RP Human Rights Chief Battles "Culture of Impunity" (A Special Report)

Manila – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima dared the government to end the ‘Culture of impunity,” declaring that “individuals and groups who carry out abductions and torture must be held into account.”

De Lima is currently hearing the case of Melissa Roxas, the Filipino-American activist who was allegedly tortured by soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Reyes, member of Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) U.S.A., was abducted on May 19 in La Paz, Tarlac, during an exposure trip. Her companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc, were also taken.

She was held for 7 days, and when she was released, quickly fled to the United States, where she held a press conference exposing her ordeal.

She revealed that, among other hardships, she almost suffocated to death when her torturers covered her head with a plastic bag, cutting off air.

Her abductors kept insisting she was a rebel and a spy, and was forcing her to sign bogus confessions.

Roxas returned to the country on July 20, accompanied by the 10-member fact-finding delegation of the United Methodist Church California Nevada Conference. She was met at the Ninoy Aquino by NCCP (National Council of Churches of the Philippines) secretary-general Fr. Rex Reyes, Karapatan secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Rep. Erin Tañada and Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Satur Ocampo.

Also closely monitoring the developments is the United States Embassy. “We take the safety and security of American citizens very seriously and will watch the case closely,” says spokesperson Rebecca Thompson.

As of writing, Roxas is with the CHR; and on July 30, she is set to appear at the Court of Appeals regarding the Writ of Amparo she filed.

The Writ of Amparo is a special legal instrument that gives protection to those whose rights were violated by the government.

The AFP dismissed Roxas’ testimony as “Scripted,” but AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado has instructed Army Chief Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit to investigate – and the latter replied that the soldiers there told it wasn’t true and they had nothing to with it.

“I am not saying that there were absolutely no people involved,” Ibrado told mediamen. “There is always a possibility that some soldiers were involved, but we cannot just go on and investigate them because it might be perceived as witch-hunting.”

The human rights watchdog Karapatan revealed that since Gloria Arroyo became President in 2001, the number of “Enforced disappearances” has jumped to an alarming 202 – plus 1,010 tortures and 1,013 extrajudicial killings.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, during his on-site investigation, called the Philippines the “Killing fields” of journalists and peasant leaders – and the then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales called him the muchacho (Spanish for “servant”) of the U.N.

De Lima has written an insightful report, “Human Rights Violations Rise,” which appears on the July 23, 2009 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a road map for the government to re-engineer its policies and protect basic inalienable human rights. Here are some of the most important excerpts:

1) “First of all, one way to gauge the true commitment of President Macapagal-Arroyo to the promotion and protection of human rights is whether she will certify the charter of the Commission on Human Rights as urgent,” de Lima says. As of now, the CHR is powerful only on paper.

2) “Another way to gauge the commitment of a country to human rights is to see which treaties it has ratified.” CHR lauds the government’s ratification of the 2nd Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the passage of Republic Act 9346.

The former abolishes the death penalty, and the latter prevent its re-imposition.

“Ms. Arroyo, however, has recently made statements expressing an intention to revive the death penalty. We remind her of our binding legal obligation under the protocol. We cannot renege on this duty,” writes de Lima.

3) “The Philippines has not ratified the Optional Protocol Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICAED), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

The OPCAT legally lays the structure of regular inspections by independent international bodies. The ICAED would greatly help find people abducted by military elements. The Rome Statute “would allow the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes and atrocities of the gravest nature carried out in the Philippines and break the culture of impunity,” says de Lima.

Arroyo’s term will end on the noon of June 30, 2010. “The current administration has several months left to turn things around,” reminds de Lima. “Whether it will do so is an open question.”

(See 2-part video of Melissa’s personal revelation. Read De Lima’s full Inquirer article. Melissa Roxas poster courtesy of MassMovementTV. Your comments are welcome and will be answered. Link you blog with EasyHyperLinks)