Two years of Aquino presidency fails to curb human rights abuses in the Philippines

Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III has so far failed to make good on his promise to supplant the Philippines’ culture of impunity by applying swift and consistent justice under his overarching “daang matuwid” (“straight-and-narrow”) campaign slogan. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “The Aquino government has not successfully prosecuted a single case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance, including those committed during his presidency…”

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington. HRW produces research reports on violations of international human rights norms as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what it perceives to be other internationally accepted human rights norms. These reports are used as the basis for drawing international attention to abuses and pressuring governments and international organizations to reform.

[Photo courtesy Associated Press.]

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President BS Aquino is renowned for encapsulating the problem of impunity in the Philippines in an oversimplified notion, the wang wang — a Filipino colloquial term for the use of police sirens and flashers by government officials and even wealthy private citizens to muscle their way through Manila’s famously gridlocked traffic. In the State of the Nation Address (SONA) the President delivered to Congress in 2011, BS Aquino made ample use of his stroke of genius in oversimplification…

Noynoy encapsulates a complex and profound issue — “abuse of authority” — in the wang wang.

In doing so Noynoy does two things:

(1) He oversimplifies the issue by using a pet peeve of his (and of many Filipinos) in the way prominent Filipinos equip their vehicles with sirens (wang wangs) which they use to muscle their way through Manila’s renowned traffic jams; and,

(2) He links the issue to a “solution” that is the publicity stunt he mounted when he first assumed office as President — doing away with the use of motorcades (and their wang wangs) in his commutes around Manila — which had come to symbolise his supposed humility and focus on change.

Noynoy proceeds to put up the wang wang as the face of the bogeyman his administration battles.

Having come up with the wang wang label for everything and anything to do with the Philippines’ culture of impunity, President BS Aquino has since merely skimmed the surface of what is the abysmal of culturally-ingrained injustice that characterises Philippine society. Indeed, the last 12 months reflects the substance of that 2011 SONA as I had described back then…

Over much of the speech, this pattern of citing examples of abuse and then the piecemeal initiatives mounted by the government to stop them was repeated several times — on matters of the “situations” of policemen, public housing, national security, employment, health, Muslim Mindanao, planting trees, a domestic monorail development program, etcetera, etcetera. It reads out like a report turned in to management by a junior consultant — findings on one column, “quick win” solutions on the other, and no deep systemic answers backdropped or framed by a coherent strategy much less a vision.

Suffice to say, 12 months hence, HRW remains unimpressed…

“President Aquino has not lived up to his promises to bring those responsible for serious abuses to justice,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Concrete measures — rather than more promises — are needed now.”

This is not surprising in light of how more than half of those 12 months were squandered by the BS Aquino administration impeaching former Chief Justice Renato Corona on trumped-up charges using illegally-acquired evidence, in what is now considered to be no more than a Kangaroo Court.

In its usual defensive — and often pompous — form Malacañang last Thursday, the 19th July issued a statement in response to the HRW report…

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda called on Human Rights Watch based in New York City to provide any information on the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, saying the government would not hesitate to bring these criminals to justice.

Lacierda stressed it was the State’s responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of every Filipino from fear and oppression.

“We have always maintained that we frown upon extra-judicial killings. The government has a policy on going after the perpetrators of extra judicial killings, Lacierda said.

Yet Lacierda was also reportedly quick to wash the administration’s hands of any responsibility for seeing through to resolution these human rights cases. Instead, he cited how “the ball is now with the judicial branch of government, with the courts themselves.” Lacierda also cited the doctrine of “separation of powers” to highlight further how Malacañang should be considered off the hook as far as bringing justice to victims of human rights abuses. “I cannot understand why Human Rights Watch would be blaming the Aquino administration or the executive branch for the seemingly slow pace of judicial action. That is something that is within the purview of the judiciary,” Lacierda said. Lacierda also added: “I do not necessarily agree with the position of Human Rights Watch” after citing statistical data that supposedly points to a decrease in some sort of crime “index”.

Carlos Conde, researcher at the Asian Division of HRW begs to differ

“Edwin Lacierda is uninformed at best, dishonest at worst. While it is true that conviction of cases lies with the courts, it is also true that only a small number of human-rights abuse cases are filed in court. Most of these cases do not make it to trial to begin with,” [said Conde]

President BS Aquino reportedly spent all of Saturday (the 21st July) “practicing” for his SONA speech while, as Lacierda points out “monitoring the effects of heavy rain that fell on Metro Manila.” Perhaps the President was hoping — no, praying — that more rains and more floods would strike Manila and postpone the convening of Congress on Monday.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted off the “Human Rights Watch” and used in accordance with that site’s Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License consistent with the same license applied by Get Real Post to its content.]

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