A Clarion Call to End the Climate of Impunity

During the 22nd NCCP General Convention, we collectively decried the brutality and notoriety of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration for its gross, systematic, and brazen violation of human rights. These violations were attributed by credible sources, including past United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Prof. Philip Aston, on her administrations’ counter-insurgency program, Operation Plan Bantay Laya (OBL).

“Impunity is a chronic failure by states, judiciary and law enforcement agencies to bring perpetrators to justice”[i]. Four years have passed and we are still lamenting the injustices suffered by the victims of human rights violations. Justice remains elusive as hardly any of the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other gross attacks on human rights have been made to answer for their crimes. The most notorious among them have been rewarded with promotion and accolades, or transferred to other units to escape prosecution.

As we gather here for our 23rd NCCP General Convention, we deplore the continuing spate of political killings, abductions, disappearances, arrests, torture, incarceration, and forced evacuation. The climate of impunity in the country prevails even to this day. The Administration of President Benigno Aquino III has not declared a clear policy nor taken effective measures to address state-sponsored human rights violations. It extended the implementation of OBL until December 2010, notwithstanding the findings of Prof. Alston. On December 22, 2010, the Aquino government unveiled Oplan Bayanihan, a new counter-insurgency program that is purportedly “rights-based” and touted as a “paradigm shift” for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).  Human rights groups find no significant shifts in policy and implementation of Operation Bayanihan from OBL. In particular, it maintains the OBL’s campaign of vilification against progressive legal organizations including churches, which Prof. Alston named as the other root of the extrajudicial executions. It continues to legitimize the targeting of unarmed activists by labeling them as “communists”. Thus, forty-eight extrajudicial killings were recorded in the first year of the Aquino administration.

Thus, our call to President Aquino is for him to keep his promises and hold accountable the previous GMA administration for the numerous human rights violations committed under its watch.

We also call on him to:

  • Scrap its counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, in particular the practice of labeling of activists as enemies of the state, and the filing of fabricated charges against those who are being tagged as the government’s enemies.
  • Render justice to the victims of human rights violations committed by State security forces through proper investigation and prosecution of perpetrators; that the principle of command responsibility with respect to the military hierarchy as basis for criminal liability for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. Government and military officers found to perpetrate human rights violations should not be entitled to any form of immunity.
  • Reform the criminal justice system to address the pervading climate of impunity centered, in particular, on the enhancement and protection of human rights through the speedy and proper investigation, arrest, prosecution, and conviction of perpetrators.

As we mark the first International Day to End Impunity and remember the second year of the Ampatuan Massacre, we will act unceasingly and with full determination to bring an end to the state of impunity that pervades Philippine society, as we work towards the full realization of basic rights and fundamental freedoms in our country. We affirm our commitment to continue the search for justice for the victims and their families including the valiant efforts of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the United Methodist Church. We will also continue to open our churches as sanctuaries for victims of human rights violations.

Together with the international ecumenical community, we will persist in our efforts to bring to its attention the pervading human rights situation in the country and engage the United Nations Human Rights Council in demanding for the Philippine government to honor its commitments to international human rights standards and instrumentalities.

We affirm the actions taken at our 22nd General Convention to reach out in solidarity to churches in Asia who are in similar circumstances, like Sri Lanka, “because our ecumenical Journey is linked with theirs”.

This statement was unanimously approved by the delegates of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines 23rd Convention held at Philippine Rice Research Institute in Batac, Ilocos Norte on November 24, 2011.

[i] Gayathry Venkiteswaran, Southeast Asian Press Alliance, as quoted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 23, 2011, p. A12