Monday, August 21, 2006


CODAL finds unacceptable Pres. Arroyo’s creation of a probe body to investigate political killings without any consultation from the victims and the human rights sector to assure the public that the body is genuinely independent. Although we have condemned Pres. Arroyo, the PNP, the AFP and the DOJ for their silence and inaction in the past five years while the killings were going on, we would have welcomed Pres. Arroyo’s attempt for the creation of a probe body if it is genuinely independent, effective and credible because it is transparent and consultative. Even if CODAL finds it encouraging that the President has essentially abandoned Task Force Usig as it has failed to gain any credibility from the victims and the public, it is condemnable that another body is created without putting up mechanisms that will ensure its independence, credibility and effectiveness, thereby condemning that body to the same fate as TF Usig.

Suspension of public officials who fail to appear and other powers

For any investigating body to be truly independent, it must have fiscal and administrative autonomy from any government institution, especially from the executive. The Commission must have all the powers under Section 37, Chapter 9, Book I of the Administrative Code of 1987 including the power to issue summons and subpoena duces tecum and contempt powers, specifically the power to facilitate contempt sanctions against anyone who refuses to implement that Commission’s order. The President must assure that any member of the AFP, the PNP and any official will appear before the Commission, and that any duly notified executive official who fails to appear will be summarily punished by the President herself with suspension from whatever position or rank until that official appears before the Commission. The Commission’s Secretariat including a legal team of human rights lawyers must also be independent from the executive.

Power to Prosecute 4 categories of human rights violations

Furthermore, the body must not only have the power to investigate the killings, abductions, torture and massacres but also the power to prosecute the perpetrators to ensure that no one will belittle its authority. It must, therefore, be clothe with an inherent deputization from the Justice Department to file the necessary criminal and administrative charges against suspected perpetrators of these very serious human rights violations, specifically the four categories of killings, abductions, torture and massacres. As such, the Commission’s budget should allow it to get the services of human rights lawyers who will conduct such prosecution.

The body, for purposes of credibility, must be acceptable to the victims of human rights violation and must have at least one representative each from the victims and the human rights sector. The Commission on Human Rights must also have one representative sitting in that Commission. The failure to appoint any representative from the human rights sector while appointing representatives from the NBI and the Department of Justice, two institutions which have failed to seriously investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the killings in the past five years immediately puts into question the credibility of the body.

For purposes of transparency, the Commission must be required to transmit regular reports to the President, the respective Human Rights Committees of the House and the Senate, and the victims or human rights groups. The entire proceedings before the Commission must be held in public, and all its documents must accessible to the victims, the suspects and the public in general. Furthermore, before the Commission is established, there must be consultations with affected sectors , organized by the Commission on Human Rights not only to recommend members of that Commission from which the President must chose from but also to ensure that the interest of the victims and those affected by the Commission’s work will be considered in the crafting of the Order establishment such a Commission.

Lastly, Pres. Arroyo must allow the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, including the UN Special Rapporteurs for Extra-judicial Killings and Involuntary Disappearance to gain access to that Commission’s proceedings so that they may monitor its work and therefore assure the international community of the independence and transparency of such a body.

CODAL urges that both Houses of Congress also issue a joint resolution calling for such an independent body and urging the President to dissolve the Commission pending the institution of independent mechanism. CODAL urges President Arroyo to desist from implementing Executive Order creating ‘The Commission to Conduct an Independent Probe on Killing of Media Practitioners and Militant Activists’ and immediately institute the mechanism for a genuine independent probe acceptable to the victims and the public.

Absent mechanisms to ensure independence, effectiveness and credibility through transparency and consultations, the latest probe body will be nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at pacifying the snowballing criticism of the people and the international community over the political killings, without any serious attempt to identify the perpetrators and the masterminds behind these attacks.

Transmittal of the International Criminal Court Treaty to the Senate

CODAL takes this opportunity to also reiterate its previous call on Pres. Arroyo to immediately transmit the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the Senate so that the Senate may be able to fulfill its constitutional function of concurring or not concurring with the ratification of that treaty. Since that treaty has been ratified by the Office of the President, when Pres. Joseph Estrada signed it on 28 December 2000, failure to submit it to the Senate will only strengthen the suspicion by the international community that Pres. Arroyo is guilty of human rights violations and is therefore afraid of the ICC.

If Philippine courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute human rights violations, the ICC remains a viable venue for redress by victims of human rights violations, especially now that the impeachment proceeding against Pres. Arroyo for human rights violations has been dismissed by the Justice Committee. Pres. Arroyo’s withholding of the treaty from the Senate is not only a violation of the Constitution but also a violation of our good faith obligation under international law to implement treaties signed or ratified by our Presidents. CODAL urges the international community, including the government of the 100 countries who are members of the ICC, to urge Pres. Arroyo to transmit the treaty for concurrence.

Reference Person : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares (August 21, 2006)


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