Safeguards – Regional and International Protections on the Rights of Children

Katerina LagasséBy Katerina Lagassé
The Adhikain Para Sa Karapatang Pambata (AKAP)[1] Child Rights Desk of the Ateneo Centre for Human Rights works with different stakeholders to advocate for children and has contributed to drafting legislation and building programming for the ASEAN region in partnership with Save the Children.

Currently, AKAP is compiling research on children and corporate social responsibility. In the ASEAN region, children are affected by adverse business practices. They may be affected either directly, by working illicitly as underage labourers, or through other means such as being relocated with their families as a result of land expropriation by corporations or the government, through forced migration due to social and or economic pressures and by being exposed to toxic substances from resource extractive industry practices.

Supporting children’s rights requires businesses to continually and diligently assess their potential human rights impacts and mitigate the issues that are identified. All ASEAN member States have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and continue to implement domestic laws that follow the CRC framework.[2]

There are different social, economic, and political environments in the ASEAN States which create obstacles to the effective implementation of the CRC. All ASEAN member States are parties to the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. This convention recognizes the proximity of borders and promotes regional cooperation to effectively “combat trafficking in persons, especially against women and children, and to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers […]”[3]. However, ASEAN member States are each affected differently by the impacts on children associated to business practices. As mentioned these impacts include exploitative child labour and human trafficking and other factors that result from social and economic disparity that shape vulnerable populations (migration, HIV and AIDS, Natural disasters, emerging diseases and conflict).[4]

Certain provisions of the CRC are particularly relevant to business responsibility and state protection.[5] As per the CRC, State parties  “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development” and are required to “take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article(s)”.[6] Recognition in particular requires providing a minimum age for employment, regulation of hours and conditions of employment, and imposing penalties or sanctions to ensure the provisions are effectively enforced.[7] States are required to protect children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse[8], from trafficking[9], and against any form of exploitation that prejudices a child’s welfare.[10] Furthermore, States are required to implement penalties for abuses[11] and to take measures to promote the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children that are considered victims of “neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts” in order to promote the “self-respect and dignity of the child”.[12] According to the CRC, State parties are required to implement child protection measures to ensure the government fulfills their commitment. As of June 2017, Indonesia is the only ASEAN member State to launch a National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights.[13]

[1] Akap is a Filipino term that means “to embrace”.
[2] “Situation Review of Children in ASEAN: A report by UNICEF to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations” (December 2007), online: UNICEF < https://www.unicef.org/eapro/Asean_book.pdf > [UNICEF, “Situation…”].
[3] ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (entered into force November 21, 2015) at art 1(a), online: Interpol <https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#q=asean+convention+on+human+trafficking+interpol >
[4] UNICEF, “Situation…”, supra note 8 at 9.
[5] See CRC, supra note 9 at arts 32, 34, 35, 36, and 39.
[6]Ibid at art 32.
[7]Ibid.
[8]Ibid at art 34.
[9]Ibid at art 35.
[10]Ibid at art 36.
[11]Ibid at art 32.
[12]Ibid at art 39.
[13] FIHRSST, “Indonesia publishes National Action Plan on Business & Human rights; first to launch NAP among Asian countries” (25 June 2017), online: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre < https://business-humanrights.org/en/indonesia-to-develop-a-national-action-plan-on-business-human-rights#c159131 >.

The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and Human Rights Education

Katerina Lagassé By Katerina Lagassé
The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) of the Ateneo de Manila School of Law facilitates an internship program that provides an opportunity for Ateneo law students to gain experience in human rights advocacy and alternative lawyering. This program provides students with an understanding of the “vulnerable sectors of Philippine society”.[1] Throughout the year, different batches of students participate in the internship program. There are three main activities the Semestral Break Internship program (two weeks), the Summer Internship program (2 months), and the Graduate Internship Program (yearlong).[2] Subsequent to the internship, students continue to support the program and the centre by generating activities and research that supports human rights advocacy.[3] The summer program is unique because it includes a week-long immersion in an Indigenous community that is followed by an internship placement at human rights groups around the country. The mandate of these organizations ranges from addressing issues related to the environment, children, Indigenous peoples, urban poor, women, fisher folk, detention prisoners, and migrants (to name a few).[4] Each placement allows students to gain an invaluable hands-on experience that exemplifies the barriers that exist to access to justice and the importance of alternative lawyering in the Philippines context (and abroad).

In Atty. Marlon J. Manuel’s article “Lawyer with the Poor”, that is reproduced in the Training Manual for Paralegals (and interns), he deconstructs the concept of alternative lawyering. For Atty. Manuel, it is a form of lawyering that uses legal tools and works through the legal system to address social issues, but is not limited to solely providing legal aid.[5] Alternative lawyering is distinct from traditional conceptions of human rights lawyering in that it focuses on “economic, social and cultural rights rather than on civil and political rights” while “seek[ing] to effect societal change”.[6] This form of practicing the law requires understanding the precarity of social relationships and circumstances that perpetuate injustices and necessitates working with the marginalized not for them.[7] Atty. Manuel’s legal career reflects this philosophy and practice which the interns were able to witness in the documentary on the struggle of the Sumilao Farmers before commencing their internships.

Prior to departing on the immersion, students undergo the basic orientation seminar and read the Training Manual for Paralegals. During the seminar, presentations by different specialists provide a framework to understanding Human Rights in the national context. This year, the presentations included: Alternative Lawyering (Atty. Anmau Manigbas, AHRC), Legal Aid and Client Interview (Atty. Kenjie Aman, ALSC), Children’s Rights (Atty. Nica Yan, AHRC – AKAP), Refugees, Statelessness and Internally Displaced Persons (Atty. Anmau Manigbas, AHRC), The Environment and Human Rights (Usec. Ipat Luna, Department of Environment), Peasant Farms Section and Agrarian Reform, Human Trafficking – Modern Day Slavery (Atty. Vida Verzosa, International Justice Mission), Women’s Rights and Gender Sensitivity (Atty. Nayie Caga-ana, Urduja-AHRC), Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (Atty. Ma. Vicenta De Guzman, PANLIPI), Criminal Justice System (Atty. Iyok Abitria, HLFA), and Justice Reform in the Philippines  – Hustisya Natin (Atty. Tonet Ramos, Alternative Law Group).

Atty. Ma. Vicenta De Guzman’s introduction to Indigenous Peoples rights in the Philippines and the organization PANLIPI demonstrated the importance of providing paralegal trainings to Indigenous and other rural communities. In particular, PANLIPI supports and empowers indigenous communities to gain control of their Ancestral Domain and maintain their self-determination. These forms of training provide community members with the tools required to advocate for their rights and understand the legal framework which effects their rights. Each presentation contributed to unpacking the concept of alternative lawyering in the Philippines and how this form of legal practice creates valuable social networks and empowers people to advocate for their rights. The immersion experience as well as the internship placement will be carried by the students throughout their professional career regardless of what legal stream they decide to follow – as attested to by past interns and the AHRC team.

[1] Training Manual for Paralegals, A publication of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (2010), p. 101.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid at 6.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid at 8.

Without the Rule of Law

Alexander Agnello

Some of my loved ones asked how I “helped” in the Philippines. It is a question that is hard to answer without sounding like BLSAM[1]’s “intrepid global citizen”[2]: the person who came prepared to “make a difference”. The truth is that no amount of education could have prepared me for the regime change in the Philippines. Under the newly elected Duterte administration, there have been over 2000 summary executions in the last two months[3]. In a country where justice is “slow” and the prison system is one of the most overcrowded[4], trial by publicity has become the main method of usurping crime.

I am referring to a president who publishes hit-lists and turns poor citizens into contract killers. In his profanity-filled speech to a crowd in the slums of Tondo, Duterte calmly explains “[i]f you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful”[5]. In fact, the vast majority of summary executions have been performed by vigilantes, and on the streets of Manila lay corpses with placards that read “Do not follow me. I am a drug pusher/dealer” in Tagalog.

With this blatant disregard for the rule of law, stakeholders are focusing on informing the public of the atrocities this government is committing, and making important links to the infamous Marcos martial law era. But you could only do so much condemning. The Philippine National Police are part of the death squad, the country has a dire journalistic impunity record[6], and so field reporting by other groups has been admirable and necessary. A report submitted by Father Amado Picardal shows that none of the 1424 suspects killed from 1998 to 2015 by Duterte’s former government in Davao were charged in court.”[7] Another organization I met with, the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation (HLAF)[8], are working in conjunction with local governments for expedited due process through a jail decongestion project. HLAF Attorney Kim Claudio proposed that we visit some of the city jails to provide legal information to detainees and update some of them on their cases. He explained to me that many of the detainees wait years, sometimes decades, for their cases to be heard. Although detainees are presumed innocent in the eyes of the law, society tends to brand them as criminals because they have spent so much time in the penitentiary system. Shortly after our visit, photos of overcrowding in Quezon City Jail that showed inmates sleeping on top of other inmates made their rounds on international news and social media. I hoped that the public condemnation of abominable prison conditions would signal a turn of the tide, but now I am uncertain. After a promise to kill 100 000 criminals and “fatten the fish in Manila bay”, thousands of Filipinos continue to turn themselves in out of fear of being killed on plain suspicion[9][10].

 

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

 

The rule of law is often seen as a starting point and a constant in theoretical work in law and political philosophy. However, in a country where the best human rights lawyers and advocates are put under heavy pressure by a state that promotes vigilantism, abuses power, and provides no chance for due process, it is difficult as an intern to know where to begin. I’ve read and watched debates on alternatives to the rule of law and international standards, but I had never worked alongside people struggling to uphold them until I came to the Philippines. I left Montreal on the day of the national election, without a clear idea of how hard it could get. Fortunately, I had the chance to work in solidarity with alternative law groups and an inspiring group of Ateneo Human Rights Interns, who all work relentlessly to hold the Duterte administration accountable, and who serve “the lost, the least, and the last”.

Human Rights Interns Group Arawatan at a retreat in Tagaytay.

Human Rights Interns group Arawatan at a retreat in Batangas. Credit: The Ateneo Human Rights Center, August 4, 2016.


[1] The Black Law Students’ Association of McGill

[3] http://www.businessinsider.com/rodrigo-dutertes-drug-war-in-the-philippines-has-killed-2000-2016-8

[4] http://time.com/4438112/philippines-overcrowded-prison-manila-rodrigo-duterte/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/philippines-president-rodrigo-duterte-urges-people-to-kill-drug-addicts

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/04/asia/philippines-deadly-for-journalists/

[7] http://www.manilatimes.net/duterte-kills-only-bad-men/259609/

[8] http://home.hlaf.org.ph/

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36251094

[10] http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/08/asia/duterte-war-on-drugs-officials-surrender/

Interns on Internships: Mise en abyme in Manila

2014-Spillane-Katieby Katie Spillane

The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) sprang to life in the summer of 1987 as the wake of the People Power Revolution revealed the Philippines’ urgent need for alternative lawyers. Since its founding, the AHRC has evolved into a multi-pronged advocacy center whose capacities range from fundraising (1) to litigation. (2) As an intern at the AHRC, I have had the privilege of observing and participating in many aspects of the AHRC’s work – joining in the annual community school clean-up effort known as “Brigada Eskwela”, (3) attending “trainers trainings” for prosecutors of extra-judicial killings cases (4) and observing consultations between ASEAN diplomats and local civil society organizations.

Impressive though this list may be, the AHRC’s direct advocacy initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg. AHRC’s flagship program is the Human Rights Internship – an annual intensive exposure to alternative lawyering in the Philippines. The mission of the internship program is to form human rights lawyers who will fight for access to justice and for the empowerment of civil society in the name of peace, democracy, gender equality, good governance, and the rule of law. (5)

The program is ambitious. It begins with a rigorous multi-day orientation of advocacy crash-courses in areas ranging from environmental law to women’s rights. Students are then sent in small groups for a one-week immersion home stay with indigenous families. Upon their return, each student is assigned to a host NGO for five weeks “in the trenches” doing legal research and advocacy work.

As an intern in McGill’s own internship program, observing the inner workings of the AHRC’s internship program was often a bit of a mise en abyme. For two days in late May, my internship was devoted to observing interns reflecting on internships. For me, this raised many questions about the role of the human rights center within the community at large, the university setting, and the process of legal education. Among the questions that keep me curious are:

  • How can such centers best channel their financial, scholarly and lobbying resources?
  • Can the impact of their advocacy extend beyond an educational function?
  • Can relationships between students and host environments be symbiotic or are these necessarily lop-sided?
  • To what degree can student-centered experiences be expected to generate serviceable scholarship?
  • Do the strong interpersonal bonds that internships form generate the professional and political momentum necessary to realize broader societal goals or do they remain personal?
  • Are the long-term goals of human rights centers realized through the future work of their interns?

These are questions I will continue to reflect upon as my time in Manila draws to a close. I anticipate more questions will surface on the long flight home, during my research next autumn, and throughout my own professional development. While there are no easy answers, I am grateful to both McGill and Ateneo for their support in asking these questions!


REFERENCES

(1) Rosary Diane B. Maligalig “Ateneo’s Blueplate for Better Learning Program Comes a Log Way (Features)” available online: http://www.admu.edu.ph/news/ateneo’s-blueplate-better-learning-program-comes-long-way-features (last accessed July 18, 2014).

(2) See, e.g. Melencio Sta-Maria et al, v. Secretary of Justice, et al., G.R. No. 203335, April 22, 2014, available online: http://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/2014aprildecisions.php?id=296 (last accessed July 18, 2014).

(3) Manila Bulletin “Editorial: Bayanihan spirit in Brigada Eskwela” May 18, 2014, available online: http://www.mb.com.ph/editorial-bayanihan-spirit-in-brigada-eskwela/(last accessed July 18, 2014).

(4) American Bar Association “Current Rule of Law Programs in the Philippines: Seeking justice for victims of extrajudicial killings” available online: http://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/where_we_work/asia/philippines/programs.html#extrajudicial_killings (last accessed July 18, 2014).

(5) Asia Europe Foundation “Ateneo Human Rights Center” available online: http://www.asef.org/about/partners/partner/2572-AHRC (last accessed July 18, 2014).

Philippine Sex Workers: between a cross and a hard place

by Melissa Austen
A familiar Lou Reed tune cools Burgos Street’s sticky air like a Venice Beach summer breeze—the song’s ‘70s birthplace. “Shaved her legs and then he was a she. She said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.’” 

The lyrics saunter onto the street from a sit-down bar. The bar is popular for its Western continental brunch buffet.  Mainly older, expat men, Filipino girls and baklas fill its seats. Bakla is a local term denoting those who are physically male, but identify and dress as female. Baklas are not a wild sight in conservative Metro Manila. An increasing number of baklas, along with local women and minors, wait along Burgos Street, the Red Light District’s hub, for clients. Their work is a 24/7 operation; a shop whose revolving door remains, for the most part, unguarded. I spent the first three weeks of my stay in the Philippines on Burgos Street.

Coincidentally, my first assignment at the AHRC was to write a petition about a criminal law targeting women sex workers. My task was to investigate how to challenge the constitutionality of Section 1 of RA 10158, which criminalizes sex work conducted by women. Specifically, I examined how our lawyers can establish that Section 1’s targeting of women sex workers is discriminatory under the Philippine Constitution. I was also instructed to recommend for the court to read out the word “women” from Section 1’s criminalization of “women prostitutes.”

There are some advantages to this proposed solution. Reading out the word “women” from Section 1 would make the criminalization of prostitution less arbitrary in its modern application. Many baklas and other transgendered persons, in addition to some men, engage in sex work in the Philippines. Males working under the red light are a blind spot in Philippine law. Section 1 does not capture them, so men are given the green light under Philippine law to engage in sex work. Women alone, because of their sex, are vulnerable to criminal charges for sex work. Reading out “women” from Section 1 would render all sex workers—regardless of their sex—indictable.

Section 1 of RA 10158’s arbitrary criminalization of women sex workers is, of course, unjust and sexist.  For this reason, the Philippine Legislature would likely agree that this law requires revision. Reading out the word “women” from Section 1 would actually support this law’s legislative purpose to criminalize sex work. It is thus possible that the court will find Section 1 to be unreasonably discriminatory toward women under the Philippine Constitution.

For me, things get sticky during the discussion (or lack thereof) on reading out Section 1 in its entirety. The result would be decriminalizing sex work in the Philippines, a paradigm shift that would not go unchallenged. A likely and important critic is the Catholic Church, a prominent actor in many areas of Philippine society. The Church is vested with heavy political clout. For many of my colleagues, the Church’s probable opposition to decriminalization provides a sufficient reason to oppose decriminalizing sex work.

My colleagues’ cultural and religious concerns are valid, and I take them seriously. I also take seriously my role as an intern: I am here to help my organization fulfill its human rights agenda to the best of my ability. As a new visitor, I do not know how to best respond to safety and legal issues facing sex workers in the Philippines. However, many groups against decriminalizing sex work are not responding to all angles of the sex work problem. I wish to see the public weigh its discomfort about decriminalizing sex work against the adverse effects of criminalization on sex workers.

A concern for the well-being and safety of sex workers has led some countries recently to decriminalize sex work. Women and children involved in sex work are vulnerable to rape, murder, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections. In the Philippines, over a third of Filipino women sex workers interviewed in 1998 reported that they have been subject to violence or harassment, most commonly from the police, but also from city officials and gangsters. There are no recent figures on violence against sex workers, illustrating the lack of resources given to researching dangers posed to this marginalized group.

Decriminalizing sex work in the Philippines will not fully protect sex workers from violence and illness.  However, sex workers could benefit from a less stigmatized status when seeking social services and accessing the law. Moreover, decriminalization would shift the police’s role from punishing sex workers to protecting them. Those for and against decriminalizing sex work in the Philippines probably agree that improving sex workers’ safety is desirable.

The causes of sex work are just as important to examine as the effects. Surveys of women working as erotic masseuses indicate that 34 percent of these women described their choice of work as necessary to support poor parents, 8 percent to support siblings, and 28 percent to support husbands or boyfriends. More than 20 percent of respondents said that the job was well paid, but only 2 percent said it was easy and enjoyable work. Poverty and familial responsibility, coupled with a lack of economic prospects, are key drivers for poor women to enter the Philippine  sex industry.

I would like to see more discussions in the Philippines on whether sex workers, induced by poverty to enter the sex industry, ought to be punished by the criminal law. Reading out “women” from Section 1 would better carry out the Philippine Legislature’s intent to prohibit sex work in its entirety. Yet the public policy merit of this law has yet to be evaluated on some important fronts. A key front is child welfare.

The relationship between poverty and sex work is particularly stark in the context of child sex workers. The Philippines ranks fourth among nine nations with the most number of children trafficked for prostitution. Pills and condoms are unknown among many child sex workers. Child sex workers commonly drink small amounts of Tide, believing that detergent bleach will prevent STI-transmission. First-line responders say that poverty, peer and family pressure lead most children to sex work. These minors are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation because many of them lack knowledge of their vulnerabilities.

The criminalization of sex work in the Philippines is especially dire at this moment. A bill to reduce the age of criminal responsibility to twelve may pass this year. I attended the House of Representatives during the bill’s second passing. If this bill is passed, then child sex workers as young as twelve can be trapped behind bars, beyond the reach of rehabilitation centers. This possibility seems odd since both sides of the decriminalization debate would probably agree that child sex workers require rehabilitation.

In many ways, these children are already locked up by their psychological trauma. Often, children in rehabilitation ”want to change but can’t get out of the system. They feel caged and trapped,” explains Dr. Norietta Calma of the Philippine General Hospital’s Child Protection Unit. Still, therapy can help prostituted children face the truth and finally ”forgive themselves.”  If we view child sex workers as requiring emotional and physical healing, then the question of whether sex work is an illness plaguing poor youth needs fleshing out.  This question is mired with legal implications.

I do not have an answer to this complicated question. All of my expressed concerns are issues I wish to see debated in the Philippines. I situate myself outside this debate.

One truth is clear, though: Philippine sex workers are subject to violence and danger in their workplaces with little or no protection. Women sex workers—and, if the AHRC’s petition is successful, all Filipino sex workers—are caught between a cross and a hard place in the Philippines’ muted debate on decriminalizing sex work.

If the new crime bill passes, then children ages twelve and up will be tacked onto the debate. Sex work in the Philippines is not just a wild, moral problem: it is a grave social crisis with far-reaching health, criminal and social consequences. These consequences require further evaluation by critics and supporters of sex work criminalization.

Mrs. Burgos’ search for her son

2011-Luke-BrownBy Luke Brown

Only two things will stop me. Finding my son, or I die. So I’m not going to stop.” – Edita Burgos.

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Edita Burgos speak. In the past four years, Mrs. Burgos has led a tireless campaign in an attempt to answer the question: where is her son, Jonas Burgos?

Four years ago Jonas was dragged from a Manila restaurant in broad daylight by four men and one woman. He was thrown into a van and hasn’t been seen since. The abductors were not wearing masks, and the licence plate of the van was fully visible. This is typical of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, where agents of the State brazenly abduct people accused of participating in the communist insurgency (but who generally, at most, only have connections to left-leaning groups). Jonas is a farmer-activist.

Edita Burgos speaks at the Ateneo de Manila University law school, Manila, Philippines, Friday, June 17, 2011.

Mrs. Burgos sought justice through all the official channels, filing complaints with the police and the national Commission on Human Rights (an independent investigatory agency). When this led nowhere, she sought relief through the Court of Appeals of the Philippines, and finally the Supreme Court, which ordered the Commission on Human Rights to perform a full investigation into Jonas’ disappearance, citing major lapses in the police and military investigations into the matter.

In March of this year, this Commission released its report, in which it found there was enough evidence against the military to recommend laying criminal charges against several military officers and the former police chief for arbitrary detention and obstruction of justice.

So Mrs. Burgos is soldiering on. Two weeks ago she filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, asking for charges to be laid against the officers. Sadly, she will now have to wait even longer. In cases of extrajudicial killings (a related phenomenon to enforced disappearances), it takes on average 7 months from the filing of a complaint for the DOJ to lay charges.

This is a good illustration of how slow and cumbersome the domestic legal remedies are.

But this case is also an illustration of the amazing and tireless work that many human rights advocates in the Philippines (including the Ateneo Human Rights Center, where I’m volunteering) are doing to address the phenomenon of enforced disappearances.

I met Mrs. Burgos at a presentation she delivered through the Ateneo Human Rights Center. Her story is so compelling, local playwrights even wrote a one-act play about her.

Despite the painfully slow pace of the official investigations, Mrs. Burgos is undeterred. She is fiercely committed to finding her son. As she told me, “only two things will stop me. Finding my son, or I die. So I’m not going to stop.”

For more information, visit this siteThis article describes Jonas’ abduction.

Remembering the desaparecidos

By Luke Brown

My work so far in the Philippines has centred on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances (EDs), picking up on the work that Chris Maughan did last year with the Ateneo Human Rights Center.

This past week (29 May – 4 June 2011) was the International Week of the Disappeared, an event initiated over 20 years ago by civil society organizations in Latin America. The purpose of the week is to remember the victims of, and shed light on the problem of, enforced disappearances worldwide. This is a major problem that persists in the Philippines.

An ED is when agents of the state, or private individuals working with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, abduct a person for political ends. The person (a “desaparecido”) is denied due process rights, and the state generally denies all knowledge of their whereabouts. Sometimes the victim will resurface weeks later, still alive. Other times they will never be seen again.

Victims of ED in the Philippines are generally accused of having links to the New People’s Army, the outlawed military wing of the Community Party of the Philippines (although membership in the Communist Party itself is legal). The government here has been engaged in a protracted counter-insurgency effort against communist rebels for the past 40 years.

However, generally the victims of ED in the Philippines have no link to any armed groups. More often they are simply associated with left-leaning civil society organizations, farmers’ unions, trade unions, or other grassroots organizations.

It’s difficult to measure the scale of the problem. The highest estimate comes from the human rights organization Karapatan, which reported 204 cases of ED from 2001-2009. There hasn’t been a single conviction for these crimes.

Despite widespread criticism from local and international organizations, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or abitrary executions, the Philippine government has been slow to respond. On an official institutional level, the greatest progress has arguably been made by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which has been quite outspoken on the need to take action. In recent years, the Court also crafted two procedural safeguards for victims of EDs and ELKs (although the effectiveness of these safeguards is questionable). I’m currently helping the Ateneo Human Rights Center put together a compilation of domestic and international caselaw on EDs and ELKs, to be used by the Philippine judiciary.

Last week I attended an event in Manila to commemorate the International Week of the Disappeared. This event brought together civil society groups as well as members of the human rights office of the police. It was quite heartening to see such passionate human rights advocates come together – many of whom whose friends or family members had been subjected to an ED – to vocally denounce this practice. (The image above comes from Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.)

However, this event was also a reminder of just how strong the “culture of impunity” is here. EDs are not a secret in the Philippines. They are a well-recognized problem with deep roots in the state’s counter-insurgency strategy. This problem is openly debated by the government, civil society organizations, human rights groups, the military, police and the judiciary; yet progress towards addressing it remains painfully slow.

The Filipino Culture of Impunity

chris_maughnBy Christopher Maughan

Today I was finally going to publish my introductory post, the one that says “here I am in the Philippines and this is what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. Working at the Ateneo Human Rights Center has been an enriching experience, I’m learning a lot, and I think I’m finally adapting to the culture…”

All of that is true. But today I want to write about something else: three local journalists killed in less than a week, just for speaking their minds.

Gunned down in public. Even though such killings have happened many times before, I can’t believe the news.

I didn’t know what to say after the first two journalists were killed, hence the absence of a blog post on the subject. I was shocked. I still am, especially now that a third journalist has died, but I feel an obligation to write something on the subject to draw people’s attention to the news since it hasn’t been making headlines in Canada.

The first killing happened five days ago. Desidario Camangyan, a radio reporter who had criticized the government for turning a blind eye to illegal logging practices, was shot while hosting an amateur singing contest. His wife and son were in the audience.

Less than 24 hours later, Joselito Agustin, another radio broadcaster, was shot and killed while on his way home from work. Like Camangyan, Agustin had spoken out against government corruption.

This weekend, Nestor Bedolido, a newspaper reporter, was shot and killed as he was buying cigarettes from a street vendor. Belodido was supposedly behind a number of scathing exposes written about an allegedly corrupt politician in Davao del Sur.

So far no one has been arrested and all but one of the suspects are unidentified.

The killings bring the number of journalists killed in the Philippines to 107 – and that’s just in the last nine years, since President Gloria Arroyo took power in 2001. Since the inception of democracy in 1986, 140 have been killed in total.

Before posting some news links and a few thoughts, I should mention that all of this comes only seven months after the Maguindanao Massacre, in which 32 journalists lost their lives for taking political action, for merely deigning to defy a local “politician-warlord” who had maintained a stranglehold on power through corruption and intimidation.

News links are below (links are posted first; my thoughts are underneath), with a Wikipedia entry on the Massacre that links to stories published in late 2009. About a week and a half ago, an activist came into our office with pictures of the victims of Maguindanao – they were by far the most shocking images I have ever seen.

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100621-276729/Another-journalist-killed
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/world/asia/21iht-phils.html
http://cpj.org/2010/06/another-radio-journalist-killed-in-the-philippines.php
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/topstories/topstories/view/20100615-275715/Radioman-shot-dead-in-Davao-Oriental
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maguindanao_massacre

So that’s the news. Here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, given the circumstances, there’s little doubt that these killings are politically motivated. The two most recent ones meet the profile of the typical Filipino political killing: a gunman walks up to the victim in the middle of the street, fires, and rides away on the back of a motorcycle that’s waiting nearby. Too many journalists, lawyers and activists have been killed this way, usually after expressing criticism of the government or left-wing political views. Too few of the men and women behind these killings have been brought to justice – there have only been a handful of convictions.

Second, it’s disheartening that even after a UN Special Rapporteur report on extrajudicial (that is, illegal and political) killings in the Philippines, a local commission-of-inquiry report on the matter, the creation of a national Commission on Human Rights, and the creation of a national police task force, extrajudicial killings continue to take place – and the perpetrators seem as bold as ever. Some of the gunmen don’t even hide their faces – a telling sign that they know they can count on a culture of impunity.

Like the Maguindanao Massacre, I guess this series of killings reflects what is often the reality of human rights legal work – you can set up all the commissions and send all the rapporteurs you want, you can write reports, you can call people out in the press, but things will not change overnight. That said, there are signs that extrajudicial killings generally are tapering off – there are fewer per year now than there were in 2006, when there were 209 in total. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is slow and incremental change.

This week, though, it feels like change cannot come soon enough.

I want to end on a positive note. The Ateneo Human Rights Center is doing a lot to help prevent extrajudicial killings and give prosecutors and investigators the tools they need to obtain convictions. In addition to the academic research I’m doing for the Center, I’m involved in two really interesting projects to this end. First, I’m involved in the planning of a national public awareness campaign; staff from the Center will be holding public forums on extrajudicial killings at over 60 locations all across the country. Second, I’m helping with the creation of Multi-Sectoral Quick Reaction Teams, which are locally-based collectives of legal and human rights experts who come together to provide support to victims when an extralegal killing takes place.

I feel extremely privileged to be able to help out with these initiatives. Hopefully, along with this week’s bad news, they’ll get people thinking about how to dismantle the infrastructure of impunity that allows violations of rights to life and free expression to keep happening.

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