark of his legacy must be realized this year.  Against impunity, we will either have a breakthrough or a breakdown.

Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Defend Central Luzon- Ateneo Human Rights Centre, Ateneo College of  Law Student Government ,  Aniban ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (AMA)- Samahan ng Manggagawa sa Hanjin (SAMAHAN)-Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD)

Press Statement

July 8, 2010


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