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Impunity as a spreading cancer

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FORUM-ASIA's member, The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) presents the "State of Human Rights of the Nation: Impunity as a Spreading Cancer" on the Occasion of the 8th State of the Nation Address (SONA), on July 28, 2008.

State Obligations and Accountability

The Philippines has a Bill of Rights in its 1987 Constitution that says: "The State values human dignity and guarantees full respect for human rights." This is spelled out more in the different sections of Article III, for example, among others: the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to be free from torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, and the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. The Philippines too as a State Party to many international human rights treaties, which reinforce the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all women and men as the foundation of freedom, justice, peace and development, obliges each administration to account for the implementation of its obligations.

Violations with Impunity

The state of human rights during the past seven-year administration of Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has deteriorated and gone worse. Concomitantly, the gross violations of human rights have affected, among others, the Filipinos' fundamental freedoms, the processes of justice, the pursuit of peace and the realization of people's development. For the most part, major breaches against civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights have been perpetrated with impunity. Like a cancer, the malignancy of impunity has spread .from Ms. Arroyo, as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to persons and institutions both within and outside government.

The right to suffrage of millions of Filipino voters had been usurped in the 2004 elections as exposed in the "Hello, Garci" tapes to illegitimately install Ms. Arroyo as President. Assertions to the right to information regarding the election results have been blocked by the House of Representatives, while some witnesses to the electoral cheating in Mindanao were either imprisoned or killed. Gross violations against the right to information have also been perpetrated against the people in the abuse of invoking "executive privilege" to cover up massive corruption, as in the NBN-ZTE project.

Extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, among other human rights violations, have been perpetrated against hundreds of persons who in asserting their own and others' human rights or even just opposing unjust policies of government or reiterating the illegitimate hold on the Presidency have been labeled as "enemies of the state". Ms. Arroyo herself perpetuates and propagates impunity. For example, then Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. had been praised by Ms. Arroyo in her 2006 SONA for his bloody solution to the Communist insurgency at the expense, among others, of the right to life and of the right not to be forced to disappear as well as not to be tortured under any circumstance. The "Palparan solution" though had recently been pronounced as a failure by Palparan's own military successor. Furthermore, Palparan's participation in the abduction of the Manalo brothers has also been established by the Second Division of the Court of Appeals in December 26, 2007. Yet even in his retirement Palparan disregards with impunity the rule of law by taking over with the aid of army soldiers from the 24th Infantry Division a Zambales mine site last April 2008. In the same vein, government and police officials who were perpetrators of extrajudicial killings of detainees in custody in the Bicutan siege have still to be held accountable.

Nonetheless, the extent of impunity in relation to the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly in extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, at the moment, can never be completely known. This is due to lack of transparency and to the unchanged hearts of military and police personnel. There are witnesses to the fact that bodies of killed persons are burnt so as to eradicate any shred of evidence.

Impunity against economic, social and cultural rights

The killings, which are classified as violations of civil and political rights, are closely linked if not actually caused by the victims' struggles for economic, social and cultural rights. This is especially true in the cases of farmers, workers, indigenous people, journalists, women and men leaders of mass organizations.

The people's economic and social rights, such as the right to food and water, health, education and housing, have generally been neglected and thus violated by omission. The right to food, for example, have been violated due to gross neglect of agriculture and rural development. The financial subsidies to alleviate hunger and to stem the rice crisis have been more political gimmickry than planned implementation of the state's obligation to protect and fulfill the people's right to food. The distribution of Philhealth cards and educational scholarships during the 2004 elections were more political opportunism and cover-ups to the failed obligations to the right to health and the right to education. Recycling such actions are occasions more for corruption rather than fulfilling people's rights.

Corruption has eroded if not damaged permanently persons and institutions designated to implement or facilitate the implementation of the state's obligations to human rights. Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) enumerated the following: "Destruction of constitutional bodies. Eroding the independence of the Supreme Court. Turning local governments into puppets. Buying off the military and police hierarchy. Militarizing the bureaucracy. Cultivating a Malacanang wing of the Church. Usurping the House of Representatives." The consequences of corruption on the impoverished, the marginalized and vulnerable of society, exacerbated by government neglect and incompetence in natural disasters, will make more difficult upholding their dignity and pursuing their development for a better future. Joc-Joc Bolante's case is a case of corruption with impunity and impunity perpetuated with corruption. It also reveals to some extent the effect and spread of the cancer of impunity ensuing from Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

People's Resolve: End Arroyo's Governance of and by Impunity

We must halt the debilitating spread of impunity. We must not be robbed of our people's and nation's dignity and development. It is imperative to forge the people's resolve to end Ms. Arroyo's governance of and by impunity. She and her administration has become an obstacle to the implementation of the Philippine State obligations to progressively and fully implement human rights.

Persons, organizations and institutions must put formations of human rights defenders at every level – local, provincial, regional, island and national. Human rights education and related trainings have to be massively conducted. These would multiply capacities for documenting and monitoring comprehensive human rights violations both by state and non-state entities. Such cases of violations should be brought before national, regional and international bodies. Unities expressed through coalitions and alliances must be strengthened by asserting our common humanity.

These formations of human rights defenders should root themselves in people's social movements to ensure and to set up a governance based on human rights. End impunity now. Fight for dignity and justice for us all.

Max M. de Mesa