Aquino urged to tackle rights issues in SONA

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THE New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged President Benigno Aquino 3rd to deliver a “strong message” in addressing rights issues when he delivers his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) next week.

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HRW noted that Aquino’s five years as President have been marked more by rhetoric than concrete action to address serious human rights violations in the Philippines such as extra-judicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.

“President Aquino has an opportunity in his final State of the Nation Address to outline lasting measures to address the human rights problems too often ignored during his five years in office,” Phelim Kine, HRW-Asia’s deputy director, said in a statement.
“This is Aquino’s best–and last–chance to demonstrate that his human rights commitments are not empty political rhetoric.”

In his first SONA in 2010, President Aquino gave “marching orders” to the Department of Justice to “begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all.”

Human rights violations during the term of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were rampant, with hundreds of activists and journalists killed, tortured or abducted.
In December 2010, during the commemoration of International Human Rights Day, Aquino said, “The culture of silence, injustice and impunity that once reigned is now a thing of the past.”

In his second SONA in 2011, he reiterated this commitment, saying, “We are aware that the attainment of true justice does not end in the filing of cases, but in the conviction of criminals.”

That rhetoric has led to some significant, if limited, results for improving human rights, HRW said.

It noted that the government has worked closely with the Justice department and the Supreme Court to implement programs designed to improve investigative capacity of the police, the prosecutorial competence of the Justice department, and capabilities of courts to handle cases.

HRW also noted that the government has appointed more judges and prosecutors to address chronic court volume congestion.

The government has also convened the Human Rights Victims Claims Board and put it in charge of making reparations to victims of the Marcos regime from 1972 to 1986.

Despite the creation of a super body in 2012 that was ordered to resolve impunity and human rights abuses, killings of both leftist activists and journalists continue, HRW said.

Records released to Human Rights Watch in May 2015 by Task Force Usig, the main arm of the Philippine National Police for investigating and monitoring extra-judicial killings, showed that the government has secured only one conviction out of the 130 cases of
killings of activists it recorded since 2001.

Local human rights group Karapatan recorded 262 extra-judicial killings since Aquino assumed office in 2010.

Task Force Usig recorded 51 cases of journalist murders from 2001 to May 2015, 8 of which resulted in convictions.

“President Aquino’s record on human rights is five years of squandered opportunity,” Kine said. “[He] should use his State of the Nation Address to demonstrate that that he will use his last year in office to focus on ending human rights abuses rather than turning a blind eye to them.”

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