PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term in office will end in mid-2016 without achieving his promised goal to significantly improve human rights in the country, Human Rights Watch said Thursday in its World Report 2016.
“Since his election, President Aquino held out the promise of a rights-respecting Philippines for which he has sadly been unable to deliver,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director.
“While the number of serious violations has declined during Aquino’s administration, ongoing killings of prominent activists and the lack of successful prosecutions mean there’s nothing to prevent an upsurge of abuses in the future,” Kine said.
Human Rights Watch said there has been little accountability for the killings of indigenous leaders, activists, and journalists, and other serious abuses during Aquino’s administration.
In the first eight months of 2015, military and paramilitary groups allegedly killed more than a dozen tribal leaders and tribal community members, local rights groups reported.
Military operations in areas in Mindanao, heavily populated by indigenous peoples, contributed to the displacement of 243,000 since January, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Many of those displaced faced inadequate food, shelter, and health care.
Nine journalists were killed in 2015—three of them over 10 days in August. Only one suspect was reported arrested in these attacks. Killings of alleged petty criminals, drug dealers, and others by “death squads” or contract killers in several cities continued unabated.
In some cases, the killings were publicly encouraged by local officials such as presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Children throughout the Philippines face a wide range of human rights abuses. As a September 2015 Human Rights Watch report documented, in small-scale gold mining, children are exposed to extremely hazardous work conditions, working deep underground, diving underwater to dig for gold, and processing ore with toxic mercury.
Armed conflict prevented children in a number of areas from attending school, and paramilitaries raided several schools, killing a school administrator in August.
In Manila in November, authorities detained hundreds of poor and homeless, among them many children, to clear the capital of street dwellers during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a practice previously used during high-profile events.
“While Aquino’s presidency has had a mixed record on rights issues, ultimately he has failed to make the institutional reforms to ensure a lasting positive human rights legacy,” Kine said.
“The Philippines’ next president must be prepared to tackle deep-seated impunity for abuses by state security forces and the corrupt and politicized criminal justice system,” Kine also said.
In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
Opposition lawmakers agreed with the Human Rights Watch findings.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz said the President has earned the notoriety of being insensitive to the needs of his people.
“What can we expect of him?” Dela Cruz, a member of the independent minority bloc in the House, said.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said it was ironic that the President failed to take action on cases pertaining to human rights.
“For a son whose father was a victim of human rights violations under Martial Law, it is really unfortunate, even lamentable, that [Benigno Simeon S.] Aquino [III] is only paying lip service to the issue of widespread human rights violations committed by the state security force and its agents, particularly the paramilitaries,” Zarate said.
“Consistently in the past five years he has shown that he can very well ignore the issue of human rights violations so long as it will serve the interests of his true bosses—the US government, the landlords, the big business and his cronies. in fact, BS Aquino is no different from [his predecessors],” Zarate added.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, who served as Justice secretary during the administration of the President’s late mother, President Corazon Aquino, also lamented the present government’s inaction on human rights abuses.
“Recognition and protection of human rights was at its lowest during the present dispensation,” Bello said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said the inability of the police to solve murder cases and the increase in the attacks on media have been pulling the country down.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said all efforts must be exerted to end the killings of media practitioners and the culture of impunity.
Marcos, who is running for vice president, said the root of the problem is that many people in power think they are untouchable.
In his introductory essay for the Human Rights Watch report, Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security.
At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times, Human Rights Watch also said.
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