Human Rights and Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines
A Note on the Arroyo Government (2001-2007)
Essay 2008 12 Pages
Human Rights and Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines: A Note on the Arroyo Government (2001-2007)
July 2007 is an eventful month for human rights in the Philippines under the Arroyo government. First, after a great deal of debate and delay, an anti-terrorism law or officially known as Human Security Act (Republic Act 9372) has finally been passed. Critics of the new law say that it is subject to the abuse of the government and therefore would lead to more human rights violations. The government, on the other hand, believes that the new law would strengthen the institutions like the courts and police in protecting the human rights of the citizens against terror. Second, just a day after the passage of the Human Security Act into law, a two-day National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances: Searching for Solutions was held under the initiative of the Supreme Court and was participated in by stakeholders and duty-bearers of human rights. Third, a concurrent two-day summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on human rights to look into the creation of a regional human rights commission was also held in Manila. With these events, human rights and security have again taken center stage among the concerns and considerations for our path and vision of the common future of the country, region, and even of the world. Fourth, the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the president merely mentioned sparingly the state of human rights especially extrajudicial killings. She just urged the Congress to enact laws, but was short of commanding the military and police to stop the killings and other human rights violations.
It would be noted that 48 member-states of the United Nations (UN) including the Philippines ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. In his book, International Standards and Agreements on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Reynaldo Ty (1989) defines a declaration as “a formal statement which refers to the common standard of achievement” (p. 3). Being a declaration, it is not legally binding but it sets a common reference to human rights among the signatories and, in fact, has gained, over time, international acceptance and status as standards against which either compliance or violation of the provisions in the declaration is monitored.
Signatories of the declaration recognize that these standards impose obligations, duties and commitments on them to comply and enforce in their respective territorial state. Donnely (2003), the author of In Defense of the Universal Declaration Model, points out that the states have become the “new exclusive instrument for implementing internationally recognized human rights” (p. 40). In other words, the practice of human rights heavily relies on the political, economic, and cultural dynamics of a certain state. This monism follows the generally accepted principle that the enforcement of human rights is in the hands of the states (Ty, 1989).
Although in principle the declaration is not legally binding, the Philippine state through the doctrine of incorporation has adopted the declaration as part of the law of the land (Ty, 1989). The Philippine Constitution of 1987 expressly states this incorporation in Article II, Section 2; “The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.”
Furthermore, being a signatory of the declaration makes its adoption and incorporation into the national laws more compelling and valid. However, being a signatory does not necessarily guarantee and translate into full compliance and enforcement. Thus, can being a signatory to the declaration make a difference in the protection and respect of human rights?
In his article, Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights, Neumayer (2005) finds out that “the beneficial effect of ratification of human rights treaties is typically conditional on the extent of democracy and the strength of civil society groups as measured by participation in non-government organizations (NGOs) with international linkages”(p. 926). He concluded that the ratification might not have any effect or might even lead to further human rights violations without democratic spaces and presence of strong civil society.
This paper looks at the case of the Philippine government under the Arroyo administration, as a signatory to the declaration, and how it performs in the field of human rights particularly with regard to the spate of extrajudicial killings by revisiting the reports of Melo commission and UN-designated Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Then, the paper proceeds with a discussion on the effect of ratifying an internationally-accepted declaration on the Philippine government in the hope of an end to the killings.
Extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government
The Philippine government recently has been under intense local and international criticisms for the unabated extrajudicial killings of mostly activists and journalists since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ascended to power in 2001. On its 1983 report about Political Killings by Governments, Amnesty International (AI), an international organization that works for the protection of human rights, defines extrajudicial killings as those killings “committed outside the judicial process and in violation of national laws and international standards forbidding the arbitrary deprivation of life” (pp. 5-6). It would be recalled that only in June 2006 that the Philippines repealed its death penalty law. Therefore prior to June 2006, the Philippine government had judicial killings sanctioned by the death penalty law of the state. The extrajudicial killings referred to by AI are also alternatively called political killings because they are deliberate and directed to neutralize or silence opposition members. To substantiate its allegation on the rising extrajudicial killings, AI (2006) documented 51 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines for the first six months of 2006 and 66 killings in the whole of 2005. It estimated that for the whole year of 2006, the numbers of killings ranged from at least 61 to 96 incidents. This disturbing high number of killings in 2006 could be attributed to the Arroyo government’s February 16, 2006 -declaration of an all-out war against the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Moreover, on February 22, 2007, a news report from the online edition of The Independent, a newspaper in United Kingdom, revealed that according to a local human rights group, Karapatan, at least 832 people were either killed or declared missing since Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001. In the weekly Philippine Daily Inquirer’s (PDI) Talk of the Town for July 22, 2007, it quoted Karapatan’s last count of extrajudicial killings which is currently pegged at 863 deaths. These killings captured headlines and international attention in 2005 and 2006 when successive and patterned killings and disappearances of unarmed activists and non-combatants known to be critical of the Arroyo government were reported.
The same 1983 AI report on political killings by government, drawing from the 1982 International Conference on Extrajudicial Executions in the Netherlands, identified the “preconditions” or indicators of political killings and other human rights violations by governments. These possible preconditions are “the imposition of a state of emergency, martial law, or other states of exception; the occurrence of other human rights violations such as irregular arrests and detentions, ‘disappearances’ and torture; the identification of certain groups as ‘enemies;’ claims of ‘encounters’ with armed groups resulting in deaths” (p. 103). Prophetic as the report might be, these preconditions or indicators of the killings existed in 2006.