The Philippines: EDITORIAL – Human rights consciousness

As the nation started its observance of Human Rights Consciousness Week, the Philippine Army renewed its commitment to uphold human rights. Three decades after the end of martial law, that still sounds more like a best efforts pledge than a sincere commitment.

People power restored democracy but did not put an end to human rights violations by state forces. This goes not only for the short cuts to law enforcement such as waterboarding and beatings that cops still resort to in fighting crime, but also for the worst human rights offenses including enforced disappearances and summary executions.

The most atrocious attack on journalists, the Maguindanao massacre, was perpetrated only four years ago, with the direct perpetrators reported to be police and militias – the so-called force multipliers – allegedly under the command of the Ampatuan clan. Retired Army general and former party-list representative Jovito Palparan, wanted for the kidnapping and torture of two still missing coeds of the University of the Philippines, remains at large and is believed to be enjoying the protection of certain military elements. Activist Jonas Burgos, kidnapped by armed men believed to be soldiers in 2007, also remains missing. The commitment of the Philippine Army to respect human rights is welcome, but the hard part is getting the message across to all military personnel.

The Philippine National Police also has its own housecleaning to carry out. Torture and other forms of human rights violations can compel victims to admit – as Filipinos like to say – even the execution of national hero Jose Rizal. This can mean sending the innocent to prison and letting off perpetrators, who are then free to commit more crimes. Human Rights Consciousness Week should nudge the military, police and militias to go beyond mouthing their annual rhetoric and truly uphold civil liberties.