de Lima: Protect human rights in Maguindanao despite ML

December 10, 2009 11:19 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, Dec. 10 —- Government institutions were urged on Thursday to “consciously put in place protections for human rights during martial law in Maguindanao” by Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

“The CHR personnel and officers are marking International Human Rights Day by working intensively to right the wrongs in Maguindanao. This is not a time to celebrate but protection work is also a relevant way to observe this important day,” she emphasized.

De Lima spoke for the CHR en banc as the Philippine Congress continues debates on the recently-imposed martial rule in the Mindanao hotspot.

“Martial law is a reality, even though the CHR does not support it,” de Lima said, “so we have to protect human rights in this area now that there are greater risks of violations under martial law.”

CHR called on the police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Bureau of Investigation to respect the rights of ordinary persons, and even of suspects. The Commission also suggested this applies even when asking questions and searching for documents and information with respect for everyone’s dignity.

It also called on the armed forces to immediately distribute and remind soldiers on the ground about the doctrine and policies on "command responsibility" but also to issue rules of engagement that would minimize hurt to civilians and non-combatants.

Human rights standards and the laws that protect human rights remain in place even with martial law. So, the CHR continued, members of the uniformed services "should still respect human rights while exercising their additional powers.”

De Lima stressed that “martial law should not be used as an excuse for violating rights to privacy, to life, to security of persons, and other rights.”

The commission also asked that investigators should make sure they follow proper procedures during this time when collecting evidence on the Maguindanao massacres.

“Evidence gathered outside of legal means will be useless to prosecutions so they have to be extra careful so that we can bring the perpetrators to justice through the legal process,” she pointed out.

The AFP and PNP should also distribute and prominently display in public places the proper processes of arrest and searches under martial law, and where people can go to seek remedies for complaints. This way, people will not misunderstand the powers of the investigators and detaining authorities, de Lima added.

“This is one way the government can ensure that people and the soldiers and police on the ground know exactly what martial law allows and does not allow,” the chairperson added.

“The government says this martial law is to be beneficial and ‘friendly’ so these are the ways that resources should be dedicated to keep it that way.”

Today, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, de Lima led personnel of her Commission in planting trees on CHR grounds in honor of 57 press card-carrying individuals who were massacred in Maguindanao. (PNA)

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