THE PALACE blamed the courts Friday for the snail-paced dispensation of justice after the international group Human Rights Watch took President Benigno Aquino III to task for failing to significantly improve human rights in the country in his six years in office.
“The delays in litigation of pending human rights violations are mainly due to systemic weaknesses in the criminal justice system that the Supreme Court is addressing,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a text message to The Standard.
Coloma was reacting to the Human Rights Watch 2016 World Report that said President Aquino has been unable to deliver on his promise “of a rights-respecting Philippines,” and pointed to the ongoing killings of prominent activists, indigenous leaders and journalists.
But Coloma said Aquino’s own experiences made him value human rights.
“As one who has personally experienced the human rights violations inflicted upon his late father and family during the Martial Law regime, President Aquino has emphasized the importance of respecting human rights during his watch,” said Coloma.
“The CHR [Commission on Human Rights] has noted the decrease in the overall number of human rights violations filed,” said Coloma.
“The President had also ordered an interagency task force headed by then Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima to review and work to expedite the prosecution of long standing cases dating back to previous administrations,” Coloma said.
Coloma said it was also under the Aquino administration that the human rights claims board was formed and received more than 75,000 claims.
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director, did not put much stock in the decline of human rights cases, however.
“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.
The killings were also publicly encouraged by local officials such as presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
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.
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.
Lawmakers on Friday also expressed concern over the country’s 10-place decline in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, a candidate for senator, said the group’s findings showed that Aquino’s anti-corruption drive under its Daang Matuwid or straight path campaign was merely superficial.
Romualdez, a lawyer, blamed this on the administration’s selective justice, which prosecuted its political enemies while ignoring the corrupt practices of its friends and allies.
“The survey debunks Daang Matuwid. It shows that the anti-corruption drive of the government is [just] posturing and superficial,” said Romualdez, who heads the independent minority bloc in the House.
“The people have been noticing the selective justice in the country and this is very disappointing after trumpeting the supposed achievements in the fight against corruption,” Romualdez added in response to the 2015 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) where the Philippines experienced a 10 notch slip from 85th rank in 2014 to 95th rank in 2015.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III agreed.
“It goes to show that the anti-corruption campaign of the government is shallow and artificial,” Bello said.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate added: “That is an affirmation that the corruption in government has worsened,” Zarate said.
But Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez, spokesman of administration’s standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, said the country’s drop in the index showed the vulnerability of the country’s gains if Daang Matuwid is not continued.
“The perception of corruption, which is one of the major bases of the index, increased last year. This view became widespread with the public investigation of the shenanigans of the government and the incarceration of top officials on corruption charges. The continuation of Daang Matuwid would do much to improve public confidence in the government,” Gutierrez said.
The Philippines ranked 85th in 2014, up from 94 in 2013, and 105 in 2012. The 2015 CPI report also showed a corresponding decline in the Philippines’ score to 35 from last year’s 38.
The index tracks perceptions of public sector corruption in 168 nations based on expert opinions.
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