The Philippine government of President Benigno Aquino III should take decisive action against torture and extrajudicial killings by the police and other state security forces, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015.
The Aquino administration took some important steps in 2014 to improve rule of law, but the government’s overall record in addressing serious human rights violations remained poor. A November Justice Department report implicated police officers in the torture and ill-treatment – including near suffocation and stapling of nipples and genitals – of suspects following the September 2013 attack by Islamist militants on the southern city of Zamboanga.
“The Aquino administration needs to ensure that police responsible for serious abuses are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Ending the culture of impunity for police torture should be a top priority for Aquino in his final two years in office.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
Positive measures by the administration included the creation of “justice zones” where criminal cases, warrants, and subpoenas are filed electronically as a means to accelerate court proceedings that have stranded thousands of suspects in prolonged pretrial detention. The government also achieved a success against impunity with its August 2014 arrest of retired army General Jovito Palparan, who is implicated in the alleged enforced disappearances of activists in 2006.
Progress in the justice system was overshadowed by failures to address other longstanding problems, Human Rights Watch said. Despite the passage of the Anti-Torture Act in 2009, the courts have yet to convict anyone of torturing suspects in custody.
Police officers and public officials have been involved in a “death squad” in Tagum City in the southern Philippines, as Human Rights Watch reported in May 2014. The death squad targeted suspected petty criminals, among them children, and also functioned as a guns-for-hire operation. To date the Philippines government has not yet prosecuted any government or police official implicated in the Tagum killings.
With less than two years left in his term, President Aquino continues to send mixed signals about his commitment to tackling longstanding human rights problems in the Philippines. While the number of cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances by state security forces have declined since the previous administration, their regular occurrence is no basis for complacency, Human Rights Watch said.
“The crucial missing ingredient in addressing the Philippines’ human rights problems is a lack of political will,” Kine said. “The Aquino administration needs to bring security force personnel implicated in rights violations to justice to send the message that official tolerance for such abuses is at an end.”