June 30, 2010
Now that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has officially lost immunity of suit after the official inauguration of new Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the hopes and dreams of the families of the victims of Arroyo’s 9-year bloody counter-insurgency campaign, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), for “true and complete justice” should not be dragged on any further. The Aquino electoral promise of justice and prosecution of human rights abusers that inspired Filipinos to vote for Noynoy should be fulfilled swiftly starting with the prosecution of Arroyo and her regime’s high officials that were largely responsible for the over scores of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions, torture cases, summary executions of civilians and other gross human rights violations that took place from 2001-2010.
This is the chance of a lifetime for Noynoy, who should never forget that he is the son of one of the country’s highest profile victims of human rights violations– illegal detention and extrajudicial killing at the hands of the Marcos dictatorship.In righting the wrongs of the Arroyo government by dismantling the culture of impunity for known human rights abusers, Noynoy takes concrete steps– rather than just paying lipservice– towards restoring the international community’s confidence in the Philippine government’s respect and recognition for human rights.
Noynoy should also not forget that one of the benchmarks of his late mother’s legacy as Philippine president was the freeing of Marcos’ political prisoners almost immediately upon the advent of her term. This act shed a much-welcomed light after over a decade of darkness under Marcos’ draconian martial law marked by assassinations, abductions, illegal detentions, and torture of the civilian opposition to the dictatorship. Noynoy should follow in his mother’s footsteps and free the over 344 civilians wrongfully imprisoned by the Arroyo government. Noynoy follows an even darker period under Arroyo that in many ways surpasses the audacity of the Marcos dictatorship in terms of the frequency of human rights violations against civilians.
Furthermore, Arroyo’s OBL has blatantly ignored the fact that the Philippine government is signatory to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), which outline the international rules of engagement in warfare. The cases of nine year-old Grecil Buya and school teacher Rebelyn Pitao illustrate how the Philippine military’s counter-insurgency operations in the countryside gruesomely target and dispose of non-combatants as well. Noynoy should also ensure that the Philippine government’s ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) is honored.History has shown that the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, World Council of Churches, International Labor Organization, and other international human rights authorities have all cast their judgment down on Arroyo and OBL with scathing reports condemning gross systemic human rights violations in the country. In order to elevate the Philippines from this deep rut of shame dug by Arroyo, Noynoy must scrap US-funded OBL all together and get started on a real concrete human rights agenda. Just as the people remained vigilant against election fraud last May, the people must remain vigilant that Noynoy treads not the path of the Obama administration of high hopes yet broken electoral promises. ###