Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region


Government's failure to legislate on torture is a betrayal of Filipinos' constitutional rights

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
November 24, 2005

" is a fact of life that most torture victims are poor and marginalized people who are unable to get justice, compensation and rehabilitation for the suffering they have experienced."

The enactment of an enabling law to punish the perpetrators of acts of torture in the Philippines is long overdue. The government's failure to enact a law has deprived its citizens of their right to be free from the most abhorrent and barbaric of acts - torture. It is also completely disregarding its international obligations as a State Party to the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). By ratifying the Convention, the government is required to implement the provisions therein, including by domestic legislation.

By failing to take action to ensure the passage of an anti-torture law, the members of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives, have not protected their citizens against attacks and abuses by state agents. The provision of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which prohibits torture, has been betrayed by the lack of an enabling law, in particular for torture victims seeking justice and redress. It constitutes a failure of the legislature when it cannot protect the very people it represents.

In the Philippines, it is a fact of life that most torture victims are poor and marginalized people who are unable to get justice, compensation and rehabilitation for the suffering they have experienced. This is not only because of the absence of an enabling law against torture but also because of the attitude of those in government and Filipino society. The victims are not only denied their rights, they are also alienated from society. Making complaints of torture means that a victim has to endure many difficulties.

In most torture cases, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Philippines does not conduct investigations. The AHRC has in the past reported several cases of brutal torture. The Commission, however, is reluctant to pursue these cases and to recommend the prosecution of the alleged perpetrators. This is common in most cases. The victims have, however, had to face trials based on charges laid against them often stemming from confessions obtained through the use of torture.

The government's cynical interpretations of human rights protection and state responsibility must instead be changed into realistic laws. It must produce results rather than the empty human rights rhetoric it currently entertains.

The Philippines' reluctance to enact laws against torture can in part be attributed to a deep-rooted mentality that a person who is suspected of having committed a crime deserves to be punished, ridiculed and discriminated against. There is a poor understanding of the right to the freedom from torture. Government officials have even accused legislators pushing for the law to be passed of being sympathetic to the armed insurgent movement and suspected terrorists, who compose most of the group of tortured victims.

This is evident in the common practices of the police, the military and even the President in presenting suspects to the media and public before they go to trial. It is a complete disregard of a person's dignity to be presented in this way before trial and represents a flagrant violation of the concept of being considered innocent before being proven guilty. Most civilized societies in the world have stopped this practice but the Philippines has not. In Thailand, a recent police regulation has prohibited the Thai police from taking victims or suspects before press conferences or letting reporters or photographers take pictures of them.

This is a challenge not only to policy makers in the Philippines but to Filipino society as a whole. There is a need to have the law on torture enacted. This is a necessary precondition and achievable means of enabling the protection against torture in the country.





A statement of concern from KATUNGOD-SB-KARAPATAN

An Appeal to Friends in the Media, Members of Progressive Organizations and all Freedom-Loving Filipinos
November 13, 2005

Dear Friends:

Warm nationalist greetings amidst this terroristic attacks committed by the state on our ranks!

We are about to observe the 57th Commemorative Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a landmark document which had been ratified by most governments and states all over the world last December 10, 1948.   The Philippine government is also a signatory to this international human rights instrument.

However, we are saddened by the fact that despite this document and other parallel human rights instruments like the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws (CARHRIHL), still civil liberties and basic rights of the people are grossly violated and disregarded.   What is more alarming is the fact that armed state forces/agents are perpetrating infractions to human rights guaranteed and enshrined in these documents.

In Eastern Visayas, we have been witnesses to the stint of Brig. General Jovito S. Palparan who then assumed as commanding general of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Brgy. Maulong, Catbalogan, Western Samar who wrecked havoc on peasant communities and progressive organizations including local government units and their officials. Indiscriminately, he unleashed a terroristic campaign to curtail basic human rights – freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly, organization, among other politico-civil guarantees.

Our gruesome experience under Palparan puts the record of violations to 570 cases committed (the number is still surging up as claims are mounting on daily basis) – from politically motivated killings in form of massacres, assassinations, salvagings (extra-judicial killings); abductions and enforced disappearance; arbitrary arrest and detention; physical assault/mental and physical torture; divestment and destruction of properties; verbal threats to media practitioners; to sowing of the climate of terror on far-flung villages, among others.

We have estimated the violations to have the rate of eighty eight (88) cases per month, twenty (20) cases per week and three (3) cases per day.

We called on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to denounce the killings, investigate the perpetrators and bring them to the folds of the law and justice.   But our cries and yells have fallen on deaf ears.

Instead, we are being threatened with a Marcosian iron fist – laws banning rallies and legitimate arenas to seek redress of grievances, curtailment of press freedom, intrusion to civil liberties in the guise of combating terrorism, etc.

We have come to believe that the government's action and inaction spell culpability to these violations.  Worse, it could mean that the Macapagal Arroyo administration officially sanctions the wide scale of repression and curtailment moves.

Immediately after Jovito Palparan was bolted out of his post and upon assumption into office of the new commanding general in the person of Major General Bonifacio Ramos, another leader was felled by bullets.   Atty. Norman Bocar, regional chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan ha Sinirangan Bisayas (BAYAN-SB) and provincial tourism officer of Eastern Samar province was gunned down last September 1, 2005.

On the same date, three (3) employees of the Samar Electric Cooperative II (SAMELCO II) were massacred by armed elements near the camp of the 34 th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Brgy. Libas, Catbalogan, Samar.  Previously in June 2005, a SAMELCO II lineman was abducted and tortured by the same army unit in suspicion that he was aiding the revolutionary New People's Army (NPA) as its courier.

Again in our region, we are again sounding the bell for us to take notice of the most recent incidents – two killings in a week – similar to what happened previously when Palparan was head of the 8 th ID and that of Central Luzon when he assumed post at Fort Magsaysay.

The Killing of Bayan Muna Coordinator Jose A. Ducalang in Ormoc City

Jose A. Ducalang, a 58-year old father of three and a peace-loving citizen residing at Brgy. Ipil, Ormoc City was gunned down by two motorcycle riding men in bonnets last November 7, 2005 at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon.   He just came from his work at the city agriculture office and boarded a parked pedicab which would transport him home when the incident happened.

He was the city coordinator of the progressive Bayan Muna party-list.

He sustained a lone gunshot in the abdominal region of his body and was rushed by concerned citizens to the nearby Ormoc Sugar Planter Association-Farmers' Medical Center (OSPA-FMC). When he was still conscious, he identified the perpetrators as elements of the 19th IB PA based in Brgy. Aguiting, Kananga, Leyte that is being headed by Col. Louie Dayog.  He even scribbled the characters "19IB" when asked by documenters on the identities of the assailants.

He died three (3) days later on November 10, 2005 at about 10 o'clock in the evening when his body was not able to withstand the infection brought about by the gunshot wound and its complications.

The Assassination of Former Vice Mayor Ben Bajado

Just this evening (November 13, 2005), we were informed of the tragedy to this soft-spoken man, Ben Bajado.  He was also in his 50s, a prominent man in his municipality in Eastern Samar province as he was previously elected as Maydolong town's vice-mayor in year 2001 under the banner of Bayan Muna partylist.

The informant said that he was gunned down at around 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon today in Maydolong town.   He was brought immediately to Eastern Samar Provincial Hospital in the capital town of Borongan but was pronounced dead-on-arrival (DOA).

He was the provincial secretary general of the multi-sectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and sat as a regional council member of Bayan-Sinirangan Bisayas.   An active leader, he helped in the campaign against the ill effects of mining in Manicani and Homonhon islands in Eastern Samar province. 

He was also instrumental in putting up progressive sectoral organizations like the Alyansa han mga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Samar (Alliance of Peasants in Eastern Samar or ALPAS), Katilingbanon nga Pagkaurusa para ha Nasudnon Demokrasya (Unity for National Democracy or KIND) and Kapunungan han mga Barangay Opisyales ha Sinirangan Samar (Organization of Village Officials in Eastern Samar or KAUSA).

He was also a very active council member of Alyansa ha Pagpanalipod han Tawhanon nga Katungod ha Sinirangan Samar (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights in Eastern Samar or KATUNGOD-ES) and campaigned against the militarization in the region.

Another Wave of Terrorist Attacks on Legal Organizations

The motives of the killings are clear – their involvement in progressive organizations and/or alleged connection with the revolutionary forces.

The identities of the perpetrators are remarkably in the same modus operandi (manner of execution), get-away vehicles and firearms used.  They are being tolerated by the government's inaction and still continue to enjoy impunity.

This is a total disregard to due process and rule of law under the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Jovito Palparan was clear on this when he said that, " at times we have to bypass the due process because we want to take this fast track" when asked regarding the counter-insurgency operations by members of the international church bodies during their Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV) to Camp Lukban in July 2005.

This is a time for us to act and collective respond.  We cannot just stay and watch idly as our brethren are being killed by no other than armed state agents who have sworn duty to the Philippine flag and to the Filipino people which it represents.  The elements of the military who are said to be 'protectors of the people' and 'guardians of democracy' are killing unarmed civilians and are the very agents who curtail democratic rights.

We therefore call on every freedom-loving Filipinos, all media practitioners, leaders and members of progressive and cause-oriented groups to uphold, defend and struggle for our democratic rights and civil liberties.

Let us not be cowed by the Marcosian rule that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and her minions in the military are imposing upon us.


For the Regional Secretariat and Council of KATUNGOD-Sinirangan Bisayas,

I respectfully remain,

Alyansa ha Pagpanalipod han Tawhanon nga Katungod ha Sinirangan Bisayas
Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights in Eastern Visayas)





Fear overwhelming the lives of ordinary Filipinos

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
November 3, 2005

"The Philippines is at an extremely dangerous point in its history..."

The life of an average citizen in the Philippines these days is beset with fear. Even the expression "rule of law" evokes cynical reactions among ordinary folk, as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo uses the very same expression to justify blatant and brutal repression. Sloganeering about anti-terrorism and anti-crime drives is used as a weapon to subdue millions suffering from extreme economic hardship who lack any legitimate channels through which to have their voices heard and some relief obtained. Even people who dare to cry out that they are hungry and impoverished face threats, rather than support, from government officials and the members of local elites.

Throughout the country, steps are being quickly taken to silence complainants rather than address their grievances. Protesters and human rights defenders are being aggressively repressed. Laws are being used to ban meetings where permits are not first obtained, going against the very culture of a people who in the 1980s overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and hold the right to protest dearly. Targeted killings are continuing daily right across the archipelago. Trade unionists, land reform advocates, farmers, journalists and human rights defenders are among the victims. In areas of outright conflict, such as in the south of the country, large-scale bloodshed is a fact of life.

What is happening in the Philippines is itself part of a negative trend throughout Asia: ideologically-driven propaganda is being used to deny the basic rights of the ordinary people in the name of law-and-order. However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has observed that in the Philippines the situation is worse than in most neighboring countries. In other countries it has been possible to develop effective campaigns to counteract and prevent the hardening of extremist ideological positions by the authorities, and thereby offset the worst effects of the repression they are designed to justify. By contrast, in the Philippines there seems to be as yet no serious efforts towards this end. The result is rapidly worsening rule of law, despite the rhetorical commitments of the government to the contrary, and an accompanying very deep sense of frustration among the ordinary folk.

The Philippines is at an extremely dangerous point in its history. Widespread frustration about the collapsed rule of law may completely alienate most people in the country from the elite and authorities. At that point the Philippines could well face upsurged violence, perhaps on an unprecedented scale, accompanied by the building of parallel systems and institutions of "justice" in defiance of those under control of the state.

The defense of human rights in the Philippines is at its lowest point in many years: a new approach is needed. Filipinos must concentrate more on shoring up and reinvigorating their institutions of justice. They must take calls for reforms to these institutions to the public. Though this may be a very difficult task initially, if a measure of confidence can be restored, a movement could be quickly mobilized and have a strong effect. For the sake of those who are daily dying from the bullets of assassins, or crying from hunger, this work needs to begin now.





A Statement Protesting the Lifting of the Logging Moratorium in Samar Island, in Favor of the Enrile-owned San Jose Timber Corporation

A Statement by the Samar Island Biodiversity Foundation
October 24, 2005

"We have enough lessons to teach us not to trust anymore our officials at the national level to protect us and our forests..."

The DENR Order dated August 15, 2005 entitled “IN RE: Letter dated 11 July 2005 for the Lifting of Moratorium Order dated 08 February 1989, which now allows the resumption of the operations of the San Jose Timber Corporation, is a direct threat to the lives, limbs and livelihoods of Samarnons. In January 1989, the Municipality of Catubig, Las Navas, Gandara, San Jorge, Dolores, Oras, Can-avid, Jipapad, Maslog of the island of Samar were inundated by massive flash floods which destroyed the homes and farms and cost the lives, of their residents. Famine followed the flashfloods.

There could have been no cause other than the extensive commercial logging that were then going on. The Samarnons thus clamored for an end to logging operations in the island. The Aquino Administration saw the gravity of the situation and declared the moratorium on logging. This moratorium was strengthened by the Presidential Proclamation No. 744 of President Ramos declaring Samar’s remaining forest as Forest Reserve. On August 13, 2003, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo promulgated the Presidential Proclamation 442, declaring the same forests as the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP). The SINP aims to preserve the country’s largest contiguous lowland tropical rainforest. Its area covers the habitats of many plant and animal species that can be found nowhere else in this planet.

This Order blatantly disregards the declared policy of three past Administrations, and opens the floodgates for the massive invasion of Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) by logging operations. It effectively carves out from the SINP, approximately 90,000 has. based on the Timber Licensing Agreement (TLA) granted to San Jose Timber Corporation (SJTC). The onslaught will not stop there. There are other TLAs whose coverage includes large chunks of the SINP. This Order creates a precedent for other TLA holders to follow suit. As for the SINP areas that will be left, we can trust the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines led by Philip Romualdez and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, to try claim those areas for mining.

Since the moratorium, we have had no flashfloods. With the lifting of the moratorium, we will now be gripped with fear of flashfloods whenever we have heavy rains. Since Samar Island has the highest rainfall in the country, this lifting of the moratorium looms as a series of acts of terrorism to be inflicted on tens of thousands of Samarnons, especially those in the affected municipality.

We have enough lessons to teach us not to trust anymore our officials at the national level to protect us and our forests. First, The Marcos-Romualdez Conjugal Dictatorship sliced up Samar’s forest into TLAs and gave these as favors for its cronies, and later declared a part of our forests as the Samar Bauxite Mineral Reservation for - judging by the zeal of Philip Romualdez to have the bauxite deposits mined - the family. Then Secretary Sonny Alvarez cut a portion of our forest and gave it as balato in the form of an MPSA to the brother of then Vice President Teofisto Guingona who supported him in his bid to keep his post. Now Secretary Mike Defensor has used another portion of our forest in exchange for the support of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, to get his nomination confirmed by the Senate. We should stop this continuing insult on our dignity!

The Samar Island Biodiversity Foundation (SIBF) a consortium of NGOs and POs from the three provinces of Samar, strongly opposes this Order. We therefore call on all sectors of Samar island, and on all Samarnons everywhere, and to all who care for the environment, to join us in opposing this Order.

We have already experienced what happened in Aurora, Quezon and we cannot allow it to happen again


Respect the sentiments of the Samarnons, Ban Logging and Mining in Samar island.

Not again Enrile!

Resign Mike Defensor!

Signed this 12th day of October in the year of our lord, in the City of Tacloban.





Admit imperfection, and work for common good

By DANILO A. REYES, Asian Human Rights Commission
October 23, 2005

"I maybe wrong, but I think the Rule of Law in our country is better off than those in our neighboring Asian countries..."

It's saddening to see fellow Filipinos hurting each other during protest actions, some may have been forced to do so for a call of duty or their convictions.

History could tell how Filipinos have fought enough for struggle of democracy in previous years, and I admired my roots. Countless precious lives were sacrificed for this cause.

We Filipinos, regardless from all walks of life, from ordinary people to the elite, are once united for one cause in the 80s: "to restore democracy" in our country. That was before.

Today, the struggle may have been tainted with personal and political interest, propaganda and to grab power.

This is, of my personal observation why those in the government could quickly dismiss and label these sacrifices of people who fought and protested to get rid of them, as merely such. And it's sad the public and media may have been convinced.

And maybe why other Filipinos have opted not join clashes with the policemen in protest though they feel sorry and indeed have deep sympathy for the protesters' cause.

I maybe wrong, but I think the Rule of Law in our country is better off than those in our neighboring Asian countries, like in Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Theirs may have collapsed.

But what made me admire to activist from this countries, some of those is known to me, is that they worked hard to make the system in their government work - instead of destroying them. Unless maybe if the situation warrants it.

I believed that Philippines is not yet a stateless society as what others may have depicted it, though there may have been defects or bad eggs working in it. There are still good public servant, our watchdog media, the civil society, religious leaders and others.

Time must come that we must learn to understand each other, admit our imperfection and work for the common good. By then, some ordinary Filipinos - who maybe until now are reluctant to join or have not been able to understand the crisis in our county - would join for the same cause, "to protect our rights stipulated in the constitution once threatened and abused by the state".




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