Human rights highlights in 2013


imagesThis will be an annual tradition. For as long as I have a column to write, I will devote my first column of the year to a summary of the highlights for human rights in the Philippines.

For the year 2013, here are what I consider the highlights:

1. The detention and maltreatment of Tausug Filipinos on a mission to reclaim Sabah. First on my list is the maltreatment suffered by the Filipinos as a consequence of the decision of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu to reclaim Sabah. Not only is the Sultanate’s title as clear as the light of day. The arbitrary arrest of Filipinos, which really was a witch hunt, coupled with the disproportionate use of force employed by the federation of Malaysia, and the arrest of journalists from ABS-CBN, GMA and Al Jazeera covering the event, highlight the sorry state of human rights in the Southeast Asian region. I highlighted this event because it should be taken as a reason for our own state to comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law: do not do to others what you do not want to be done to your own people;

2. The challenge to the 2012 Cybercrimes Prevention Law. Not since the first quarter storm and the 1986 people power revolution have we seen the youth of this country united in their opposition against an Orwellian attempt to infringe on freedom of expression in the medium intended to institutionalize the free market place of ideas. What is noteworthy is not just the petitions filed against the law, but the use of the Internet as a medium for protest. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the law, the fact is the youth have rediscovered activism in a new medium—in cyberspace.

3. The Palace position that it would not pay compensation to victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. The year 2013 was the year when the PNoy administration made clear its position that it would not pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. This is clearly a breach of the state obligation under human rights law to provide compensation to victims of violations of the right to life. Independent of the guilt of the accused in the pending criminal cases against the Ampatuans and their cohorts, the state has the obligation to pay compensation to those whose loved ones were killed by state agents despite the state’s obligation to protect and promote the victims right to life.

4. The Philippine position not to support UN Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. Alleging that neutrality to the ongoing systematic attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime against its civilian population was the best means to protect Filipinos in Syria, the Philippine government declined to support any UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. In adopting this position of neutrality, Filipino policy makers assumed that bullets used by the Assad regime could distinguish between a Syrian and a Filipino worker in Syria. Clearly, the duty to protect our nationals in troubled spots like Syria requires our government to support all initiatives to uphold and promote both human rights and humanitarian law in these troubled lands. This, in fact, is the only means that we can ensure that our diaspora do not fall victim to rampant and systematic human rights violations;

5. Indiscriminate violation of International Humanitarian Law in the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, IHL, as the law applicable in armed conflicts, found additional application as a result of the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, both the MNLF and the AFP were noted to have committed grave breaches of the law which is accepted by all countries in this planet as being non-derogable. Both parties to the conflict were observed to have been guilty of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.

The AFP order to indiscriminately detain individuals who cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer as possible MNLF members deserves special mention as this violates both the right of the people to be secure in their persons and the right of the people to liberty;

6. The Supreme Court decisions invalidating the PDAF, the Presidential Social Fund and Illegal Disbursement of the Malampaya funds. The decision declaring the pork barrel expenditures as unconstitutional impacts on human rights because hopefully, government funds could now be used to discharge the state obligation to take progressive steps in the realization of economic, social, cultural and economic rights. Hopefully, the hundreds of billions in taxpayers money which used to go to the pockets of our corrupt politicians can now be used to give realization to such basic rights such as the right to food, water, housing, and public health;

7. Finally, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. This was a big blow to the right of the people to heath, the right of privacy, the right to make very personal decisions such as the number of offsprings that spouses would want, and the right of women to non-discrimination.

I hope that 2014 will usher in both a Happy New Year to all and better compliance with human rights and humanitarian law in the Philippines.

Centerlaw’s statement on SC’s new guidelines on the Ampatuan massacre trial


We commend the Supreme Court for issuing new guidelines on the Ampatuan trial. These guidelines show that the Court also finds the status quo as being unacceptable. We are happy that the court granted our first in first out proposal, or that the lower court should issue partial promulgation as to some accused who have terminated with presentation of evidence without having to await termination of presentation of evidence for all theaccused. We proposed this to Judge Reyes but it was rejected. We welcome too the designation of an additional judge and the use of affidavits in lieu of direct testimony. We see these innovations as possible reasons why the trial of the case may finish within the term of P Noy.

The judiciary has done what it can do within its realm. We await the inputs from the executive on its initiatives on the prosecution of the case and the issue of compensation to the victims.

The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) represents the families of 15 of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao massacre in the ongoing criminal case. Centerlaw works closely with the government prosecution panel. Centerlaw is chaired by Atty. Harry L. Roque, Jr.

Statement of Center for International Law (Centerlaw) on Pres. Noynoy Aquino’s SONA


It was very sad that President Noynoy Aquino, for the first time in his SONA, did not have anything to say about the Maguindanao Massacre. As Chief Executive, it is still his duty to prosecute and cause the punishment of the perpetrators of the massacre.

We are also hoping that with recent information that some of the victims almost entered into a compromise with the Ampatuan, the President will squarely address the issue of compensation to be given to the victims of the single most murderous attack against journalists in history.

The President’s failure to state how he intend to finish the prosecution of the massacre case points to a lack of political will to punish those who will violate freedom of the press and the right to life.

Atty.  Harry L. Roque, Jr.
Chairman of Centerlaw and counsel for the families of 15 victims

Ampatuan Massacre commemoration today, July 23, 2013, at 6 pm in UP Diliman


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Ampatuan Massacre commemoration today, July 23, 2013, at 6 pm to 7 pm in front of UP Law Center, College of Law, UP Diliman.  Mrs. Cipriana Gatchalian, Mrs. Ramonita Salaysay & Mrs. Editha Tiamzon, widows of three of the 32 journalists killed in the massacre, will participate in the program.

Ampatuan victims open to negotiated settlement due to delay in trial


Story from Vera Files and Yahoo Philippines

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TIRED of the slow pace of justice, relatives of 14 of the 58 fatalities in the November 2009 Ampatuan massacre had signed an agreement with an “emissary” of the accused to negotiate the settlement of the murder case for P50 million.

But no settlement has been reached to date: The “emissary,” identified as Jun Chan, was killed in an ambush en route to his farm in Barangay Sulit in General Santos City a month after the agreement was signed.

The agreement with Chan was reached the third week of February, and Chan was killed on March 25. But the proposed settlement surfaced only recently when an heir of one of the victims decided to provide the details to highlight how precarious their situation is—financially and security-wise—as victims living in Mindanao.

Lawyer Harry Roque confirmed in radio interviews that four of the 14 heirs who signed the agreement with Chan are his clients.

The source, who attended the two meetings with Chan but ended up not signing the agreement, said the meetings were held in a mosque in General Santos on the second and third weeks of February. Chan was accompanied by a man they called “Prof,” but the heirs came without their lawyers, the source said.

In the first meeting, Chan asked the heirs to sign a document authorizing him to negotiate a financial settlement on their behalf in return for 15 percent of the amount. “We said we would not entertain any offer lower than P50 million, and the emissary said he would talk to his principal,” according to the source.

In the second meeting, Chan told the heirs that his principal was amenable to the amount but asked for two affidavits in return, the source said.

One would be an affidavit of desistance. The other would be an affidavit stating that then gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu had promised each journalist P30,000 as payment for accompanying his wife Genalyn to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy (COC).

“Akala namin nung una, affidavit of desistance lang OK na, pero sabi nila wala na daw magiging epekto yun sa kaso dahil pwede pa ding mag-prosecute ang gobyerno kahit bumitaw kami (We initially thought that they just wanted an affidavit of desistance, which was all right with us. But they said this would have no effect on the case because government can still prosecute the case),” the source said.

The heirs were asked to state in their affidavit that Mangudadatu promised to pay the victims P5,000 as downpayment and the balance of P25,000 after the COC had been filed, the source added.

Said the source: “Gusto nila na idiin si Toto, na alam nya na ipinapain nya ang buhay ng mga media para makapag-file siya ng COC (They wanted to implicate Mangudadatu by showing that he knew he was putting the journalists’ lives in danger).”

The source also said Chan repeatedly warned them “not to talk to anybody about the negotiations for our own safety.” Hence their silence when he was killed a month later.

At the time, police did not know the motive for killing Chan, who was in a car with his wife. Chan’s wife survived.

Chan had stressed in both meetings that it was in the heirs’ best interest to settle the case because the trial would only linger because the government’s evidence against the accused was weak, the source recalled.

“Kung manalo man daw kami, malaki na daw na makakuha kami ng P5 million (Even if we win, the most we’d get is P5 million),” the source said.

Reacting to the agreement reached between the victims’ heirs and Chan, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines president Rowena Paraan said, “We have an environment that encourages the victims to settle. If the victims feel they will get justice, the temptation to settle will not be there.”

On Monday, the NUJP and the Franciscan Sisters commemorated the 43rd month of the Ampatuan killing with a mass at the St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City.

Lawyer Prima Quinsayas, one of the private prosecutors in the ongoing Ampatuan trial at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, said she heard about the meetings between Chan and the heirs but that “none of (her) clients discussed it with her.”

Roque, said he will ask the United Nations Human Rights Committee to look into government’s failure to accord adequate remedy to the victims under domestic laws and compensation.

The UNHRC has called the Philippine government’s attention on two cases, that of Navy ensign Philip Pestano and Eden Marcellana, both victims of extrajudicial killings.

Roque said the government’s duty to pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan killing is “separate and distinct from the civil damages that the court may order the accused to pay to private complainants.”

By MYLAH REYES-ROQUE

- See more at: http://verafiles.org/ampatuan-victims-open-to-negotiated-settlement-due-to-delay-in-trial/#sthash.yytOZxXX.dpuf

AMPATUAN VICTIMS TO SEEK REDRESS WITH UN COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS. 14 Victims signed authority to negotiate a settlement with Ampatuans


On the occasion of the 43rd month commemoration of the Ampatuan massacre, Prof. Harry Roque, Chairman of the Center for International Law and Private Prosecutor of 17 media victims of the massacre, announced that their clients will resort to a filing of a communication with the United Nations Human Rights Committee for the Philippine government’s failure to accord the victims their rights to an adequate remedy under domestic law and compensation.

In at least 2 Views made by the UN Human Rights Committee where the Philippines was found guilty of breaching its obligation to protect and promote the right to life (the Pestano and Marcellana cases) for its failure to seasonable investigate and prosecute the killings of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano and Eden Marcellana, the Committee already declared that the Philippine government owes victims of extralegal killings these two obligations. “Thus far, it’s been almost 4 years and there is still no end in sight to the criminal prosecution of the Ampatuans. In fact, the Philippine government took almost 4 years just to file the information for the 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay. This should give us a clue on how long the criminal proceedings will take,” Roque added

Furthermore, Roque explained that the duty to pay compensation to the victims of the massacre is separate and distinct from the civil damages that the Court may order the accused to pay to the private complainants as part of the judgment in the criminal cases for murders. “The compensation that is due to the victims is because it is the state itself that breached its obligation to protect and promote the right of the victims to live. This includes not just monetary compensation, but also all that may be required tor restore the emotional and psychological well being of the victims. “We still have a pending motion for the Court to order government agencies to provide psycho-social support to the victims. This has not been acted upon but has strangely, given rise to a petition filed by the accused to cite us in contempt allegedly for “prejudging” the merits of the case”, Roque declared.

The need of the victims for compensation has been highlighted by the fact that 14 media victims, including 4 represented by Centerlaw, signed a written authority in February of this for a close associate of the Ampatuans to negotiate a settlement with the accused. Under this scheme, the victims were to sign not just a waiver and quitclaim, but also an affidavit pinning the blame for the massacre to Governor Toto Mangundadatu.

“Unless the Philippine government complies with its duty to pay compensation, the victims will continuously be tempted with schemes that may eventually cause a miscarriage of justice”, Roque said.

Roque asked all media groups and all those adhering to the rule of law to support the communication by filing their own interventions and briefs in due course

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SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO HASTEN THE “TRIAL OF THE CENTURY”


As we commemorate TODAY the third year anniversary of the ghastly Ampatuan massacre, let me reiterate my proposals to hasten the prosecution of the so-called trial of the century:

1.    For Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas- Resolve with dispatch our pending administrative cases against 62 policemen who were also charged criminally for the massacre. We hope Secretary Roxas will fire all 62 of them from the service.

2.    For Justice Secretary Leila De Lima- After all 62 policemen have been dismissed from the service, evaluate if these policemen should be dropped from the roster of the accused. Like a broken record, I will say it again: Even the Nuremberg Tribunal prosecuted only 14 of the highest-ranking Nazis for the worse case of genocide in this century. This is because prosecuting 196 accused, the number charged for the Ampatuan massacre, is a sure formula for impunity.  This will mean that the prosecution will never end.

3.    For Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes (covered by a pending motion)- To approve our proposed “First in –First Out” proposal where the introduction of both prosecution and defense evidence against some of the accused, i.e. Unsay Ampatuan, should be allowed.

4. For the Supreme Court, to designate a second Special Court to try the 300 or so motions filed by the parties so that Judge Solis-Reyes can proceed with just reception of evidence.

4.    For the nation — Damn our country’s pillars of the criminal justice system for failing to accord justice to the victims of the massacre even after three years, and vow that this will never happen again.

The nerve of Hun Sen


The nerve of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to say that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has opted not to internationalize the West Philippine Sea dispute! The group in fact approved no such resolution.  If at all, Asean has failed to make any stand on the matter. But this is not to say that it has opted for what China wants: bilateral negotiations.

I have more than enough experience dealing with Chinese media and officials to know what they mean when they say bilateral relations: all tensions will disappear if and when the Philippines admit that it has no title to both the Panatag shoal and the Kalayaan group of Islands. Yes, it’s not  enough that we are no match to China either militarily, politically, or economically. Bilateral negotiations mean that surrender is the only way to go for the Philippines.

It was hence but proper for President Noynoy Aquino to uphold the Philippine interest even at the risk of appearing undiplomatic. While Hun Sen was saying falsities, our President bravely stood up and said: “for the record, the Asean route is to the only route for us.” This was immediately after Hun Sen declared that Asean had agreed to negotiate with China on these disputes.

Even if China genuinely wants bilateral talks to peacefully end the West Philippine Sea disputes, why should it involve only two countries? Certainly, Kalayaan is claimed by at least five countries. What happens to the other claimants? And if China is able to show that its claim over the waters in the triangular area between Macclesfield Bank, Panatag, and the Kalayaan group of islands is legal, has not the international community acquired an interest in this dispute because these waters are also one of the world’s busiest shipping routes? Certainly, this fact alone, together with concerns over pollution in this busy route, should warrant a multilateral approach to this dispute.

The fact that Hun Sen was downright  pro-China should not come as a surprise. He is  one of the remaining despots in the world largely because of his China connection. This despite being part of the Pol Pot regime that committed genocide that is now being prosecuted by the Extraordinary Chambers of Cambodia. Certainly, Hun Sen was not only wrong in what he was saying when he was interrupted by President Aquino. He is also no match to our PNoy in terms of moral stature.

In any case, certainly, internationalizing the dispute should include the option to bring the dispute, at least Panatag, to the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS. Since, both China and the Philippines have ratified this Convention, the dispute procedure would be mandatory on issues involving any issue of interpretation or application of the Convention. As I have said many times in the past, despite the ill-advised 2009 Archipelagic Baselines Law that appended both the Kalayaan group and Panatag to our territory under the so-called “regime of islands”, the issue of whether Panatag is an island, even if only five very small rocks are permanently above water, or a “rock”, or “geographic formations”, which as held by the International Court of justice pertains to the state that has title or rights over the waters surrounding them, are all issues of interpretation which should be resolved through binding arbitration under UNCLOS. This issue may also be the subject of preliminary measures by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas.

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A blow to freedom of the press


In an en banc resolution signed by its clerk of court, the Supreme Court reversed itself on the issue of live media coverage of the Ampatuan massacre case. In its earlier decision, the court belittled the accused’s argument that live coverage will imperil his right to be presumed innocent since it will amount to a trial by publicity and would result in a pre-judgment.

In its earlier decision penned by now Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the high court ruled that such fear is unfounded as it is not supported by any empirical study. It then applied the constitutional commitment to freedom of the press and ordered live coverage, saying that the sheer number of victim families (58), the number of accused (196), and witnesses could not be accommodated in the courtroom. But more importantly, it recognized the neutrality of media coverage. According to the court: “Indeed, the Court cannot gloss over what advances technology has to offer in distilling the abstract discussion of key constitutional precepts into the workable context. Technology per se has always been neutral. It is the use and regulation thereof that need fine-tuning. Law and technology can work to the advantage and furtherance of the various rights herein involved, within the contours of defined guidelines.”

But in its decision dated October 23, 2012 with no indication of who the ponente of the decision was, the court reverted to the prior jurisprudence of in Re: Live TV and Radio Coverage of the Hearing of President Corazon C. Aquino’s Libel Case, which ruled:

“Experience likewise has established the prejudicial effect of telecasting on witnesses. Witnesses might be frightened, play to the camera, or become nervous. They are subject to extraordinary out-of-court influences that might affect their testimony. Also, teledesting not only increases the trial judge’s responsibility to avoid actual prejudice to the defendant, it may as well affect his own performance. Judges are human beings also and are subject to the same psychological reactions as laymen. For the defendant, telecasting is a form of mental harassment and subjects him to excessive public exposure and distracts him from the effective presentation of his defense. x x x The television camera is a powerful weapon which intentionally or inadvertently can destroy an accused and his case in the eyes of the public.”

Of course, as one of the private prosecutors in the case, I view this recent ruling as a setback to freedom of the press and to the cause of transparency. In jurisdictions that used to ban live coverage, the concern was the influence of publicity to lay people who sit as jurors in criminal proceedings. In contrast, in our system, the issue of guilt or innocence is made by a judge with impeccable credentials in the law and in the rules of evidence.

But more importantly, even in jurisdictions with the jury system—which include all the States in the United States except for the District of Columbia, the United Kingdom, and even international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court—now allow live television coverage borne of their experience that other than lack of empirical evidence that live media coverage is prejudicial to the accused, their respective jurisdictions also recognize the right of the people to information on matters concerning public concerns. In all these jurisdictions, criminal prosecution is vested public interest since all crimes are committed against the people of a state. In other words, all jurisdictions which now allow live media coverage of trials have engaged in a balancing of interest test and tilted the scale of justice in favor of the public’s right to press freedom and the right of the people to information.

While the court, in its second decision, ordered the showing of live feed of the proceedings in court rooms in Mindanao, such a decision contemplates that only the private complainants have an interest to witness the proceeding of the “trial of the century”.

With all due respect, this is a myopic view of who were victimized by the massacre. While the 58 families may be the only ones with standing to claim monetary damages as a result of the massacre, the fact that at least 33 of the victims, including the 15 families that we represent, are media practitioners have given the entire country a right to witness the proceedings. In the words of UN Special Rapporteur Franck La Rue, the killing of a journalist is prima facie an affront on freedom of the press. While the Court’s second order may enable the private complainants based in Mindanao to witness the prosecution, what happens to the 100 million Filipinos and the rest of the world who have the right to protect and promote freedom of the press?

The one hundred and second


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Good news to the families of the 58 victims of the infamous Maguindanao massacre. Shortly after the 1000th day anniversary of the massacre, Datu Ulo Ampatuan, brother of recently arrested and injured Ipeh Ampatuan, son of Anwar Ampatuan, grandson of Andal Ampatuan Sr, became the 102nd suspect to finally be apprehended for the massacre by the Philippine National Police.

This means that there are now 94 suspects who still have to be arrested. Without doubt, this is a very small step in the uphill battle for justice to the victims of the massacre, but good news nonetheless. What is worrisome is the pronouncement of his lawyer that 1000 days after the massacre, Ulo Ampatuan never went into hiding as in fact, he was arrested not in the jungles of Maguindanao, but in BF Resort in Las Pinas. Does this mean that all these time, the PNP was not actively seeking him out to be arrested? If so, this may mean that it would take 10 lifetimes before all of the suspects are finally arrested.

Just last week, I wrote about what next to do after we ratified the Rome Statute. Part of what is now incumbent upon us is the duty to cooperate particularly in the arrest of individuals who are subjects of warrants of arrest issued by the International Criminal Court. I have always maintained that the arrest of these persons may be our waterloo since obviously, our PNP has not proven to be effective in apprehending individuals with warrants of arrest. Aside from those still at large in the Maguindanao case, there are also the Reyes siblings of Palawan, both wanted for the murder of Doc Gerry Ortega; Joselito Binayug, wanted for the Darius Evangelista murder; former Rep. Ruben Ecleo, and Jovito Palparan. Unless the PNP shapes up, we may become the laughingstock of the international community since in almost all civilized societies, the apprehension of wanted individuals is considered to be amongst the most basis function of a police force.

This leads me now to the search for the new DILG Secretary. The DILG, by law, has supervision over both local government units and the PNP. Supervision is legally defined as the duty to ensure that hat local government units and the PNP are performing their functions. But because LGU heads have popular mandates, the thrust of the DILG really is over the PNP. It is clear that whoever will take-over the post must primarily have the ability to reign in a police force that has proven to be both inept and inefficient. This is why many of us regular citizens would like to see the likes of Senator Panfilo Lacson at the helm of the Department. Yes, the man may not be perfect- as who can claim to be perfect anyway? But there should be no doubt that Lacson, with his experience and proven abilities, can rebuild the PNP into what the law envisions it to be: the implementer and not the breaker of the law.