Malacañang is working hard to uphold human rights in the Philippines under the watch of President Gloria Arroyo.
Such rights are a top priority of the executive branch, the Palace said Wednesday. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita cited the government’s adoption of recommendations of the Melo Commission and the United Nations on areas where gaps exist in promotion of rights, such as speed of trials and protection of witnesses.
The Melo Commission, created by President Arroyo, and the UN special rapporteur, Philip Alston, last year looked into extrajudicial killings, with both giving the government low marks in addressing not only such killings but also enforced disappearances.
“One of the positive developments in the human-rights condition problem in the Philippines is that all this attention [from Malacañang and the UN] has reawakened the government to the need to keep human rights at the forefront,” Ermita said.
He was reacting to The Manila Times front-page story of January 1 that said the executive branch fell short of the expectations of the Commission on Human Rights on improving the human-rights situation in the country.
Ermita said the UN is satisfied with the government’s initiative to stop the political murders, and the Arroyo administration is sending the world body regular updates on the Philippine condition and government programs that intend to put an end to such killings.
Also, he added, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has commended the Philippines for leading the development of cooperation on human rights among member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Ermita said the executive branch has improved the government’s witness protection program and initiated personnel trainings for military and police officers to reduce incidence of rights violations.
The government invited Alston in early 2007 to look into the extrajudicial killings. It gave the UN official full access to government and civil society.
But Alston, who had criticized the military for allegedly lacking in discipline, assured the government that he recognized the “incredibly difficult and important job they have [in terms of national security] but they are doing themselves a disservice” if they are not seen to be addressing the issue of political killings.
Ermita said the military is investigating its personnel allegedly involved in the murders, and the Department of Justice is speeding up resolution of the cases.
The Justice department, Department of National Defense and the Philippine National Police, the executive secretary added, are teaming up to bring perpetrators to justice.
The rights commission, in its evaluation of the Arroyo government’s record on human rights for 2007, said it cannot give the executive branch a “glowing” report.–Angelo S. Samonte, Manila Times