Statement Read at the CHR hearing on the killing of Rebelyn Pitao

Mandaya Hotel, Davao City
April 1, 2009

Today, human rights advocates under the aegis of Karapatan, welcome the investigation of the summary execution of the young teacher, Ms. Rebelyn Pitao, by the Commission on Human Rights under the leadership of its current Chairperson Atty. Leila de Lima.

We join the Pitao family in expressing hope that the CHR hearing would ferret out the truth on the accountability of state security forces in the abduction and eventual brutal killing of the young teacher.  The public expects no less than a thorough, prompt, impartial and diligent investigation of this case and all suspected cases of extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions so that  justice will be served to the victims and their families.

We challenge officials to fully cooperate with the CHR investigation and present the elements suspected to have committed the dastardly act, to the body as summoned.  We believe that the CHR has the authority to compel officials allegedly involved in the murder case to appear and testify.  To this end, the public expects that the AFP presents the suspects belonging to the Military Intelligence Battalion as named by Rebelyn’s family to face the investigating panel.  We reiterate our position that these elements, as public figures and supposedly protectors of the people must present themselves to the public hearing.

Karapatan likewise reiterates our support for the Pitao family and other families whose loved ones fell prey to the Arroyo regime’s vicious dirty war called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).  We are concerned that the Southern Mindanao Region is a priority area of the OBL and it is in this region where several cases of extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances were committed since November last year.

Once again we are sounding the alarm on the resurgence of extrajudicial killings as the incidents have picked up at an alarming rate of one victim per week.    Before the close of the first quarter of 2009, KARAPATAN has documented sixteen (16) victims of politically-motivated extrajudicial killings.  Yesterday alone, March 31 at 10 am, Edelina Jeruz, 37 years old, whose husband, KMP leader Willy Jerus was killed two years ago, was herself killed in her house in Sorsogon by two motorcycle-riding men, bringing to 17 the number of victims for this year.

This trend indicates that the so-called measures carried out by the Arroyo government bandied about in the UN and other forums do not effectively address the problem and instead tend to lull the people and other governments to let down their guards in continuously monitoring the worrisome human rights crisis in the land.

As the President and military officials continue to declare a supposed complete annihilation of the insurgency by 2010, operational translations on the ground show a continuation of the killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations committed not only against combatant rebel forces but more against civilians who have no wherewithal to defend themselves against attacks by state security forces.

Already, several hundreds of families have been forced to flee from their communities to seek refuge and safety because they have been subjected to threats to their lives, malicious accusations and vilification that may eventually lead to their being killed or disappeared just like the patterns undergone by the earlier victims, as investigated by no less than UN Special Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston.  

This wanton state of human rights, if left unchecked, especially the impunity by which perpetrators commit such acts, will push more people to take up arms and rebel against government to seek justice and defend themselves. This is the bitter lesson the country has learned from the martial law years.  This regime would do well to heed this lesson.

In the meantime, in the face of continuing violations and impunity, it is imperative for peace-loving citizens, conscientious members of the government and the international community to intensify our efforts to put to task the Arroyo government to stop these atrocities, bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice and fight for and assert our rights.####