THE New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday said the Aquino government failed to deliver last year when it comes to curbing extra-judicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.
In its World Report 2014, HRW said the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd lacks political will to end human rights abuses. It added that the government did not take significant measures to prosecute a single case of extra-judicial killing or enforced disappearance.
According to Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director, 12 journalists were killed last year, bringing the number of Filipino journalists and media workers killed since President Aquino assumed office in 2010 to 26. In only six of the 26 have police arrested suspects.
In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists named the Philippines as the third “most dangerous country” in the world for journalists, after Iraq and Somalia.
“The body count of Filipino journalists speaks volumes for the wide gap between the Aquino government’s rhetoric in addressing rights problems and the reality on the ground,” Kine said.
The government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for the killing of journalists highlighted the climate of impunity for rights abusers in the Philippines, HRW said. In the only two cases where authorities have secured convictions for serious rights abuses—the killings of radio commentator and environmentalist Gerry Ortega on January 24, 2011 and journalist Rowell Endrinal on February 11, 2004—the masterminds of those crimes remained at large.
The group, however, noted the government’s progress in one of the country’s most emblematic cases of impunity. In October, Army Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr., a prime suspect in the enforced disappearance of farmer rights activist Jonas Burgos, surrendered to a Manila court for his alleged role in Burgos’ abduction in April 2007.
The fighting in September 2013 between Muslim rebels and government forces in Zamboanga City resulted in violations of international law by both sides, including the use of human shields by the rebels.
Some detainees in government custody, including several children, described to HRW how they were tortured and maltreated.
A much-vaunted initiative by the government to address impunity—the creation in 2012 of a “superbody” to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extra-judicial killings—remained inactive during much of 2013 even as new cases were reported by domestic human rights groups.
“The Aquino administration has said all the right things about ending abuses in the Philippines, but what’s missing is the political will to translate those promises into action,” Kine said.