Torch of Justice Then and Now, Bleak if Not Dimmer
Hope for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in Bicol becomes dimmer in the “Tuwid na Daan” as the Aquino Administration approaches the end of its term. The government’s actions and inaction, while raising the banner of human rights in the international community, are conflicting to what is happening on the ground.
The small light of hope for Estrellado is waning, turning to false hopes instead. Contrary to what is being claimed by present administration before the media and the international community, the case of Rodel Estrellado is in deep slumber. Like many of the victims of the extrajudicial killings, his case lies motionless on top of the table of the executive. Rodel was abducted and admittedly killed by military forces in an alleged encounter February 25, 2011. Charges for murder against the military perpetrators were reduced to homicide against one military official and the case is still on review before the Secretary of Justice since 2012. The case remains unresolved.
Justice for the Manceras is dimmer with the influence of the invisible hand. The killing of Benjamin Mancera and his two children in Malaya, Labo, Camarines Norte on February 2012 is worse than the Estrellado case as the family does not see even a small drop of even-handedness from investigation to prosecution. No proper investigation was conducted and the killing was even justified by the police officers to be under the pretext of an armed encounter.
For the Garduques, hope is bleak when victim Cynthia, instead of getting justice, was incarcerated just because their house, by chance, stood in the line of fire. Her husband was killed while she and her one-year old child were injured by military forces in an alleged encounter on March 2014 in Matnog, Sorsogon. Cynthia was not allowed to attend the burial of her husband and now, separated by bars from her four children as she faces criminal charges.
While the government pretends that counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, raises the banner of development and human rights in the countryside, violation of human rights and International Humanitarian Law continue to be committed by government troops against civilians and unarmed/wounded combatants.
Civilians are killed, families are forced to evacuate, community leaders are being threatened, farmers are displaced from their sources of income, communities tried to conquer but still live in fear especially during military patrols and strafing, and they live not in peace.
And, while the government brags about prosecution of the violators, not one of the cases handled by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Bicol is moving.
In fact, even human rights lawyers and defenders were not spared. Trumped up charges were filed against two national leaders of COURAGE and they are presently detained in Camarines Norte Provincial Jail. In Naga City, Ateneo de Naga student Emmanuel Pio Mijares is facing two charges for exercising his freedom of expression during the Independence Day Activity with the President present.
Lastly, human rights defenders calling for economic justice and right against privatization of electric cooperatives including Atty. Bart Rayco were arrested. At present, Karapatan Spokesperson Vince Casilihan and KMU worker Hernan Certeza face raps for participating in the ALECO Consumers’ Assembly and while exercising a constitutionally guaranteed right.
In the Bicol Region, no justice has been served to date. No perpetrator was even charged in courts of law. Not one violator was placed behind bars. Instead, human rights defenders are facing charges and are suffering detention.
As we join the people in its call for justice for all the victims of human rights violations, we call for the prosecution of human rights violators, for the proper conduct of evidence gathering and investigation of these violations, and to stop filing false and trumped up charges and John/Jane Doe Information against the rights defenders. We call to end killings and human rights violations and for the respect of human rights and International Humanitarian Law as we stand with the people in its demand to end impunity!
The torch’s light is waning, yes, but human rights lawyers will stand for the people. Amid the cold stare and chilling response of the administration, we stand for human rights, we stand with human rights defenders, and we will stand with the people until finale, until the torch is brightly lighted again, until justice is served.