By Darwin Mendiola
Human rights violations particularly extra-legal killings (ELKs), enforced disappearances (EDs) and torture continue to occur in the country with total impunity.
Until now, not a single person has been brought to justice. Even in high-profile cases which have been swiftly investigated, they only ended up in imposing of administrative sanctions against suspected perpetrators rather than filing of criminal charges.
The establishment of a National Monitoring Mechanism (NMM) could have been a significant step towards the effective prevention of these heinous offenses and breaking through the prevailing climate of impunity by finding resolutions to all these crimes.
In fact, it was one of the positive developments that the Philippine government cited in its report for the Universal Periodic Review in 2010. It even received huge international supports for funding and technical assistance.
However, after more than three years the creation of such body remains stalled and has only devolved into a mere mechanism of consultation and discussion on human rights issues instead of moving forward by ensuring that remedies are available to victims and their families as well as guaranteeing that impunity is addressed.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) as the national human rights institution is tasked to convene the relevant government agencies and non-government organizations to revive the effort of establishing an effective monitoring body.
But its creation was eventually overshadowed by issuance of the Administrative Order No. 35 series of 2012 creating the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra Judicial Killings (ELKs), Enforced Disappearances (EDs), Torture and other Grave Violation of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons under the Department of Justice.
To make the NMM relevant, there is a need to resolve its complementation with AO 35 in order to avoid duplicating the function of monitoring the progress of specific cases and to provide the kind of information needed to push a criminal case involving an EJK, ED or torture to its resolution.
While the different stakeholders agreed that the NMM can still be a case-based monitoring mechanism to help identify the obstacles to pursuing accountability through our seemingly ineffective criminal justice system, but it should evolve into a more programmatic approach that includes human rights promotion and prevention of such violations and the provision of different services to victims and their families. The NMM can also provide an avenue for the substantive role of civil society and a significant degree of victim participation in the monitoring process.
However, this dilemma may have pushed the CHRP to look the other way than just merely focusing its attention to the three major human rights violations (e.i. ELKs, EDs and Torture). For the CHRP, the NMM should be a comprehensive monitoring mechanism of determining government compliance with international human rights treaties in the government’s functions, systems and processes with the end in view of harmonizing them with the standards and principles of human rights and recommending appropriate measures and actions.
What the CHRP is trying to do is simply to extend its functions as the institutional human rights monitoring body to the NMM rather than making the NMM a unique body with specific goals and priorities.
While it is true that civil and political rights violations are related or caused by violations of other fundamental rights such as Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, but addressing these cases will require specific attentions and approaches especially in providing victims of such violations with adequate means of apportioning responsibility.
How the NMM can be an effective monitoring body with a specific or broader mandate, will really depend on how the stakeholders especially the state security forces are committed to work with due diligence.
Because in the end, the families of the victims are the ones who are left waiting with uncertainty, while they have not given up on their search for the missing, whether dead or alive, and seeking justice for those who were tortured and ill-treated.
Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales.
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