“Nothing has changed under Aquino” -- Karapatan

THE NATIONAL human rights alliance, KARAPATAN, presented to the public its 2010 Human Rights Report saying that the violation of civil and political rights is “getting worse” and that “nothing has changed” in the rights situation under President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

“From the 18 killed in the last six months of Macapagal-Arroyo, there were already 20 victims of extra-judicial killings in the first four months of Pres. Noynoy Aquino,” KARAPATAN Chairperson  Marie Hilao-Enriquez said.  “Contrary to his promised change and daang matuwid (straight or righteous path), PNoy not only did not pursue justice for the victims, he is adding more victims to the already long list.  His promised ‘cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail’ statement has fast become an empty forgotten promise as killings continue without let up.  In fact, perpetrators have become more atrocious and impunity is worsening,” a distraught Enriquez bewailed.

The report covered documented data up to the end of October this year.

"PNoy's designation of Col. Domingo Tutaan, Jr. as the new chief of the military's so-called Human Rights Office is an alarming message that no essential change will take place in the character of a repressive state," Enriquez added. “For a start, we ask how can Col. or soon to be BGen. Tutaan investigate his brother Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan in his unit’s involvement on the killing of the renowned botanist Leonard Co, and his companions?  This early,   the officer is already denying that they made an error in mistakenly identifying Co’s party as rebels and washing off his hands of culpability, ” Enriquez quipped.

Also with Enriquez who reported on the rights situation was Dr. Julie Caguiat, director of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED), one of the health organizations  supporting the call to release the detained Morong 43 health workers who are now on their 10th month of illegal detention.

Karapatan expressed alarm over the systematic violation of rights and intensified attacks  against human rights defenders in the on-going counter-insurgency program as state authorities, on November 22, 2010, raided Karapatan- Camarines Norte office which it shares with progressive organizations in Daet, Camarines Norte.

“The illegal search, arrest and detention of the Morong 43 health workers are replicated in the Daet AFP-PNP raid where four activist leaders were taken and are now detained and charged with illegal possession of explosives based on planted pieces of evidence," Karapatan said.  “Fabricated charges are becoming the rule, never mind if the arrest and detention are “fruits of a poisoned tree,” never mind if the IALAG is already abolished; it seems the military can always have its wishes; maybe because the present Commander-in-Chief  abets the wrongdoings of the institution he heads the way his predecessor did ,” sadly observes Enriquez.

"We strongly urge the Aquino government to free the 43 and all political prisoners;  correct the errors committed in their arrests as he so declared and desist from conducting political persecution,” Dr. Caguiat asserted.

"Of the 43, there are 26 women, two of whom are nursing mothers.  Some, like 62-year old Dr. Alexis Montes, have become sickly in detention," she said.

There are some 371 political prisoners all over the country to date.  Among them are Angie Ipong from Western Mindanao, Ed Serrano from Southern Tagalog, and Ed Sarmineto from Eastern Visayas. They are consultants for the peace negotiations of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and are supposedly covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with the government.

"It is not fair for Malacanang to unilaterally grant amnesty to mutinous soldiers even if their cases are still pending in court and then leaving the fate of political prisoners solely with the courts.  In the case of the Morong 43, it has been admitted by no less than the President himself that the warrant was faulty and pieces of evidence were illegally gotten," Karapatan said.

Disturbing, too, is the state of militarization of the rural areas under PNoy.  As he announced an increase in the number of paramilitary troops, AFP men are actively recruiting minors to the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) especially in the communities which the military suspect as “rebel strongholds.”  “We call on the President to stop the military deployment in rural areas, revoke EO 546 as a first step in dismantling the paramilitary forces and PNoy to be more circumspect in his announced increase in the number of CAFGU’s to beef up the military forces.  The President must really ponder on continuing with a counter-insurgency plan, however “respectful” it supposedly would be to human rights; he must realize that counter-insurgency measures, which are dictated by US imperial power, only bring human rights violations to our already-suffering people,” added Enriquez.

Concluding the presentation, Karapatan calls on the people to continue to be more vigilant in asserting and defending their human rights in the face of  renewed counter-insurgency measures to be put in place in the coming years.  It also appeals to the international community to continue monitoring the human rights situation in the Philippines.###