Manila: The Philippines is expected to get a bad review of its rights record during the assessment period of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on May 29, Philippine-based and other international rights groups said.

The UN should also specify time-bound recommendations to President Benigno Aquino to curb abuses of the military and the police in his country, they added.

Aquino has not put an end to the government’s counter-insurgency programme — Oplan Bayanihan — which is the reason why government soldiers, militiamen and policemen continue to commit rights abuses against environment and anti-mining activists, and critics of government, said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, head of Karapatan, a rights group, and co-head of Philippine UNHRC Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Aquino created task forces in 2010 to investigate political killings but they remain passive and have ended up deodorising military and police reports, and have not resolved cases of rights abuse, said Hilao-Enriquez

Security forces were blamed for ten documented extrajudicial killings and disappearances in 2011, but no one was arrested yet, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report in early January.

Retired Army Major General Jovito Palparan who went missing in 2011 after he was charged with the 2006 kidnapping of two student activists, was never seen again, complained Elaine Peason, Asia’s deputy director of the New York-based HRW.

At the same time, the military has its own human rights office that was given the task of investigating erring soldiers, said Pearson, adding: “These are contradictory functions that undermine the [military-rights] office’s credibility.”

The same rights group could obstruct investigation of erring military men, said Pearson, adding that those who obstructed investigation of abusive military men were never punished.

‘Verge of collapse’

Military men undergo trainings to uphold human rights but some of them still commit rights abuses because they know they could get away with it, Pearson argued.

Police often relied on confessions of suspects, elicited allegedly through torture and coercion, and violated the suspects’ rights, Pearson observed.

Jose Manuel Diokno of Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said: “Our criminal justice system is on the verge of collapse” because abusers get away with their crime.

Noting why accountability could not be enforced in the Philippines, Diokno said the appointment of justices in court is highly politicised; three out of ten trial courts have no judges, resulting in delayed litigations; and courts do not monitor convicted people’s serving time in jail.

Abuses allegedly committed by the military and the police included extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, intense militarisation on farm lands and homes of ethnic and indigenous people who are against mining operations, violation of children’s rights, and comprehensive curtailment of civil, economic, cultural, political, and social rights, the groups said.

In response, Colonel Domingo Tutaan Jr, head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Human Rights Office, said the military and the police have been collaborating with non-government human rights groups.

The military has not stopped investigating all cases of abuse by soldiers, Tutaan insisted.

What the UNHRC should do, Pearson suggested, is to question the Philippine government’s lack of progress on accountability over the past four years.

The UNHRC should give specific time-bound recommendations and compel the Philippine government to take concrete action to fulfil its human rights commitments made in 2008, Pearson said.

The UNHRC gave 17 recommendations on how to curb abuses during its first review of the rights records in the Philippines in 2008.

Every four years, UNHRC reviews human rights records.

The Philippines government has prosecuted four cases of extra-judicial killings since 2008, but this was under the administration of former president Gloria Arroyo, records showed.

The Philippine Congress also passed an anti-torture law and mandatory protection of overseas Filipino workers. The number of extra-judicial killings has been reduced, police reports said.

HRW was established by human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and academicians in 1978. It makes its own review of the rights abuses in the Philippines.

Hilao-Enriquez of Philippine UPR led 15 Manila-based civil society groups that went to Geneva to protest the Philippine government’s rights report to the UNHRC.

Because of these groups, 71 countries shave signed up to question the Philippine government’s lack of compliance to the UN’s recommendations in 2008.