De Lima: Government taking steps to stop rights violations-A A +A
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
MANILA -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told a group of human rights watchdogs that had been instrumental in cutting United States military aid to the Philippines that the Aquino administration has taken steps to reduce cases of extrajudicial killings and related violations.
In a meeting on Tuesday at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C., De Lima said the government has not used violence, intimidation or threats to curtail rights of individuals.
Militants have since accused the government's counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan of killing members of leftist organizations but the military claimed otherwise, saying the program is centered on resolving conflicts through peace process and community work.
"This Aquino administration can honestly and sincerely say this because we absolutely have nothing to hide," said de Lima, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Present during the dialogue were representatives of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Ecumenical Advisory Network, and the International Justice Mission.
These groups were successful in blocking the release by the US Congress of more than $13 million in military assistance to the Philippines since 2008.
"When it comes to the number of convictions, our record leaves great room for improvement. That is a fact which we do not deny," de Lima said, referring to cases of extrajudicial killings, which has reached 99 according to rights group Karapatan.
"However, I cannot be more emphatic in my position that it is not fair to conclude from this that the Philippine human rights situation has not improved or that the Aquino government has failed to deliver on its promises or that we continue to promote a culture of impunity," she added.
She cited the establishment of Human Rights Affairs Offices in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to educate uniformed personnel about the importance of observing and respecting human rights.
At her department, de Lima said they are working to improve its Witness Protection Program through proposed amendments to the law, bigger budget allocations and getting foreign support
"We are also investing on our investigative and forensic infrastructure through the National Justice Information System, the modernization of our facilities and by grooming our investigators and prosecutors to work closely together to build strong cases for prosecution," she said.
De Lima said the department also succeeded in engaging different stakeholders in achieving a higher level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases such as the development of a Prosecutor’s Manual on Human Rights. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)