The restoration of democracy in 1986 did not end one of the worst horrors of the Marcos regime: the systematic abuse of human rights. Torture and cruel and inhuman forms of punishment have been recorded in this country since the Spanish colonial period, but martial law gave state forces free rein in using such methods against political dissidents, enemies of the state and ordinary criminals.
One consequence is that the land that gave the world people power, and which likes to portray itself as an Asian bastion of democracy, also has one of the worst records in human rights. Too many cops still see torture as a short cut to law enforcement and crime investigation. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, accused by a United Nations body of being in denial about human rights abuses, insists that unexplained killings and disappearances attributed to the military are mostly the consequences of legitimate counterinsurgency operations.
Organizations classified as enemies of the state are no better. Communist rebels are also among the worst violators of human rights, according to the UN. The AFP is currently investigating reports that 11 soldiers and a civilian killed in an ambush by the New People’s Army in Ifugao were all merely injured in a vehicular accident when the driver was hit by sniper fire but were executed by the NPA.
Nearly two weeks ago the Philippines ratified an international agreement against torture. The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was ratified on April 17 as part of efforts to further reinforce the Philippines’ commitment to eradicate this problem.
Honoring that commitment can start by breaking the culture of impunity that has led to the deaths of hundreds of activists, journalists and legal professionals since 1986. This means capturing the perpetrators – both the triggermen and the brains – and bringing them to justice. Honoring the commitment should also include an effective campaign to eradicate torture as a tool of law enforcement and criminal investigation. The nation has ratified the optional protocol. Now it must live up to its international commitments.