MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima said yesterday the US State Department’s report on human rights practices in 2008 is “a fair assessment” of the Philippines’ human rights record.
De Lima’s opinion runs contrary to the allegation of some lawmaker-allies of President Arroyo that the US is deliberately picking on the Philippines because of the strong clamor to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.
“The US State Department report is apparently based on varied sources, including the CHR,” De Lima said.
“It’s a fair assessment of the country’s human rights record as it is predominantly factual such as the noted dramatic drop in the statistics on extralegal killings and enforced disappearances but arbitrary arrests and detentions were seen as common, also corruption afflicting the judiciary and government officials,” she also said.
The US report, the CHR chief pointed out, even “aptly noted the CHR’s insufficient resources.”
For the CHR, De Lima said the US State Department report only means more challenges and work for the constitutional body, despite its meager resources, in order to assert its status as the country’s premier human rights watchdog.
Last week, the US government released its Country Report on Human Rights Practices in 2008.
In the report, the state department said that corruption remained rampant in the Arroyo administration mainly because of its failure to implement laws to penalize corrupt officials and its withholding of information from public inquiries.
The US report also cited restrictions on freedom and reports of violations of human rights, with statistics from both government agencies and human rights groups.
Earlier, pro-administration lawmakers said they consider the release of the US report on human rights practices and perceived corruption in the judiciary as well as the World Bank (WB) report implicating First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo in alleged rigging of bids for WB-funded road projects as mere US bashing of the Philippines.
They said they have noticed a pattern in the way the US government has portrayed the country, which they said only tends to further tarnish the image of the Philippines in the international community, even if problems of corruption are already being addressed.
Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo, chairman of the House committee on good government, and Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, who heads the House committee on foreign affairs, believe that the latest US report attacking the judiciary could be connected with the case of convicted American rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.
House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong also decried how a foreign entity like the US State Department can come up with an alleged baseless report to malign the Philippine judiciary.
Meanwhile, United Opposition (UNO) president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said the US State Department report indicting the Arroyo administration for corruption and human rights abuses signals a shift in the tone of US-RP relations.
Binay said the administration of former US President George W. Bush was solely concerned about the war on terror and considered the Philippines as a strategic partner in Southeast Asia.
He said in the process, the Bush administration ignored the state of human rights abuses and corruption under the Arroyo administration.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), for its part, urged President Barack Obama to cut assistance, especially military aid, to the Arroyo government in the wake of the US State Department report that showed human rights abuses continued in the Philippines.
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan, said the US State Department’s human rights report showed the persistence of human rights abuses in the country under the Arroyo regime, and thus, “behooves the Obama administration to reexamine its military aid to the abusive and corrupt Arroyo administration.”
Quoting the report, Bayan said the US State Department noted that, “arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by elements of the security services and political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors continued to be major problems. Concerns about impunity persisted.”
Bayan also said that according to the US State Department report, “Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture. Prisoners awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under primitive conditions.– Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star