No Justice, Impunity Prevails


Relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances deplore the fact that up to now justice still remains elusive and impunity still prevails even as the Supreme Court promulgated new remedies such as the writ of amparo. Worse, the Court of Appeals has dismissed the cases that they filed thereby providing the conditions for the “re-escalation” of human rights violations.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

That victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have yet to receive justice is, their relatives say, could embolden the perpetrators of these crimes to “commit more of the same.” This, for them, shows that impunity still prevails. While the Supreme Court has made available to them new remedies such as the writ of amparo, the Court of Appeals has dismissed several of the cases they have filed, providing the conditions for what a lawyer has described as the “re-escalation” of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Thus, even as the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances appear to have subsided, the relatives of those who have fallen prey to these find no reason to be happy.

“The relatives of the victims cannot be happy with that, because what is needed is that the killings and disappearances stop altogether,” said Erlinda Cadapan, mother of missing University of the Philippines (UP) student Sherlyn Cadapan, in an interview. “Also, the perpetrators must be punished.”

Lorena Santos, daughter of abducted National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Leo Velasco and Elizabeth Principe, expressed a similar view in a separate interview. “The reduction in the numbers does not matter so long as we don’t see our relatives given justice,” she said.

Sherlyn was abducted by soldiers together with fellow UP student Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. She was doing youth organizing work in a village there, while Empeño was doing research for her BA Sociology thesis. The two UP students remain missing, while Merino is reported to have been killed by their abductors.

Velasco was in the list of 50 persons charged by the Department of Justice (DoJ) with rebellion in the wake of the alleged “Left-Right conspiracy” to topple the Arroyo government in 2006. He was abducted in Cagayan de Oro City on Feb. 19, 2007 and has not been found since then.

Principe, meanwhile, was “arrested” on Nov. 28, 2007 in Cubao, Quezon City supposedly on the strength of standing arrest orders for six criminal cases. For almost three days after that she went missing, but was eventually presented by Army officials to the media as a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Most of these victims were seized by state security forces in 2006, when extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were at their peak.

Data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) shows that there have been 910 victims of extrajudicial killings and 193 victims of enforced disappearances from January 2001 – when Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to June 30, 2008.

In the first half of 2008, 20 people fell prey to extrajudicial killings while one was forcibly disappeared.

From 2001 to 2008, the three regions with the most victims of extrajudicial killings are Southern Tagalog with 165, Central Luzon with 137, and the Bicol Region with 128. Most of the victims are peasants (numbering 424) and indigenous people (85). Among political organizations, the party-list group Bayan Muna (People First) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have the highest number of victims, with 132 and 106, respectively.

Meanwhile, the three regions with the victims of enforced disappearances are Central Luzon with 62, Southern Tagalog with 28, and Eastern Visayas with 24.

Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, and Eastern Visayas are all marked as “priority areas” in the government’s counter-insurgency operations dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch).

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to the Philippines in 2007 to investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.

Following are the yearly breakdowns for the numbers of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances:

Victims of Extrajudicial Killings, 2001-June 30, 2008

Year

Total

Organized

Women

2001

99

35

11

2002

118

44

13

2003

123

32

14

2004

83

41

9

2005

187

101

14

2006

210

108

25

2007

70

35

12

2008 (1st half)

20

5

4

Total

910

401

102

Source: Karapatan

Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 2001-June 30, 2008

Year

Total

Organized

Women

2001

7

1

2

2002

9

3

2

2003

11

2

1

2004

26

10

5

2005

28

6

0

2006

78

26

16

2007

33

13

4

2008 (1st half)

1

1

0

Total

193

62

30

Source: Karapatan

In the rates of both extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, there are marked escalations in 2005 and 2006, after which these crimes noticeably slowed down after these caught the attention of the local and international community. The European Union, Finland, the US Senate, US corporations such as Wal Mart, among others expressed concern over the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

For relatives of the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the drop in the rates of these human rights violations is not really something to be happy about.

“One one hand there is success in our campaign to stop the killings and disappearances, since there is a drop in their rates…but still, we are not happy because we haven’t seen our loved ones, and there is still no justice,” Santos said.

Among the legal remedies made available to the likes of Cadapan and Santos is the writ of amparo, the rules for which were approved by the Supreme Court in 2007.

A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC, which took effect on Oct. 24 last year, provides that the writ of amparo shall cover threats or actual cases of “extralegal killings” and enforced disappearances. The writ of amparo, among other things, seeks to provide protection for persons under threat of “extralegal killings” or enforced disappearances, as well as allows access to military and police camps where victims of enforced disappearances are suspected to be kept.

Several relatives of human rights victims, including Cadapan and Santos, have sought to avail of the writ of amparo.

The Court of Appeals, however, has recently dismissed four high-profile amparo petitions one after the other. These are the petitions for Jonas Burgos, Elizabeth Principe, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, and the Gumanoy sisters.

Jonas Burgos, a peasant organizer in Bulacan, was abducted by soldiers in a restaurant in Quezon City on April 28, 2007 and remains missing. The plate number of a van used in the abduction was traced to a vehicle impounded by the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Rose Ann and Fatima Gumanoy, daughters of slain peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, were recently abducted by elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and placed under custody.

National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) secretary-general Neri Javier Colmenares, in a recent legal analysis of which Bulatlat received a copy, criticized this series of decisions. Wrote Colmenares:

“These decisions unfortunately disregard the actual state of human rights in the Philippines today that has prompted the promulgation of the new remedy in the first place. This spate of decisions will only encourage the re-escalation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances because of the continuing impunity which has unfortunately and unwittingly been judicially engendered further.”

Cadapan and Santos, in their interviews with Bulatlat, expressed similar observations.

“The perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will surely be emboldened to commit more of the same,” Cadapan said. “The rates may have decreased, but because of what has been happening in the Court of Appeals, we can be almost sure that the killings and disappearances will again escalate.”

“Yes, in a way it encourages more human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, because it shows the impunity of the perpetrators, because the Court of Appeals shows that the perpetrators need not answer for their crimes,” Santos said. Bulatlat

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