[Reflection] 9/11 and Human Rights in the Philippines

9-11 attacks at the World Trade Center. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

The 9/11 terrorist attacks which stunned the world ten years ago had opened a floodgate of human rights issues and concerns globally with the subsequent declaration of a “global war on terror,” and the development of more stringent counter-terrorism efforts in many countries.

Indeed following 9/11, a number of countries which have joined in a global coalition against terrorism, have found a convenient excuse to continuously violate the human rights of their own people and justify their repressive practices in the guise of national security.

What was unleashed as an aftermath of 9/11 is “state-sponsored terror” throughout the world by having more restrictive internal policies and unbridled military power by governments. Everywhere, clandestine combat operations, setting up of secret detention facilities like the Guantanamo Bay and the “black listings’ of individual and groups including those legitimate civil society organizations have become an order of the day.

While everyone recognizes that acts of terrorism are violations of the basic right to live in peace and security but countering terrorism should not be done at the expense of the rule of law and human rights protection. Even those who are suspected ‘terrorists” also have the rights as members of the society which includes among others, the right not to be subject to torture or other degrading treatment, the right to be presumed innocent until they are deemed guilty of the crime and the right to public trial.

The Philippine government’s involvement in “the global fight against terrorism” has led to the enactment of Republic Act 9372, otherwise known as “Human Security Act,” which entered into force on 15 July 2007. It was also during this period that the Philippine government intensified its counterinsurgency campaign called “Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) which led the military to deliberately target and systematically hunt down leaders of leftist organizations, resulting in hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country in the past years. This situation was noted with great concern by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston, following his 10-day visit to the country in February 2007.

The Human Security Act on 2007 is viewed by human rights groups as a direct affront to civil liberties and fundamental freedom. The apprehension on the possible excesses in the implementation of the anti-terror law is also shared by Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of delegation of the European Commission to the Philippines who said that “the anti-terrorism law is not an excuse to go out and shoot people… to target people for matters not provided in the law.

It permits police or law enforcement officers to detain for a maximum number of three days, a person who was previously arrested without a warrant. By changing the duration of custody, the law has prejudiced the accused as it allows the police or the military unwarranted access to the suspects thereby increasing their exposure to torture and intimidation during the course of the investigation. Moreover, during the mentioned period of time, the person deprived of his or her liberty is placed outside the protection of the law.

It is well-known fact that the period between arrest and presentation of the arrested person before a judicial authority is a period conducive to torture and ill-treatment on the person arrested. It is most common that the persons arrested are subjected to torture and ill-treatment before they were brought to a judicial authority. Individuals ending up as tortured, disappeared or murdered victims were the ones initially arrested without warrant or merely “invited” for questioning and taken to detention centers, safe houses, and military camps. We can take the Basilan torture case as a proof. Abdul Khan Ajid was tortured and burned alive while being forced to confess membership in the Abu Sayyaf.

Unfortunately, the Aquino administration has just continued the security plan of his predecessor. He has not only uncritically allowed the permanent stationing of US troops in the country but his directive to the military to have a paradigm shift from the combat-focused approach it used in the past to a human security or “people-centered” approach through its Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan is nothing more than just another name for Oplan Bantay Laya.

In fact, Pres. Aquino (PNoy) has just recently certified as urgent, a legislation that will give the “anti-terror law” more teeth by removing whatever remaining human rights safeguards that the law has provided. This clearly shows where human rights are placed under the Aquino administration. As a son of a human rights victim himself, we are expecting him to do better and to take human rights issues as personal the same way that he takes the fight against corruption in government.

PNoy should understand that security and human rights are not in themselves, contradictory. They actually go hand in hand. The respect for human rights is the only road to security, not an obstacle to it. The guarantee of national security of a State can only be achieved through respect for human rights and not their violation.


8 thoughts on “[Reflection] 9/11 and Human Rights in the Philippines

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