In March this year, after a hard-hitting journalist was shot and killed in Iloilo City, Philippines — the 10th at that time since President Aquino assumed the presidency — I asked in my column if Aquino was ready to end the culture of impunity in the country.
Six months later, five more journalists had been killed, bringing the total to 15 under the Aquino administration, and the answer now seems clear: Aquino is not ready nor has the resolve to end impunity.
His lack of resolve became evident during the 9th Media Nation Summit in Tagaytay City when the President failed to mention the infamous Maguindanao massacre in a speech delivered on the very same day three years ago on November 23, 2009 when suspected members and men of the Ampatuan clan killed 58 civilians, 32 of them journalists, in Maguidanao in one of the most brutal and senseless killings ever in the country.[box type=”default” size=”large”] 15 journalists killed since Noynoy became President [/box]His obviously deliberate omission of the tragic event came amid protests by media organizations and human rights groups that were demanding justice for the massacre victims and an end to the culture of impunity in the country.
This show of lack of interest in the issue of impunity came from Aquino, who is the son of two democratic icons and who was swept into office on promises of reform, press freedom, an end to extra-judicial killings, and bringing to justice those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre.
Knowing how Aquino has turned his back on most of his campaign promises, it is not surprising that he would also renege on his vow to stop media and other extra-judicial killings and to put an end to the culture of impunity that has prevailed over the country for decades.
Early this year, after reading a report from Commission on Human Rights chair Loretto Rosales on the continued rise of human rights violations in the Aquino administration, Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said: “President Aquino’s avowed commitment for human rights is starting to unravel its monstrous form. While the record of former President Macapagal-Arroyo remains unbeaten, I am afraid that President Aquino’s record could turn out worse given the rise in human rights abuses under his watch.”
And he is proving to be correct in his prediction. In the first two years of the Arroyo rule, five journalists were killed. In a little more than two years of the Aquino administration, 15 were already killed. Citing figures gathered by human rights group Karapatan, Palatino noted that a total 48 cases of extra-judicial killings were recorded from July 2010 to June 2011.
The CHR report said the number of torture victims rose to 37 in 2010 from 17 in 2009, and arbitrary arrests ballooned to 85 in 2010 from 61 in 2009.
None of the perpetrators of these crimes have been convicted. The suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, led by members of the Ampatuan clan, have been arrested and charged, but three years since the killings, the cases have dragged on without even having gone through the trial phase despite the presence of strong evidence and witnesses willing to testify.
By the way, three of the witnesses have been killed and their murders have also remained unsolved.
In November 2009, after the Maguindanao massacre, then Senator Aquino issued a statement demanding the immediate revocation of Executive Order No. 546, vowing to “never again [use] public funds to support and maintain a private security force.”
Two years later, however, he announced that he no longer intended to revoke it, and instead said that he would “professionalize” the militias.
This inconsistent human rights policy, plus the slow grind of justice, the continued existence of militias, and the failure of government authorities to pursue the perpetrators of the political killings have contributed to the continuation of the culture of impunity that Aquino had vowed to end but continues to tolerate.
When a reporter asked in an interview during his recent visit to New Zealand about the human rights situation in the Philippines, Aquino dismissed the issue as mere “leftist propaganda.”
We heard the line “leftist propaganda” many times before and it came from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the man who started the culture of impunity in the country. But coming from the son of the foremost victim of impunity under Marcos seemed unlikely… until recently.