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Amnesty International Report 1996 - Philippines

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1996
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1996 - Philippines, 1 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9fa60.html [accessed 21 September 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Over 200 political prisoners, including some possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention. Reports of widespread ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police continued. There was a decline in the number of human rights violations committed in the context of the insurgency, but dozens of people were reported to have been extrajudicially executed and at least four people "disappeared" allegedly while in police or military custody. At least 68 people were sentenced to death but no executions were carried out. Armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses, including hostage-taking and deliberate and arbitrary killings.

Efforts by President Fidel Ramos' government to hold formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA), remained stalled. Peace negotiations with the Muslim separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) progressed slowly; in November the two sides held a further round of inconclusive talks on the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim-populated areas of the southern island of Mindanao. In October the government reached an agreement granting full amnesty to the right-wing military rebel Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM), Revolutionary Nationalist Alliance, responsible for a series of failed coups against the government of former President Corazon Aquino. No compensation for the relatives of over 150 people killed in the coup attempts was agreed.

In September the government and representatives of 10,000 victims of human rights violations under the government of former President Ferdinand Marcos agreed to accept a compromise us$ 100 million damages settlement to be paid out of a us$ 2 billion award made against the Marcos estate by a federal court in Hawaii, USA, in 1994. Serious disputes over the implementation of the proposed settlement continued at the end of the year.

Over 200 political prisoners were released but at least 209 remained in detention at the end of the year. The government continued to claim that there were no political prisoners in the Philippines, and that all detainees were held for criminal not political offences, in particular the illegal possession of firearms. Some detainees were possible prisoners of conscience: they had been detained after peaceful political activities and were allegedly falsely accused of belonging to an armed group or possession of firearms.

Despite periodic government attempts to dismiss officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who committed human rights violations, there were scores of incidents of ill-treatment of criminal suspects. The police practice of arresting criminal suspects without warrant remained widespread. Criminal suspects were frequently "invited" for questioning, then held in prolonged administrative detention before the laying of formal charges, by law required within 12 to 36 hours, depending on the seriousness of the offence. Such suspects were particularly vulnerable to police ill-treatment and torture, including near-drowning and electric shocks. In April Manolo Cuntapay, a farmer charged with theft and detained in Cauayan jail, Isabela province, was allegedly beaten with a shovel and burned with cigarettes by three policemen. In March Jerry Butial was arrested in Manila on suspicion of being a member of the communist assassination unit "Alex Boncayao Brigade". He was reportedly beaten and subjected to water torture by police attempting to extract a confession.

There was an overall decline in levels of insurgency and in related human rights violations committed by government personnel. However, despite the government's stated commitment to the protection of human rights, periodic human rights violations by security force personnel continued. Human rights worker Julius Marquez was abducted by armed men believed to be members of the Military Intelligence Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on 6 January in Ilocos Sur province. He was held incommunicado and allegedly threatened with "disappearance". Julius Marquez claimed that he was intimidated into signing a document applying for amnesty as an NPA member before being released into the custody of a local politician on 13 January.

In April community health worker Noel Campilan "disappeared" in Davao del Norte province, amid allegations that he had been targeted by members of the security forces for alleged links to the NPA. No information regarding his whereabouts had emerged by the end of the year.

In August, eight civilians – all members of the Manobo indigenous group – were killed during an alleged military exercise in Agusan del Sur province. Military aircraft reportedly strafed and bombed a Manabo hamlet, although the civilian inhabitants attempted to wave white cloths. Military officials later claimed the exercise was part of an anti-insurgency operation.

In what appeared to be a clear case of "salvaging" (the term used in the Philippines for extrajudicial executions), 11 suspected members of a bank robbery gang were reportedly shot dead in Manila in May while in police custody. Investigations by the Senate and the National Bureau of Investigation (nbi) implicated 98 police officers, including four police generals. Charges of murder were filed by the Ombudsman against 27 of the officers in November.

Despite the official cease-fire with the MNLF, AFP operations against suspected renegade MNLF units and members of the Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf, especially on the island of Basilan, led to indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, "disappearances" and arbitrary arrests.

Security force personnel suspected of human rights violations were rarely brought to justice and public confidence in the judiciary remained at a low ebb. Intimidation of witnesses, at times combined with offers of compensation, frequently led to "amicable" settlements out of court. Trials related to complaints about human rights violations remained subject to long delays, with cases being transferred to various courts or stalled. In January a regional trial court transferred the case of Gary Dalayhon, a 16-year-old street child who was shot dead in July 1993 after being questioned by members of the PNP, to the Sandiganbayan Court in Manila. This court, set up to deal with cases against government officials, had not considered the case by the end of the year. In July former militia member Agustin Agpawan, one of those involved in the killing of human rights activist Chris Batan, who was shot dead in February 1993, was finally sentenced to life imprisonment (see Amnesty International Report 1995). However, five of his co-accused remained at large. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the overwhelming majority of those who "disappeared" under the governments of former Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino remained unknown. No government personnel believed responsible were brought to trial.

Between 1993, when the death penalty was restored, and the end of 1995, over 90 people were sentenced to death for a range of crimes including murder, rape and drug-trafficking, including at least 68 in 1995. No executions took place, partly because of disagreements over methods of execution.

Armed opposition groups were responsible for human rights abuses. In Mindanao, alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf group led an attack on Ipil town in April killing over 50 people, including civilians. The Abu Sayyaf group and suspected members of other armed opposition groups continued to kidnap civilians for ransom. NPA attacks on government targets and reports of human rights abuses by NPA guerrillas continued to decline. However, in December the "Alex Boncayao Brigade" ambushed three Chinese-Filipino businessmen in Manila, accusing them of labour abuses. Four people were killed in the attacks.

Throughout the year Amnesty International called for the government to conduct independent and impartial investigations into cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, "disappearances" and ill-treatment or torture. The organization called for those responsible to be brought to justice without excessive delay, and for the reinforcement of the witness-protection program. Amnesty International welcomed the conclusion of the case against Chris Batan's murderer, but expressed concern over the fact that his accomplices remained at large. The organization called for the rapid dismantling of militia groups and asked the Defence Secretary to clarify the deaths of eight Manobo people. No substantive reply had been received by the end of the year. Amnesty International called for all death sentences to be commuted.

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