Friday, May 15, 2015

5 ways to hold journalists' killers accountable

"x x x.
1. The Supreme Court must place impunity 
at the top of the judiciary’s agenda.
For years the government denied that 
impunity existed, saying gross violations of 
human rights were committed by “misguided 
elements of the military and police” and were 
isolated cases.
It was only in 2007 that the 
government finally acknowledged impunity’s 
existence, with then President Gloria 
Macapagal-Arroyo issuing Administrative 
Order 181 mandating that public 
prosecutors and other agencies work together 
to investigate and prosecute political and 
media killings.
In the same year, the Supreme Court 
promulgated the rule of writ of amparo 
to protect Filipinos, in the words of 
then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, 
from “unabated extrajudicial killings … 
that stalk our legal landscape.”
In 2008, the court promulgated the writ 
of habeas data, protecting one’s right to 
privacy. The year after, Congress enacted 
Republic Act 9745 penalizing torture, 
followed by RA 9851 penalizing crimes 
against humanity and against international
 humanitarian law.
In 2012, Congress enacted the RA 10353 
penalizing enforced or involuntary 
disappearance, while President Aquino issued 
AO 35 creating the inter-agency committee 
on extrajudicial killings, enforced 
disappearances, torture, and other 
grave human rights violations.
But while the government has acknowledged 
the reality of impunity, Diokno said, it is still 
not a priority of the judiciary. The Supreme 
Court must take the lead and resolve 
human rights cases “with dispatch” instead 
of “sidestepping constitutional issues and 
taking forever to decide.”
2. Nongovernmental organizations 
must be included in the 
inter-agency committee created under
 AO 35, allowing it to fight impunity 
more effectively.
The “superbody” is headed by the 
Justice Secretary, and is composed of 
Cabinet members. Human rights 
organizations and NGOs must be represented 
here, too, a practice that proved effective 
in the 1990s, in FLAG’s experience, Diokno said.
3. The rules on immunity must be 
expanded for witnesses admitted 
to the government’s witness protection 
program in human rights cases.
Diokno said that the biggest obstacle to 
convictions in such cases was the lack of 
a mechanism to preserve the witnesses’ 
With criminal cases taking five to ten years 
to be resolved, witnesses have to remain in 
their safehouses for at least the same amount 
of time. They tend to lose interest over the 
years, become compromised, or even get killed 
because of the delay.
The Congress must pass a law to 
expand the rules perpetuating testimonies 
so that testimonies given in the past will still 
influence the judges’ decision.
4. The vacancies at the National Prosecution 
Service must be filled with qualified, 
dedicated, and competent lawyers.
“Our vacancy rates in government service 
for lawyers are quite alarming,” Diokno said. According 
to a press release from the Department of Justice
 in August last year, there was a 20 percent 
vacancy in the NPS.
5. The Ombudsman must be allowed 
to investigate and prosecute members 
of the judiciary.
Diokno cited the 1993 case of Maceda vs. Vasquez
 where Regional Trial Court judge Bonifacio 
Sanz Maceda sought the help of the Supreme 
Court to prevent Ombudsman Conrado Vasquez 
from prosecuting him.
From then on, the Ombudsman was no longer
 given the authority to investigate any 
member of the judiciary.
“The Ombudsman’s authority as a watchdog 
applies to all branches of the government,” 
Diokno said. The Supreme Court took itself 
out of the equation by handing down that decision. 
This, he said, must be overruled. 
x x x."