WASHINGTON, D.C- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wants the national government to create a high-level interagency task force that would focus on "cold cases" of extra-judicial killings in the country, the Philippine Embassy in the US said Friday.
This is part of the Philippine government's efforts to improve the country’s human rights record, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said in a press statement.
Cuisia said de Lima uneveiled the proposal at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the United States-Philippines Society in Washington on Wednesday.
“I will propose to the President the creation of a high-level interagency task force to focus especially on the cold cases of extra-judicial killings and try to come up with a list of all cases with high chances of successful prosecution,” de Lima said in response to a question raised by John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch.
De Lima said other task forces have been created to address extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations in the country.
These include the Department of Justice Task Force, the Philippine National Police Task Force and the Task Force Usig.
“Perhaps if there is an imprimatur from the President and we have all the right people who are committed, dedicated to do it, we can have accomplishments in the coming three years and yes we have a long way to go in addressing those past killings,” she told Sifton.
US-based human rights groups have acknowledged that extrajudicial killings have gone down under the Aquino administration but urged the government to take more significant steps such as prosecuting cases that occurred in previous administrations, the Philippine embassy said.
“The numbers continue to decline since two to three years ago up to the present. All the few cases that have been occurred since July 2010 or the start of current administration have been immediately investigated and therefore are under various stages of the legal process. Some are under preliminary investigation. Some are under trial,” de Lima said. “We have charted fewer and fewer cases of extra-judicial killings and, for this year, although we are investigating a few cases, none have yet to be validated as extra-judicial killings.”
“The real challenge, especially for me, as former chairperson of the commission on Human Rights, is that I have to start from scratch in most of those cases because our investigative agencies in the previous administration simply failed to adequately investigate them,” she added.
De Lima said extrajudicial killings are difficult to detect, investigate and prosecute not because top government officials willingly or neglectfully promote a culture of impunity, but because the perpetrators have the means and the opportunity to destroy any evidence that could implicate them, as well as intimidate or even eliminate witnesses who can identify them.
“That is especially true for cold cases that occurred during the previous administration, where co-conspirators have demonstrated the extreme lengths they are willing to go to just to hide their crimes, and their practices were not only tolerated, but in fact encouraged and rewarded in order to silence political dissent,” she said.
She cited the case of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr., who is now in hiding after he was charged for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses.
“Be that as it may, the most demonstrably effective measure taken by the present administration is inpreventing human rights violation cases from being committed at the hands of state agents,” she told the audience.
“Another key measure is the keeping of a vibrant and open line of communications with other stakeholders, including NGOS, the Commission on Human Rights and even the academe, in finding ways in achieving a higher level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases,” de Lima said.