The Philippines: Army reaffirms commitment to human rights

MANILA, Philippines – The Army on Monday renewed its commitment to uphold human rights in all its operations amid cases of enforced disappearances attributed to soldiers.

Soldiers recited a human rights pledge during simultaneous flag ceremonies in all military camps in observance of Human Rights Consciousness Week.

Col. Perfecto Rimando Jr., chief of the Army Human Rights Office, led the recital of pledge at the Army’s main headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

The renewal of commitment to human rights came amid persistent allegations that soldiers are behind enforced disappearances and deaths of people who are critical of the government.

Among the human rights violations being blamed on soldiers is the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos, who was allegedly kidnapped by armed men in Quezon City in 2007.

Burgos was reportedly dragged to a Toyota Revo van whose license plates were traced to another vehicle earlier impounded by the military in Bulacan.

An Army officer, Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr., has been implicated in the Burgos case. Baliaga has denied any involvement in the abduction of Burgos and has expressed readiness to face the charges against him.

Complaints against other security officials tagged in Burgos’ disappearance have been dismissed after state prosecutors did not find probable cause to file charges against them.

Another high-profile case was the disappearance of student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno who went missing in Bulacan in 2006.

Activists have accused retired Army general Jovito Palparan Jr. of being the brains behind the alleged kidnapping of the two students.

Some sectors, however, said some militant groups are merely demonizing Palparan, who remains at large.

Despite these allegations, the Army said it would continue “to protect, defend and promote human rights.”

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) does not only protect human rights, we also work to uplift human lives,” AFP chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said in a statement.

National Human Rights Consciousness Week is commemorated every year from December 4 to 10.