New Internationalist

Philippines government must do better

The human rights situation in the Philippines improved last year but, overall, the government has failed to address impunity in the country, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on the Philippines released in early February.

The Philippine government, the watchdog said, failed to make significant progress in holding authorities, particularly security forces, accountable for abuses.

Human rights abuses in the Philippines are not imaginary. People disappear in the dead of night, never to be seen again. Women are raped at the hands of the military; men are beaten up, if not killed. All forms of torture are rampant. These violations have existed for a long time. The abuses grew more rampant during the Marcos dictatorship, but continue into the present.

In its 655-page report on the situation of human rights last year in more than 90 countries, Human Rights Watch said that in the Philippines, the government needs to do more in prosecuting abusers.

HRW also called for government attention to the ‘disturbing trend of increased threats and attacks on environmental and anti-mining activists by alleged members of the security forces’.

‘The overall human rights situation in the Philippines improved in 2012, with fewer extrajudicial killings and the passage of historic laws promoting rights,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. But he added that the government has failed to address impunity for the most serious abuses.

‘On prosecuting rights abusers, it needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,’ Adams said.

Quoting data from local human rights groups, HRW said that there have been approximately 114 cases of extrajudicial killings since Philippine President Benigno Aquino came to office in 2010.

Furthermore, the human rights watchdog said that there has been no conviction of perpetrators of extrajudicial killings in 2012 or indeed since the start of the Aquino administration.

At the same time, HRW welcomed the passage of a landmark law that makes it mandatory for the government to provide reproductive health services, and another that criminalizes enforced disappearances.

HRW said this could help end the scourge of such abductions that have destroyed countless lives.

‘The Philippine Congress has shown the capacity to craft laws that promote and protect human rights,’ Adams said.

Moving forward, HRW hopes that Philippine President will fulfil the government’s promise to dismantle private armies, which are largely responsible for much of the violence, especially in far-flung and isolated areas in the country.

‘In 2012, Aquino did not keep his election promise to revoke Executive Order 546, which local officials cite to justify the provision of arms to their personal security forces. These private armies are responsible for much of the violence that has become common in the Philippines during elections. Although the government said it has disbanded 28 of these private armies, nearly 100 still exist, according to the Interior Department,’ HRW said. It is also pushing the Aquino administration to bring human rights violators to justice.

Illustration: matthewthecoolguy under a CC Licence

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