ALARMING TRENDS ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
UNDER THE ARROYO GOVERNMENT
Aurora A. Parong
M.D., Executive Director
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
at the Kapihan on the Human Rights Situation Today
Hotel Rembrandt, Quezon City
December 5, 2002
Stories from the Field
I would like to start by sharing with you some stories from the TFDP files:
“ Six people were killed and seven wounded in Davao City on April 15, 2002, after soldiers (73rd Infantry Batallion) and CAFGU members attacked a community where apparently a group of NPA guerillas was holding a wedding ceremony.The … wedding was held in Sitio Pangyan, Tamugan, Marilog District, Davao City and attended by about 30 villagers, including 10 children, mostly members of the Matigsalog and Bagobo tribes. The soldiers attacked and fired as the community was waiting for food to be served… A mother with four children, including a ..ten-month old baby, was hit in the hips..At the height of the shooting, a witness recalled hearing someone shout: “ Sibilyanmi, sir (We are civilians),” and heard a soldier reply: “Mayrag mangamatay mo kay NPA mong tanan (It’s good for you to die, for you are all rebels).”
Sitio Pangyan Massacre, April 15, 2002
TFDP Documentation File No. 02-DVC-002.
“A massive and series (of) aerial and ground attacks coming from OB-10 planes and MG-520 helicopter gunships by government forces supported by ground artillery using 105 mm. howitzers and 81 mm. cannons or…called Operation Thunderstorm” were intended to destroy the alleged camps of MILF on October 12, 2002…The said operations brought hinterland residents of the municipalities of Pualas and Sultan Gumander, Lanao del Sur in panic…what was believed to be camps of the terrorist group, were indeed civilian–farmer communities who were hit by indiscriminate bombing attacks particularly the barangays of Caluda, 1 & 2, Salucap and Palao…explosions prompted the residents to evacuate to neighboring towns like Malabang and other barangays of Pualas, Lanao del Sur….As of October 28, 2002, there are a total number of 477 families who have evacuated to the different parts of Lanao del Sur and Del Norte.”
Evacuation in the Triboundary towns of Lanao Sur and Lanao del Norte
TFDP Documentation File No. 02-LDN-003
When I was reading the first case, I thought I was reading a case during Martial Law! When I saw the second, I wondered – did I miss the formal declaration of All-out-War against the MILF by President Arroyo?
You may say, these are not true! But they are true, the victims themselves were interviewed by the staff of TFDP, one of who was crying during the trip to Lanao for fear of her life!
You may say, these are specifics which might just be exceptional incidents.
Human Rights violations from January 1- November 30, 2002
Let me give you some statistics of cases actually documented by TFDP for the year 2002, to get a glimpse of the situation.
Human Rights Violations in the Philippines
Documented by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
January 1 – November 30, 2002
CASES OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
NUMBER OF CASES
OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
NUMBER OF VICTIMS
|Incidents of Arrest and Detention||
|Incidents of Disappearances||
|Incidents of Salvaging/Killing||
|Incidents of Frustrated Salvaging/Killing||
|Incidents of Massacre||
|Incidents of Frustrated Massacre||
|Incidents of Evacuation (due to counter-insurgency/hostage crisis)||
|14,851 individuals6,204 families|
|Incidents of Destruction of Properties||
|2 individuals +166 families|
|Incidents of Harassment||
|1,872 individuals + 3,482 families|
|Incidents of Violent Dispersal||
|Incidents of DemolitionDEMOLISHED HOUSES||
|755 individuals + 1,374 families
|Incidents of Fake Surrenderee||
|Incidents of Unpremeditated Killing||
|Total number of human rights violations cases and victims||
|18,587 individuals11,226 families + and 1 community|
I never thought that this would be the price of helping oust President Estrada!
As I said earlier, this is just a glimpse into the situation because, due to limitations of personnel and resources, we were not able to cover quite many cases that were heard or read about.
Here are some alarming trends regarding human rights:
- 1. The Arroyo government continues to keep political prisoners and even take in new ones, usually accompanied by torture and inhumane treatment.
The existence of political prisoners shatters the myth of democracy in the Arroyo administration. To date, there are 197 political prisoners. In a democracy, there should be no political prisoners.
- 2. Torture is on the rise, despite the fact that the Philippines is signatory to the Convention against Torture.
There are 54 victims of torture during the year – 13 Muslims and 5 indigenous peoples. Most of these happened in Mindanao. Perpetrators of torture include the Philippine Army, marines and PNP.
- 3. Military, police and paramilitary operations spawn human rights violations including disregard of due process, summary execution and massacres.
The Pangyan massacre is a case in point. 3 cases of massacre with 20 persons killed occurred during the period. 14,851 individuals and 6,204 families were displaced from their homes and sources of livelihood due to aerial and ground military operations. These are usually accompanied by looting and destruction of properties.
- 4. Human rights defenders are harassed, threatened or sometimes even killed.
26 human rights defenders were either harassed or killed during the period. Three were killed – one indigenous peoples leader in Mindanao and 2 Bayan Muna members. Five TFDP staff were harassed and threatened while doing human rights work in the villages.
- 5. The persistence of impunity makes the government invulnerable to reform. The outright abuses and/or collusion of government and military officials with criminals are condoned by official non-action or allowed by silence.
The failure of government to take decisive actions on allegations of military and police collusion with the Abu Sayyaf and other kidnappers as well as on the cases of human rights violations perpetuate impunity. The media mileage actions of the President by presenting arrested alleged criminals to the media is not matched by actual good investigation and prosecution.
- 6. The human rights components of the peace negotiations and their corresponding agreements have not been implemented, and instead violated.
Peace negotiations with the NDF and the MILF have both led to human rights agreements. None of these were ever sincerely adhered to by government.
- 7. Glossing over the US government’s accountabilities to the peoples in the Philippines, the Arroyo government has endangered and is endangering peoples’ lives by allowing liberal entry of US troops and military equipment in the country and signing the MLSA.
The toxic contamination of the former US military bases have not been resolved and peoples in the communities continue to suffer because of them.
The Balikatan 02-1 resulted into the destruction of tri-peoples’ plants and properties in Limpapa. Zamboanga. It also endangered the lives of tri-peoples whose lands were intruded into by the AFP and the US troops during the war exercises, without the informed and prior consent of the peoples.
And now, we have the MLSA, which was signed under the cloak of secrecy, which allows more liberal entry of US troops, even as the US government wants its soldiers exempted from any prosecution of human rights abuse under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It even threatened countries that ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC by withdrawing military support, aside from enacting a law that undermines the ICC, such as the American Service members Protection Act (ASPA).
- 8. The campaign against terrorism, within the framework of the US-led war against terror, is causing more human rights abuse and breeding what it is supposed to fight and eliminate –terrorism.
Three members of a peoples’ organization called Samaya were arrested without warrants, tortured and continue to be detained despite the fact that President Arroyo, during the SONA 2002 announced the arrest of the Fitmart bomber – not the 3 already detained. Several anti-terror bills pending in Congress have provisions that undermine human rights such as intrusion into ones privacy through wiretapping and prolonged detention without charges (which may reach up to 7 days if the US, UK and Australian models are to be followed!).
- 9. The continuing erosion of the quality of life of more than 20 million people is a gross human rights violation. Government policies and actions fail to particularly fulfill the peoples’ rights to adequate food and housing.
This year, children in Negros were still reported to be suffering from severe malnutrition due to extreme poverty and absence of jobs. The continuing hunger and inadequate food amidst plenty among the few, including our government and military officials, negate the principle of equality of rights among all.
Conclusions and challenges
We at TFDP believe that the Arroyo government is an intelligent government. But it needs reminding that the stability of her government is ultimately being shaken not so much by outside forces but by the perpetration of her own government of violations of human rights, by commission and by omission.
If President Arroyo wants to leave a legacy, it should be a legacy that empowers peoples from the barangay level to the national level. It should be a legacy of institutions and mechanisms that advance and promote human rights at the local, national, regional and international levels.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002