MANILA -- The widows of extra-judicial killing victims have asked US President Barack Obama to remind President Benigno Aquino III of his promise to bring justice for their families.
In an open letter addressed to Obama ahead of his state visit, Florence Macagne-Manegdeg and Myrna Parangan-Reblando said: “Even as we manage to bring the cases before the court of law, the cases drag on and become cold as witnesses are silenced and also get killed.”
They said they also face threats and the risk of death as “we persist with our appeals that those who were responsible for the senseless violence and killings we so abhor be called to account before humane and just courts.”
Manegdeg is the wife of Jose “Pepe” Manegdeg III, a Rural Missionaries program coordinator who was gunned down by unidentified assailants on November 28, 2005. Pepe worked with farmers in Ilocos and the Cordillera regions as a human rights and church worker.
Reblando, on the other hand, is the wife of Bong Reblando, one of the 32 journalists who died in the Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009.
“We are equally concerned that despite the commitments of our government to uphold human rights, the killings in our country continue, and a culture of impunity prevails. We cannot afford to be silent for so long as the vicious cycle of violence propagates untold misery and suffering,” the letter said.
They also blasted the full protection - including medical attention paid for by public funds - given to the accused.
“It is in exposing and critiquing the system that allows these wrongful acts and joining the voices for a just social order for our children and grandchildren that many lives including those of our husbands were sacrificed,” they said.
In a separate statement, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged Obama to use his state visit to press human rights accountability from his ally.
“The Philippines remains a risky place to be an outspoken activist or muckraking journalist,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “People taking on powerful local interests all too frequently make the news as victims, and those responsible for killings are almost never prosecuted.”
The US-based HRW noted 12 journalists were killed in 2013 alone, bringing the number to 26 under Aquino’s time. This does not include the other victims of extra-judicial killings.
“President Obama should make clear that US assistance to the Philippines military is linked to abusive personnel being held to account,” Sifton said.
“A strong US position on rights can only strengthen Aquino’s hand in combating abuses.”