CHR links retired military general to Jonas Burgos case

CHR investigators have found “significant leads” pointing to the involvement of retired military general Jovito Palparan, CHR chair Leila de Lima told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. She refused to say exactly what the evidence was, however, saying they still need to talk to some former NPAs. The quotes are buried in the middle of this pile of notes on the human rights situation in the Philippines, the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao, the extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and the cases of the desaparecidos.

De Lima intro speech:
could be as brutal as the war of attrition in the 1970s or as bloody as the 2000 war estrada waged…president has denied military waging an all out war but merely removing obstacles to peace. what is the difference between all out and not all out…may matter in the peace negotiations…in realm of public opinion with a govt that must buoy its base of trust from the people…international community…foreign organizations…inaccurate or even obtuse semantics cannot properly describe what is occuring in mindanao…all these characterizations are mere gibberish…five things clear: involvement of state security forces and organized armed group makes this a non-international armed conflict…these laws propound…set of obligations…to protect civilians and non combatants that apply equally to state and milf as organized armed group. civilians are suffering immensely…the standards of compliance with the obligations of state and milf have not been met or have been shameless violated rendering those in command liable…human suffering involved is unmistakable black mark…justifications on both sides do not change obligation to protect civilians and non combatants…rogue commanders who do not obey…murder of over 40 civilians, destruction of whole communities…cannot justify accusations that grp has reneged on moa…setbacks in nego cannot justify infliction of suffering on civilians…there is no reason for evacuees to suffer more than what is necessary. several aspects of govt response to internal displacement must be addressed with as much fervor as military operations being carried out. ndcc and all lgus must plan for fresh and larger influx of displaced persons…handle better than what has been observed by member of chr mission sent to cotabato two weeks ago…if end at removing all obstacles to peace…then this is the price that our people must pay? we cannot justify lack of foresight, preparation, relief and comfort for the internally displaced….it is not the rogue armies that afp must hunt. the heart of this armed conflict is the robbery of their dignity and safety. unlike any vague characterization of the war…the plight of these filipinos is crystal clear.


(holding both sides accountable for displacement…what can chr do) right now we have a fact finding team with both our regional teams in those areas affected by armed conflict. still in process of gathering fact, evidence…after we receive the written reports from our investigation team from the region…we’re going to study closely what options the chr can take. cases have been filed against the rogue commanders…we will have to push for legislation like law on command responsibility…there will be always be a problem of enforceability….in absence of clear guidelines…one of our powers is monitoring powers…consequence of monitoring power is reporting power…have to report accurately and credibly to un and other international bodies and organizations…

(some destroyed by shelling…are people entitled to indemnity from govt) yes that should come under doctrine of command responsibility or accountability or state responsibility…understand this bill…under erin tanada…law on internal displacement…there are provisions on state responsibility addressing need for compensation to those affected.

(in your assessment…both sides have not been doing their jobs) in terms of explicit acts of violence..the responsibility heavily falls on milf side of conflict bec of media accounts on those casualties and some confirmed by our own regional people. in terms of attending to needs of internally displaced persons, the efforts of govt we see them as wanting. in the case of north cotabato, sent a special team to closely monitor and document the situation of the internally displaced…among the findings are inadequate services in terms of potable water, regular food supply, sanitation, shelter…there are tents but they sleep on the ground. if it rains they’re muddy…there seem to be no organized services at the lgu level. although everybody’s there. the lgu is very much present, international and domestic organizations are there…but it seems that there is no comprehensive plan of action. there should be…this thing, this situation, especially on internally displaced persons must be treated as a national concern. there must be awareness of the seriousness of the humanitarian situation there. the number of idps are increasing day by day. many of them refuse to leave the evacuation centers. lanao del norte we have difficulty monitoring the situation. one of the members of the regional team reported to me…seems that fighting three days ago in border of lanao del norte and sur…which resulted in killing of 20 civilians…have not been covered by media…puna piagapo…that’s confirmed by our office…and burning of several houses. and they could not distinguish anymore if result of attack of milf forces or collateral damage…shelling…by armed forces…there are almost 20 civilians according to our regional people…near the area but not really in area…just monitoring. these are reports but soon to be documented…the clashes have been confirmed but the civilian casualty has not been reported…three or four days ago…(military reported sunday, 15 milf rebels killed not civilians) and then according to the military the casualty on their side was minimal…as of the kolambugan incident…still exclusive of puna piagapo. what we’re doing now is trying to confirm what is being reported in the papers and also by the military because they have limited mobility and the accessing…because of the security…

(responsibility…difficult to realize bec human rights least concern of combatants especially when faced with each other shooting each other) realistically speaking that’s a problem although there’s a progress in terms of imbibing human rights in terms of military…theoretically they know about obligations to promote and protect human rights even in armed conflict…but there are clear rules under international humanitarian law like prohibition of attacks on civilians…non combatants no attacks against non combatants…collateral damage, case to case basis…human rights,that’s why we have the chr, that’s what we’re trying to do, increase awareness of human rights situations…

(civilian casualties) would be higher (than reported) as to how much, we cannot verify yet (milf casualties would be civilians…)would like to confirm once situation allows us…easier to confirm afp’s claim of atrocities committed by milf than the other way around. maybe later when the situation gets better. aside from close monitoring, documentation and gathering of evidence is important bec chr as independent investigative body can do a lot to paint an accurate picture…

(not done before, chr checking afp reports) we feel it’s part of our mandate…to investigate all forms of human rights violations…we need to really intervene as an independent constitutional office. under the un structure the chr is the national human rights structure…independence, transparency…accessibility…we feel we have a mandate to do because these atrocities are grave violations…ground breaking in the sense that it never happened that chr would get involved in something like this…and pro-active.

(how distinguish between combatant and non-combatants) it would now depend on the armed conflict itself. when the fighting is ongoing…they become non combatants when they surrender, they get injured…there are situations when it’s difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants and the military would always insist on categorizing them…reports that…youthful minors…are part of the milf forces…ciac (children involved in armed conflict) are a problem. according to report of special team from north cotabato one of three evacuees are children.

(you’ve got a lot on your plate right now…mindanao war…npa insurgency…people getting killed in rubouts…given your manpower and resources, how effectively carry out mandate) exerting best efforts but do suffer from limited resources and manpower. hoping that it’s budget season, push for significantly higher budget. in certain committee hearings always point out and most congressmen do recognize the need to support significantly the chr in terms of logistics. present budget is 234m, comparable only to one state college or regional office of dpwh. asking for double at least, 100% increase because our mandate is broad and we have a very visible projection now. and complaints really are…many complaints are being filed at chr. positive bec of increased trust, negative bec we’re really overburdened…the muscles are not there but we have very dedicated people, they have heart, passion, to do human rights work. extralegal cases…many are still unresolved…we need more capacity building and improvement of our investigators in terms of skills, technical and expertise.

(also problem that when you come out after investigation, unable to carry out recommendation) ours is only investigative, monitoring and recommendatory. after finding of hr violation,we refer to prosecutorial agencies like doj or ombudsman and once with these offices we can only monitor development and status of cases and we recommend new laws to address human rights issues. we have no enforcement powers. we can ask the assistance of any branch in govt but that’s it. we would not want to have prosecutorial powers, inconsistent with our monitoring powers. alston shares the view that giving us prosecutorial powers would dilute or diminish monitoring or oversight role. we tend to be protective of rights of accused, we prosecute accused, that’s incongruent.

(where does problem lie then) prosecution of cases. perfect example is area of extralegal killings. almost zero conviction although tf usig every time it reports would boast of two convictions. we have not validated…but two convictions are simply too low. almost zero convictions. and how can we eliminate culture of impunity…ongoing or series of workshops sponsored by judicial academy…focus on extralegal killings…part of mandate is to look for disappeared and to solve killings…look for disappeared, dead or alive. put closure on these cases…especially high profile ones…

(how do you solve) through our investigators. we’re pushing for establishment of forensic cases. most cases hit a snag through sheer lack of witnesses. how do we go about solving that? forensic, technical skills of our people. an independent forensic center bec right now we depend on the crime labs of the pnp and the afp who are the usual suspects. most of cases involve afp and pnp as alleged perpetrators…who knows we might come across some of the disappeared when we do surprise visits to some of these military camps…it would defeat purpose…

(why hasn’t govt signed opcat) understand already signed by pres and endorsed to senate. not sure whether it’s among the priority bills of the senate.

(what is your dialogue, do you have dialogue with milf? if there isn’t what is your take on how milf could be involved in human rights dialogue) we do not have any dialogue yet with milf other than issuance of press statements and advisories although the milf has been responding to chr issuances…spokesperson of milf said that while they trust me as chair they would not say same thing about chr bec part of govt. we need to enlighten them that chr is not part of govt, we’re part of state but not govt. we’re an independent constitutional office although we depend on govt because of resources for our survival. would not be submitting to our jurisdiction…can only submit to jurisdiction of international body…bec we are within the constitutional framework…whether or not the milf will cooperate with chr still need to gather those facts bec we’ll be thinking and studying what will be the options in terms of fulfilling mandate.

(jonas burgos status…afp involved) there are volumes of records i’ve seen in the chr bec there was a series of public hearings…but the problem is after the public hearings, there was a resolution to suspend public hearings bec of lack of cooperation from mrs burgos…opted to bring matter to court of appeals. the ca only partially granted the writ of amparo petition…directed afp and pnp to further look for jonas burgos but denied some of impt prayers like conducting inspection of all military camps. ca said it was too broad and not enough justification for plea to make visitation of all military camps. to me that was a reasonable request but the ca had a different opinion. it denied prayer to hold accountable certain officers of afp including palparan bec there was no evidence to establish link bet disappearance and military inspite of the jeep…part of evidence presented…ordered reopening of reinvestigation by both the ncr office and region 3 office…where the camps mot likely to have jonas burgos allegedly are. according to the investigators there were significant leads pointing to responsibility of palparan…only that they need to further locate some other members of the npa. some of them with knowledge.

(links palparan) yes. but can’t disclose them at the moment. former npas…they know about the movement of jonas. (tainted testimonies) we’re evaluating those testimonies… (former npa working with govt) some of them. and they cannot be traced. some of them our investigators were able to talk to already.

opposition there is as much as possible we should not be arming civilians it could only lead to more human rights violations, more violence. of course easier said than done. duty to protect civilians…pnp and afp…it should be pnp that should protect civilians, should have visibility in those conflict areas, so can attend to and protect civilians..understand in remote areas no pnp present so being forced to arm themselves. that should be the last resort, subject to strict guidelines, selective not indiscriminate arming of civilians and under strict monitoring, supervision…also has to be closely monitored by our regional people…

(can chr stop govt) we can advise. (can you go to court) that is an option. we will seriously consider. if we see that it’s getting out of hand, reports of violations on account of arming of civilians, we have to do something. in my study of powers of chr under the constitution…we have no charter so there’s a general enumeration of powes…there are enough provisiosn there…in general and broad terms but if properly utilized….like immunity powers…expressed in the constitution but never used. that can come a long way in solving the extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. no guidelines yet, no rules on procedures.

(speaking with civilian leaders arming themselves) zamboanga,iligan, cotabato.

(compare status of hr violations now to previous upheavals) i think it’s better in the sense that the afp knows at least theoretically the need to respect and uphold human rights even in case of military situations or armed conflict. there seems to be a noticeable improvement under gen yano. less reports now on potential or actual hr violations committed by afp. ..some get to prosecutorial stage, some get dismissed…but there were complaints and cases. now there seem to be a significant drop in human rights violations involving the afp. (maimbung) problem was afp had the case reinvestigated. still pending. in other words they were not simply taking our findings as binding to them. that’s also one of the problems bec we’re just investigative, recommendatory.

(improvement) significant reductions, case of enforced disappearances. in davao there seem to be a resurgence in killings of death squads…those incidents of hooded assailants killing pointblank and in broad daylight petty criminals…are they vigilantes, death squads…all these are still open questions. i intend to officially communicate with mayor duterte and ask for his assistance to solve these problems.

compared with 2005 and 2006…but the drop beginning 2007 and 2008 is significant…about 70% decrease. the victims of the extralegal killings were not the combatants, the ideologues, the thinkers…maybe the philosophy there is these thinkers are difficult to replace or irreplaceable rather than combatants…so link to counterinsurgency operations…

(can you say that accusation against gma that worse hr record than marcos…unfair) i’m not prepared to make that assessment…need to review records…especially extra legal killings, 2005 and 2006 cases, need to review and study them.

chr…somewhere between govt and karapatan figures…from 2001-2008, 465 extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. among the priority programs of chr is for it to have competent database. 2006 was almost 200. for this year, the extralegal complaints have been less than 10. still under investigation. the profile of the victims they are identified with militant groups.

(davao) victims are petty criminals although still categorized as extrajudicial killings.

pushing for ratification of asean charter bec pave way for establishment of asean hr body. only region in whole world not yet established hr body. asean hr body would be an added pressure on internal or domestic performance in terms of recognition and upholding of hr. i would envision an asean hr regional body where complaints can be directly filed with it if domestic for a and the judicial, legislative and executive would fail in addressing domestic hr issues. also sharing of info and capacity building insofar as domestic hr issues are concerned. monitoring power on regional scale. specifics have yet to be completely formulated but there are working groups within component member countries of asean working on those proposals…very serious issues raised by some of the asean…indonesia, malaysia insisting on principle of non intervention but how can a hr body not intervene and effectively exercise monitoring power without getting involved in internal affairs? sounds inconsistent…one of ticklish issues often discussed when these working groups meet…in principle, all these countries want an asian hr commission but the exact scope…should be independent bec all intl hr institutions should be independent under paris principle which laid down principle of national hr institutions…more reason that a regional body must have that characteristic.

under HSA chr has prosecutorial powers….we are given authority…law enforcement agencies would be allowed to detain persons suspected and arrested for terrorism for more than 3 days if the chr consents to it. so we would be consenting to a possible violation of hr of the accused terrorist, and given prosecutorial powers guilty of violating rights of terrorists…written to congress if they can reconsider and restudy and reexamine those provisions…we would not want any hand in giving permission to detained…for more than a given period…

i’m not really a hr expert because before being appoitned to this position election law practitioner…never imagined very awesome very challenging position. best efforts. media is important to us, institutionally.


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