Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Philippines, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9f834.html [accessed 21 September 2017]
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More than 175 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention. People arrested for alleged involvement in violent political activity and ordinary criminal suspects continued to be tortured and ill-treated during interrogation. At least seven people were reported to have "disappeared", although most of them were later found to be held in official custody. At least 127 people were sentenced to death; no executions were carried out. Armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings and hostage-taking. The government of President Fidel Ramos signed a peace settlement with the Muslim secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September, ending 24 years of MNLF-led rebellion in the southern region of Mindanao. An interim regional administrative council and assembly, including representatives of the MNLF, was created pending a referendum in 1999 on the shape of a proposed autonomous region in Mindanao. However, despite attempts to extend peace negotiations to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), military operations continued against the MILF and other Muslim armed groups in the region. Counter-insurgency operations against communist rebels and their supporters continued to decline. Formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front, representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), resumed in June but were suspended by the ndf in November. Public confidence in the judiciary was weakened by apparent failures to deliver justice and by accusations of corruption among its officers. Protracted delays in the prosecution of those responsible for contemporary human rights violations, and the continued failure to prosecute many of those believed to be responsible for human rights violations under former Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, served to maintain the impression that some government and security personnel, especially those with influence or wealth, enjoyed impunity. The reputation of the Office of the Ombudsman, responsible for investigating complaints against government personnel, was damaged by controversy surrounding its investigation of 98 police officers, including four police generals, allegedly involved in the extrajudicial execution while in police custody of 11 suspected members of a bank-robbery gang in Manila in May 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The Ombudsman initially exonerated all 98 officers, but then indicted 27 officers, with only one general among the principal accused. The Ombudsman later downgraded charges against the general; no convictions had been reached by the end of the year. In early 1996, the Ombudsman, despite witness statements and supporting medical evidence, dismissed charges of attempted murder against four police officers of the National Bureau of Investigation who were alleged to have arbitrarily detained, beaten and threatened to kill university student Stephen Guerrero after he had intervened in a traffic dispute involving one of the officers outside the Bureau headquarters in Manila in March 1995. More than 175 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention at the end of the year. Most of the political detainees were held on criminal charges, particularly illegal possession of firearms, robbery and murder, which allegedly occurred within the context of the CPP-NPA insurgency. Most had not been convicted by the end of the year. In January, 22 political prisoners were released on the recommendation of the Presidential Committee for the Grant of Bail, Release or Pardon. In November, over 130 political prisoners began a protest fast calling for the Committee and the National Amnesty Commission to act on pending applications and recommendations for release and amnesty. Torture and ill-treatment of people detained for alleged involvement in violent political activity and of criminal suspects, continued to be reported. Following attacks in December 1995 by the communist armed group the "Alex Boncayao Brigade" (ABB) on three Chinese-Filipino businessmen accused by the ABB of labour abuses, police and military intelligence personnel detained more than 15 suspects, mainly in Manila and in surrounding provinces. Some of the detainees, who were reportedly arrested without warrants and denied access to legal counsel, were held in unacknowledged detention for periods ranging from several days to over two weeks. Some were reported to have been subjected to torture, including beatings and having their toes crushed with weighted tables, to extract confessions. In June, six men arrested on suspicion of involvement in the killing of a former military intelligence colonel in Manila were allegedly subjected to electric shocks and beatings to extract confessions. Criminal suspects were reportedly tortured and ill-treated, particularly while held in police cells during the initial interrogation period before formal charges were laid. Throughout the year, there were allegations that police in Manila beat and harassed suspected squatters during forced evictions in poor residential areas designated for demolition and clearance. Overall levels of human rights violations occurring within the context of counter-insurgency operations continued to decrease. Nevertheless, at least seven "disappearances" were reported. Four of the victims were suspected ABB members who, after periods of unacknowledged detention ranging from several days to over two weeks, were found to be held in official custody. However, the fate and whereabouts of alleged ABB member Jose De Guzman and of NPA member Aldrin Suyat, who "disappeared" in January and May respectively, remained unknown at the end of the year. In October, Domingo Banaag, a farmers' association leader in Cavite province, "disappeared" after confrontations with the private security guards of a local development company involved in a land dispute with the farmers' association. It was alleged that local police and district officials had connived with the private security guards in Domingo Banaag's "disappearance". His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year. The number of extrajudicial executions, mainly insurgency-related, declined but cases continued to be reported. The Philippine National Police, followed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines or their militia units, were reported to be the main perpetrators. In February, human rights lawyer and journalist Ferdinand Reyes was shot dead in his office in Dipolog, Mindanao, by an unidentified man. Unconfirmed reports stated that his killer may have been a member of the armed forces. In August, Rejenaldo Gambutan was reported by witnesses to have been arrested in Misamis Oriental, Mindanao, by military units conducting operations against suspected NPA rebels. In September, a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the regional trial court, but in October a body believed to be that of Rejenaldo Gambutan was discovered in a shallow grave. Despite peace negotiations with the MNLF, military operations continued in Mindanao against units of the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Muslim armed group and their suspected supporters. Such operations, at times in response to Muslim rebel attacks, included indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilian areas. Scores of civilians were reportedly killed or injured. Muslim, Christian and indigenous communities, including those living in development project zones allegedly affected by NPA activity, were displaced. At least 127 death sentences were passed, but only one sentence, that against house painter Leo Pilo Echegary who was convicted of raping his step-daughter, was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Since the death penalty was restored in December 1993, at least 240 people have been sentenced to death for a range of crimes, including murder, rape and drug-trafficking. No executions have been carried out. In March, President Ramos signed a law providing for execution by lethal injection. Armed opposition groups were responsible for human rights abuses. Members of Muslim armed groups in Mindanao, including the MILF, Abu Sayyaf and renegade MNLF units, continued to take civilians hostage and to carry out deliberate and arbitrary killings. In February, Amnesty International called on the government to launch an impartial public inquiry into allegations that military or other government personnel may have been involved in the killing of Ferdinand Reyes. In March and October respectively, the organization called for renewed investigations into the "disappearances" of Noel Campilan (see Amnesty International Report 1996) and Domingo Banaag. In November, Amnesty International published a report, Philippines: Not forgotten the fate of the "disappeared", which called on the government to resolve the cases of over 1,600 people who had "disappeared" since the early 1970s and to address the issue of impunity. Throughout the year, Amnesty International called for all death sentences to be commuted and, in March, it appealed to President Ramos not to sign the law providing for execution by lethal injection.