“The rate at which human rights defenders are being killed in the Philippines is shocking.” – CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A global civil society network has joined the local human rights group Karapatan in urging the Aquino administration to end extrajudicial killings.
In a statement, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Karapatan called on the government to carry out fair and independent investigations into all cases of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Since President Benigno Aquino III assumed office, Karapatan documented 99 victims of extrajudicial killings and 11 cases of enforced disappearances. Majority of the victims are farmers, indigenous peoples and activists advocating for land rights and environmental protection. The group also reported that at least 385 political prisoners continue to languish in prisons as “a result of exercising the key civil society freedoms – freedom of expression, association and assembly.”
“The rate at which human rights defenders are being killed in the Philippines is shocking,” says Mandeep Tiwana, policy and advocacy Manager at CIVICUS.
“If the government is serious about its stated commitment to end rights violations, then it must withdraw the state of impunity that exists for military officials and members of government sponsored militias,” Tiwana said.
The group said that even as Aquino has promised to resolve cases of extrajudicial executions and other violations of human rights, “genuine reform to ensure the protection of civil society members continues to be lacking.” They noted that the Aquino administration continues to implement Executive Order 546, which allows the use of paramilitary forces and private militias for its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
The groups expressed alarm over the killing of two prominent civil society activists and the detention of an advocate for indigenous peoples’ rights. On July 3, Willem Geertman, executive director of CSO Alay Bayan-Luzon Inc., a citizen’s disaster response group in Central Luzon, was murdered in his office compound. Days earlier, on June 30, Romualdo Palispis, chair of the human rights organization Justice and Peace Action Group in Aurora, was gunned down in front of his home. The groups noted that both men were leaders in the campaign against corporate mining and logging and were actively engaged in mobilizing opposition to the development of Aurora Province as a designated economic zone. On July 4, Agnes Mesina, a volunteer for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Cagayan, was arrested during a meeting with a congressman. She is actively involved in campaigns against large-scale mining.
In its second quarter report, Karapatan also documented 60 victims of frustrated killings, 67 victims of torture, 93 victims of physical assault and injury perpetrated by suspected state security forces.
Almost 30,000 forcibly evacuated from their homes due to intense military operations. Karapatan also reported that in several villages, the military uses schools, religious and other public places as detachments.
CIVICUS and Karapatan urged the Philippines government to uphold its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by ensuring a thorough and independent investigation and fair prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; enacting legislation criminalizing involuntary disappearances as a distinct crime and ratifying the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance; and issuing executive orders to security forces and government sponsored militia groups to allow safe exercise of the freedoms of association, expression and assembly by citizens.
The Philippine government has neither ratified the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance nor passed the pending legislation in Congress seeking to criminalize enforced disappearances.