Philippine President hasn`t improved rights: Group

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has failed to impress Human Rights Watch.

Manila: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has done little during his first year in office to carry out his campaign promise to achieve justice for human rights victims, an activist group said on Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch said Aquino has undertaken a number of reforms but measures to prosecute members of the military and police for serious human rights violations have fallen short.

Killings and enforced disappearances of anti-government activists have continued while police investigations have stalled, the New York-based group said. No member of the military has been arrested for abuses perpetrated since Aquino took office, and no commanders have been actively investigated for their suspected roles.

It cited as an example the government`s failure to investigate allegations of torture against security forces behind the 10-month detention of 43 alleged communist rebels. Aquino ordered firearms possession charges against the detainees dropped in December after receiving evidence that the arrest procedures were violated and the detainees denied access to lawyers.

The watchdog said the government also failed to bring charges against soldiers and officers named in a Supreme Court decision as suspects in the disappearances of four leftist activists in 2006 and 2007. The victims` families have filed the charges against military personnel and the cases are still pending. The military denies any responsibility.

Most of the cases date back to a nine-year period under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when security forces were suspected of killing and torturing left-wing and other anti-government activists as part of the military`s campaign against communist and Muslim rebels.

More than 200 cases of disappearances and at least 305 extrajudicial killings during Arroyo`s administration have not been resolved, according to another human rights groups, Amnesty International.

"President Aquino`s record during his first year in office shows that human rights have just not been his priority," said Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch`s deputy Asia director. "He says he won`t tolerate killings and disappearances, but he needs to do a lot more to stop them."

Aquino continues to defend the use of poorly trained paramilitary forces to fight rebels despite abuses attributed to them, Human Rights Watch said. Such backup forces are often used as politicians` private armies.

Human Rights Watch praised Aquino for pushing his anti-corruption drive and helping negotiate a new international convention on decent work for domestic workers.

Aquino`s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The government has said it is working to strengthen witness protection programs and raise the salaries of prosecutors and judges as part of judicial reforms that are supposed to speed up criminal prosecutions.

Bureau Report

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