LAST April, Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa, in the unveiling of the new PNP Human Rights Resource Center in Camp Crame said that human rights promotion was a key performance indicator in the transformation of the Philippine Police Force.
The perception that our security forces- police, military and even paramilitary forces not-so-pristine record in relation to upholding human rights can be traced to the role they played during the Martial Law years.
Because of such an experience, Filipinos are generally aware of the importance of human rights and promotion of such is an indicator of good governance. Yet the high awareness of rights does not automatically mean these rights are stringently upheld.
In fact, the human rights situation in Central Luzon was the hot topic last week in So To Speak with representatives from the PNP, the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) and from human rights organizations tackling the matter.
The dismal human rights record and lack of resolution of such cases was a sore point by many international watchdogs from North America and Europe against the past administration, and now a problem burdening the two-month old Aquino administration.
Four years back, Central Luzon saw an unprecedented influx of security forces with seven army battalions settling in excluding Special Action Groups, Provincial Mobile Groups and paramilitary forces.
Alongside the deployment came reports of human rights abuses including illegal arrests, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and harassments. It was during this period we saw security forces in cities, occupying barangay halls and setting up checkpoints in areas considered "hotbeds" of insurgency. This was in the context of their self-imposed counter-insurgency deadline.
Progressive groups were included in the harassment and negative propaganda, and many of their ranks joined the estimated nine hundred cases of extrajudicial killings.
In fact, Central Luzon ranked third in terms of extralegal killings with a hundred fifty four cases and registering the highest in terms of enforced disappearances with sixty-six cases, documented in nine years of the Arroyo administration.
As a result, the Supreme Court led by former Chief Justice Renato Puno came out with two landmark remedies - writ of amparo and writ of habeas data.
"Amparo" means protection and in Mexico where it originated, Recurso de Amparo is a remedy against acts that violate any of the individual guarantees recognized in the Mexican Constitution. It could be evoked in criminal, civil, administrative trials.
The writ of amparo was limited by our Supreme Court as a remedy to any person whose life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.
The writ of habeas corpus, on the other hand, is relief from unlawful imprisonment, such as cases where a prisoner is held incommunicado or unable to communicate with counsel or relatives.
The writ of amparo, removes from officials and other respondents the defense of denial, a problem that has led to the dismissal of habeas corpus cases against missing persons. This remedy was utilized by the Manalo brothers-- farmers who were abducted in 2006 and held captive for a year in secret detention centers run by elements of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and paramilitary forces. They were subject to various forms of torture and were able to escape.
It is interesting to note that the months running up towards the May 2010 elections saw a spate of killings, enforced disappearances and even reports of harassment in Pampanga and while such legal remedies are available to victims, the dispensation of speedy justice did not improve perceptibly.
Last August 3 we saw five men illegally arrested in a subdivision in San Fernando, accused as rebels by PNP and subjected to various forms of torture for eighteen hours. These things happen despite having enacted the anti-torture law.
Torture is an assault to human dignity, and whether it is committed via beating, electro shock or sexual abuse, it leaves a lasting scar not just on the flesh but also on the psyche of the victims. And in the minds of some, their ordeal is never over.
The challenge for PNoy is to show that his administration does not tolerate such indignities and violations of human rights. He should prosecute the perpetrators as swiftly like his reaction to Pagasa's shortcomings in accurately predicting Typhoon Basyang.
If he is serious in curbing scalawags in uniform, justice must not be delayed for past victims of human rights violations. Surely, it is only when we uphold genuine respect for the human person, could we truly call any society just and humane.