(Yearender) AFP: 2009, a respectable year on human rights

January 6, 2010 11:36 pm 

MANILA, Jan.6 – The year 2009 proved to be a relatively respectable year for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in terms of promotion and protection of human rights.

The past year saw a deeper permeation of human rights consciousness among AFP troops.

This was ably shown in the handling of the Maguindanao situation, especially during the declaration of the week-long Martial Law in the region, as evidenced by the report of Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), stating that there had been nO complaints against the AFP of human rights abuse as documented by a team of CHR lawyers sent to Maguindanao.

Former Akbayan Representative Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales has noted that the “military’s participation in the dialogues makes all the difference” in helping find genuine solutions to human rights violations brought about by land conflicts.

This is in reference to the military’s participation in the Building Bridges for Peace, a German-financed project which was launched in 2009. The project was initially implemented in Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon, and in Misamis Oriental.

Since the establishment of the AFP Human Rights Office (AFP-HRO) in 2007, it has been active in planning and implementing programs and mechanisms for the adherence of human rights among the troops.

Apart from these tasks, AFP-HRO also serves as an advisory body to the Chief of Staff to effectively address human rights concerns relative to the organization.

AFP-HRO monitors the status of the cases of killing and enforced disappearances where AFP personnel may have been allegedly involved.

It said that as of November 2009, of the 16 cases referred by the Task Force USIG which allegedly involved 30 AFP personnel, seven were pending at Regional Trial Courts, and one at the Ombudsman; five cases had been dismissed by the Department of Justice and two by the courts; while one case was acquitted.

Of these, two personnel are undergoing trial by General Court Martial in addition to their criminal cases in civilian courts. Task Force USIG is a unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP) created in 2006 to investigate, solve, and prosecute perpetrators of killings of militants and media personalities.

Meanwhile, the AFP-HRO’s thrust is to institutionalize the upholding of human rights principles so that this should be ingrained in the soldiers psyche as they perform their various missions.

From March-August 2009 alone, 506 AFP personnel participated in lectures on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Apart from these lectures, as the AFP’s tool in firming up its indoctrination of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, these modules have been integrated in the formal courses and training of AFP personnel.

Most of the trainings are undertaken by the CHR. Similarly, officers who are due for promotion to the ranks of Colonel and up are required to secure a human rights clearance from the Commission.

The AFP-HRO also endeavored to institutionalize Human Rights principles, crafting and pushing for the promulgation of five various policies in 2009, including a policy concerning Children in Armed Conflict (CIAC).

Along with this, AFPHRO has also been liaising with the Commission on Human Rights; the Presidential Human Rights Committee; Supreme Court; DOJ; DSWD; OPAPP; DILG/PNP; DFA; Office of the Ombudsman; NGOs; and People’s Organizations.

Close coordination is particularly maintained between the Chief, AFPHRO and CHR Chair Leila de Lima and her staff pertaining to issues of forced disappearances and human rights abuses that may allegedly have been committed by military personnel; as well as on enhancing Human Rights Education programs of the AFP.

Significantly, the CHR and International Committee of the Red Cross, on various occasions, have been allowed to visit military detention facilities to ensure that fundamental rights of detainees are respected.

“The Commission on Human Rights has been our active partner in our human rights advocacies, and we truly appreciate the agency’s cognizance of our efforts in inculcating respect for human rights to our troops”, said Brig. Gen Francisco N. Cruz, Commander, Civil Relations Service.

Also, one of the tangible results of these linkages was the conduct of a Summit for the Promotion of Peace and Respect for Human Rights last year, participated by the National Capital Region Command, together with AFP officers; the PNP; leaders of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

Meanwhile, the AFP recognizes the importance of the soldiers’ discipline in the field; and that their manner of discharging their duties and dealing with the local community would characterize the AFP as an organization. This is the means in achieving the everlasting aim of the AFP’s mission that is to win the hearts and minds of the people to gain popular support and eventually defeat the enemy.

“We continue to emphasize, especially to those in the fields, our Rules of Engagement which stipulate that all actions must be taken to uphold the dignity of a person, his or her rights, even to those perceived as enemies. This is re-emphasized during mission briefings before every operation, especially in our counter-insurgency efforts. As the mandated protectors of human rights, it is important that we should be able to carry out this responsibility”, BGen Cruz added.

In a command guidance, AFP Chief of Staff General Victor S. Ibrado on July 2009 underscored to all AFP personnel that respect for and protection of human rights should be the key to all their actions; and that as protector of people and the state, it is imperative that they also protect people’s rights. Further emphasis was made on respect for human rights irrespective of whether one is a rebel or not.

“Our soldiers and marines understand that whether NPA, Abu Sayaff, or criminal; they have rights and are all entitled to the protection of the law”, said Ibrado. (PNA)

RMA/VR

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