Human rights violations continue in PH — US report

MANILA — Although Manila continues to uphold fundamental freedoms, not much has changed with regard to addressing human rights problems in the Philippines, four years into the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III, according to the just released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The annual report, transmitted by Secretary of State John Kerry to the United States Congress Thursday noon, said extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces continued during the previous year.

Some of these cases were in connection with combat operations between government military personnel and Muslim rebels in parts of Mindanao.

One particular case mentioned in the report was the fatal shooting of two alleged members of the Ozamis criminal syndicate while they were being transported from Cavite to Laguna in July, 2013, following court proceedings.

Two police officers were charged while separate criminal complaints were filed against 14 others in connection with the killings.

Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by anti-government insurgents also remain to be a serious problem in the country while several Philippine National Police personnel were suspected to have been involved in at least six of the 26 new complaints of politically motivated killings investigated by the Commission on Human Rights, the lengthy report said.

10 Journalists Slain

On the other hand, 10 new cases of killings involving members of the local press, labor activists, and foreigners were reported during the previous year.

So far, only two of these cases were filed in court, three were old cases not subject to recent investigation, and five cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

Government forces and anti-government insurgents were also reported to have taken an active part in at least 10 new cases of forced disappearances, abductions, and kidnappings involving 15 victims from January to October 2013.

The police were likewise alleged to have been involved in 28 of the 38 torture cases investigated last year while reports remain rampant about inmates who were physically abused and, in the case of female prisoners, sexually assaulted by jail guards, police and prison officials.

Rudimentary and sometimes harsh conditions of overcrowded jails in the country are made worse by the slow judicial process, lack of basic infrastructure, and inadequate nutrition and medical attention, the report said.

Police And Justice System

Meanwhile, the 147,190-member PNP continues to suffer from deep-rooted institutional deficiencies and numerous allegations of corruption, the report said.

These problems remain as the government still lacked sufficient mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, allowing impunity to persist within the security forces.

Another significant challenge, the report said, was a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators.

The report said there is still widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system could deliver due process and equal justice, according to the report.

Factors that contribute to this negative perception include lack of sufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays. Furthermore, corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in impunity for wealthy or influential offenders.

Abuses In Internal Conflicts

The country likewise has to contend with violence from terrorist groups and armed Muslim separatist movements supported by paramilitary organizations such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Islamic Liberation Front as well as from criminal syndicates.

Clashes between the AFP and separatist forces as well as incidents of inter-clan violence continued in Mindanao and resulted in civilian deaths and the displacement of thousands of individuals.

The most recent incident cited in the report was the Zamboanga City siege on September 9, 2013 wherein an estimated 180 to 400 members of the MNLF took at least 100 civilians hostage and used them as human shields in the neighborhoods of Santa Catalina and Santa Barbara.

Sporadic clashes between government troops and the insurgents left more than 137 persons dead including 18 soldiers, five police officers, and nine civilians.

Various armed criminal and terrorist groups also continued to kidnap civilians, said the report.

From January to October, the Abu Sayyaf Group, the New People’s Army, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other kidnap-for-ransom groups abducted seven government workers and security personnel, four businessmen, two NGO workers, and seven civilians in several areas of Mindanao last year.

As of October, 15 were either rescued or released, and five remained missing or captive.

Freedom Of Speech, Press

Although the independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, including criticizing the government, the report noted that journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence from individuals, including politicians and other government authorities, critical of their reporting.

Human rights NGOs frequently criticized the government for failing to protect journalists.

Based on statistics obtained by the report, 14 journalists were killed during the year; 10 of the killings occurred while the victims were carrying out journalistic tasks.

At the same time, the report pointed out that most media outlets were criticized for lacking rigorous journalistic standards and reflecting the particular political or economic orientations of owners, publishers, or patrons, some of whom were close associates of present or past high-level officials.

Observers also suspected special interests of using bribes and other inducements to solicit one-sided and erroneous reports and commentaries that supported their positions.

Corruption

Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, the report said officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

The most controversial cases mentioned were the pork barrel scam allegedly involving several senators and congressmen and the plunder charges against former President Gloria Arroyo and 23 other former government officials.

As of October, the report said at least 11 officials in 94 corruption cases were convicted, including the April 29 conviction of Makati City Judge and former Dapitan City Mayor Cedrick Ruiz for graft and malversation of public funds.

A court sentenced him to a maximum of 26 years in prison and a fine of P950,000 equivalent to the amount of confidential intelligence funds that he stole and failed to liquidate in 2001.

There were also reports of widespread corruption among prison guards and some prison officials, accusations that PNP members solicited bribes and conducted illegal acts, and complaints of judicial workers accepting bribes or being threatened to delay or derail cases.

Other human rights problems included violence against women; abuse and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; limited access to facilities for persons with disabilities; lack of full integration of indigenous people; absence of law and policy to protect persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; suspected vigilante killings; child labor; and ineffective enforcement of worker rights.

“The government continued to investigate and prosecute only a limited number of reported human rights abuses, and concerns about impunity persisted,” the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 said.