Marcos Jr.’s EO 23 task force to whitewash labor rights violations

The Executive Order 23 (EO 23)-created inter-agency committee tasked to probe the extrajudicial killings and harassment of workers will simply go the way of other investigative bodies created earlier for similar purposes. It will become nothing more than an elaborate instrument to temporarily mollify the people’s anger and eventually whitewash the State’s responsibility for extrajudicial killings and other grave human rights violations in the labor sector.

It will go the way of its predecessor, the Task Force on Administrative Order 35 (TF AO35) which was created in November 2012 by then President Benigno Aquino III ostensibly to ‘resolve unsolved cases of political violence in the form of extrajudicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearances (ED), torture, and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.’

Nine years after its inception, TF AO35 boasted of having handled 385 cases, covering four administrations since 2001. It reported handling 270 cases of extrajudicial killings, 28 cases of enforced disappearance, seven cases on International Humanitarian Law and 80 cases of torture.

The much-vaunted 385 cases was a measly drop in the proverbial bucket. In the same period, Karapatan documented 1,953 extrajudicial killings, 252 enforced disappearances, and 1,570 victims of torture — almost nine times more than the 385 cases handled by TF AO35.

As of 2021, TF AO35 had only attained convictions in 13 cases, or only about 3% of the 385 cases. In at least 127 cases (33%), the perpetrators were cleared through acquittals and dismissals in court, or through dismissals by the Ombudsman, or through dismissals or provisional dismissals by the prosecution.

Which is exactly what happened in the latest travesties involving TF AO35: in January and March this year, the Department of Justice’s special panel of prosecutors threw out the murder complaints against the policemen involved in the brutal killings of union leader Manny Asuncion and activist couple Ariel and Anna Mariz Evangelista. The three are among the nine activists killed in the Bloody Sunday incident of March 7, 2021.

Given its miserable showing, none of the other victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre, nor any other victim of extrajudicial killing can realistically expect justice from TF AO35.

And given the fact that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not revoked any of the fascist policies of his predecessors, and is actually perpetuating them, there is absolutely no reason to believe that his EO 23 task force will be any different from the failed TF AO35.