New rights chair to revisit Melo


NEW Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima yesterday said she would revisit the reports of the Melo Commission and the United Nations on the spate of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances to give “closure” to the issue of human rights violations.

For this, she said, she will use what she called the underused investigative powers of the CHR.

After taking her oath before Chief Justice Reynato Puno, De Lima said she would create a stronger commission and generate awareness on the importance of human rights at the grassroots level.

De Lima, a well known election lawyer, succeeded Purificacion Quisumbing who retired last week.

She said she also plans to consolidate and create a data bank of information and statistics on the human rights situation in the country, to include the reports of former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo and United Nations human rights special rapporteur Philip Alston.

The Alston report, which was made public February last year, said extrajudicial killings in the country were distressingly high and the military appeared to be responsible for a number of them.

The Melo Commission report, made public also in February last year, said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jovito Palparan, tagged “The Butcher” by militants, and some of his superiors may be held liable for failing to prevent, punish, or condemn the killing of political activists under the principle of command responsibility. The Commission cleared President Arroyo of any liability, saying she recognized the need to address the disturbing rise in the number of killings of media persons and activists and created the Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission.

De Lima said: “We will closely evaluate both the Melo and Alston reports. May initial findings na doon pero kulang pa. Sa Melo Commission, there was lack of cooperation, walang humarap na witnesses although I must say it came out with a very incisive and even brilliant report, given the constraints. The Alston report is an abundant source of insights as to the human rights situation in the country,” she said.

“I envision a CHR which is the central monitoring agency and repository of statistics and status of cases. Iba-iba ang mga figures (of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances). Hindi ba dapat CHR ang nakaka-alam kung ilan talaga?” she added.

De Lima batted for either prosecutorial or quasi-judicial powers for the CHR to enable it to enforce its constitutional mandate.

She said she would also make sure the CHR under her stint would monitor the Philippines’ compliance with obligations under international treaties and instrumentalities on human rights.

“There has to be a closure in a majority of all the cases, prominent cases of (missing activist) Jonas Burgos and others. People are waiting for answers. There should not be an institutional cowardice,” she said.

De Lima also said that the Human Security Act which took effect in July last year might have some “potentially dangerous provisions” that should be looked into.

De Lima is best known as the lawyer of Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel in his election case questioning the Maguindanao win of Team Unity senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri in the May 2007 elections, but she also served as the legal counsel of a number of political personalities including Senate President Manuel Villar, Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca and Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio.

She served as secretary of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal from 1993-1995, and was confidential lawyer of former Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz from 1986-1989.

In 2007, she became one of the members of the Supreme Court’s sub-committee on Election Rules with fellow election lawyers Romulo Macalintal, Sixto Brillantes Jr., and Pete Quadra.

De Lima completed law in San Beda College, where she also taught until last year. She will serve a seven-year term at the CHR.

REMINDERS

New Army chief Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado said respect and the protection of human rights will be among the Army’s “dynamic advocacies” under his leadership.

He said soldiers have to be reminded from time to time because “some people have their own ideas on how to fight the war.”

“Sometimes they make mistakes… probably we have to have additional seminars on human rights if it is necessary,” he added.

Leftist organizations have been saying the military is behind the spate extra-judicial killings of militants and media men, an accusation the military has denied.

Ibrado also said there are organizations that are “making up stories.”

Citing his experience in Negros, Ibrado said a group reported that one of its members disappeared “and yet after several months, we saw the same guy, same person in the rallies that they (leftists) were conducting.”

“Perhaps, what I can say is if you have (evidence), if they have complaints against anybody in the Armed Forces, then they should file the appropriate charges and we will cooperate in the investigation. We will not condone or tolerate anybody who would violate human rights,” he said. (Malaya)

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