Philippine Body to Probe Human Rights Cases

By The Associated Press 28 November 2012

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has created a new body to investigate and monitor high-profile human rights cases, but rights activists said on Tuesday it would take time to show whether the committee is more than a public relations effort.

Among the cases the new committee will monitor is the 2009 massacre that left 58 civilians and journalists dead.

The inter-agency committee, established through an administrative order Aquino signed last week, would be led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and include the country’s defense secretary, along with the military and national police chiefs, among its members, officials said.

The rights body’s creation came amid criticisms that violations have continued under the reformist president, who took power in mid-2010.

Aquino, son of revered pro-democracy icons, has pledged to take steps to resolve pending cases and prevent new ones in a new era of reforms, often citing his own family’s ordeal in the repressive years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a 1986 “people power” revolt.

Aquino’s father, a prominent anti-Marcos politician, was assassinated while in military custody at Manila’s international airport in 1983, sparking massive street protests that culminated in the 1986 revolt.

But human rights groups have said violations have continued under Aquino and more than 200 cases of disappearances and at least 300 extrajudicial killings during the nine-year presidency of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, have remained unresolved under the country’s notoriously slow justice system.

A key, unresolved case was the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre of 58 civilians and journalists allegedly by an influential political clan in southern Maguindanao province where the trial of the main suspects has dragged out due to what the victims’ families say were legal maneuvers by defense lawyers to delay court proceedings.

Thirty-two of the victims were media workers, making the carnage the single-worst media killing in the world.

De Lima said the new rights body will assess how to end delays in that trial.

Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said his group would monitor the new body “to see whether it results in prompt and serious action against abusers or is just more government smoke and mirrors.”