We recognize that the convictions of human rights abusers rest with the courts, and not the President, but the absence of successful prosecutions highlights broader problems that do rest with the administration. Most cases of serious human rights violations do not even make it to trial. Police still fail to follow up and actually arrest suspects. The military continues to obstruct investigations. Even in the case against retired General Palparan, where we praised the administration for bringing charges, not enough is being done to bring him to custody so that he can receive a fair trial.
And the problem isn’t just about specific cases. There’s a lot more President Aquino can do to address systematically the barriers to successful prosecutions. He should order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personnel, including at the command level, who have been implicated in killings. He should order the police to re-double efforts to investigate abuses implicating government officials and if they do not thoroughly investigate, face criminal investigations themselves. He should order the military to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating military abuses or themselves face sanctions. And he should take immediate steps to ensure that the country’s witness protection program is independent, accessible, and properly funded.
As President Aquino himself pointed out, fair trials that result in the convictions of those implicated in abuses is the true test of his commitment to his promise. So the government needs to move beyond simply identifying suspects and obtaining warrants to actually apprehending the suspects, gathering evidence, and providing protection to witnesses to allow them to come forward. Once that happens we can expect the trial to take care of itself.
Deputy Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch