President. − The next item is the debate on seven(1) motions for resolutions on the cases of impunity in the Philippines (2012/2681(RSP)).
Ryszard Czarnecki, author. – (PL) Mr President, once again the European Parliament is forced to speak out in defence of human rights in this region of Asia and in this country. This means that the situation is repeating itself, but it does not mean that we are powerless. We must say something about it, of course, because there have been examples, as the President of the European Parliament mentioned today, where our efforts have had a positive effect, notably in Egypt, and there is therefore hope that similar efforts in relation to the Philippines will result in an improvement of the situation there. It really is an absolutely unacceptable situation – we are dealing with a violation of universal humanitarian standards. I am convinced that the European Parliament should rise above political divisions and emphatically voice its concerns.
Raül Romeva i Rueda, author. − Mr President, it is a fact that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have significantly declined since President Aquino took office in 2010.
However, the government’s ability to effectively combat widespread impunity of the perpetrators of such acts has yet to make progress. We are dismayed at the recently-discovered murder of Esmail Amil Enog, as well as those of the other witnesses in the Maguindanao case. We call on the Aquino Government to improve the witness protection programme and to further enhance national law enforcement and prosecution capacities.
We recognise the reduction in the number of killings, but still, as many other colleagues have also pointed out, much more needs to be done to protect the defenders. We have to express our concern that the use of torture and the ill treatment of suspects in police custody continues to be widespread. We urge the Philippine authorities to increase their efforts to rigorously combat the violations of the 2009 National Anti-Terror Act. The victims of torture and ill treatment and the families of the disappeared should have access to a medical evaluation and be adequately compensated. We therefore reiterate our call for government action to stop all private and local funding of police and military auxiliaries and to disband paramilitary forces and local militias. We also urge the government to revoke Executive Order 546.
It is also important to remember that all these situations are not new. We have been talking about this for years. We expected a new course of action from the new government. I should also like to say that until we see results, this topic will be a regular feature on our agenda in this House in the years to come.
Kristiina Ojuland, author. − Mr President, although over the past years political violence has decreased in the Philippines, the murders of four journalists and a witness of the Maguindanao massacre have alarmed us, so we are calling for further action to combat impunity for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
President Aquino has expressed his commitment to human rights, good governance and the fight against corruption, and his administration has made commendable improvements. To keep up the progress I encourage him and the government of the Philippines to take measures to protect the people involved in ongoing investigations and trials, as well as journalists and human rights defenders.
The culprits responsible for past extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture must be brought promptly to justice, especially those involved in the Maguindanao massacre, where altogether 58 people perished.
Bernd Posselt, author. – (DE) Mr President, seventy-two private armies and a culture of impunity cannot be accepted. The use of the death penalty is a disaster for any country, but particularly so when the country in question is a democratic state. A campaign of murder by private armies, however, is something that we must fight with all the strength we can muster.
We recognise the clear and tangible efforts of the Aquino Government which are beginning to show initial successes. These efforts need to be significantly strengthened, however, and, in particular, the witness protection programmes need to be intensified. Because many of the private armies unfortunately have links to the army and secret service due to corruption and criminality, witness protection is a key instrument for finally ridding the Philippines of abuses and for gradually returning the country to the rule of law. This is a potentially prosperous, beautiful country and an important partner of the European Union. For this reason, it is urgently necessary for the rule of law to be restored.
Marie-Christine Vergiat, author. – (FR) Mr President, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Philippines continue to report cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and political assassinations of activists, especially those on the left, and of journalists.
While it is true that the number of these assassinations seems to be falling, Reporters Without Borders considers the Philippines to be one of the countries with the highest number of predators of press freedom in the world.
Corruption continues to reign supreme and facilitates impunity, especially in the military. Admittedly, reforms have been announced, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been ratified and the trial of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre – the worst massacre of journalists the world has ever seen, in which more than 30 journalists were killed – is under way. This is to be welcomed, but concrete results are, to say the least, slow in coming and the announced witness protection programme seems to be a sweet-sounding euphemism, as shown by the dreadful murder of Esmail Amin Enog, who was chopped up with a chainsaw. He was one of the main prosecution witnesses at the trial of the Ampatuan family, which was behind the Maguindanao massacre. He was the third witness to be murdered in this affair.
Even so, funding for the EU-Philippines Justice Support Programme (EPJUST) has been raised from EUR 4 million to EUR 10 million. The aim of this programme is to improve criminal justice in order to put an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. I have a few doubts, to say the least, as to its effectiveness.
Cristian Dan Preda, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (RO) Mr President, I too deplore the murder of the witnesses to the Maguindanao massacre, where no less than 58 people were killed only because they had opposed the family that controls the region. From our European perspective, it goes without saying that it is the duty of the state of Philippines to condemn those responsible for this series of crimes and also protect witnesses in trials, so that fair justice is ensured.
I wish to join one of our colleagues in reminding you of the death of the 34 journalists during the 2009 massacre. Many others were, unfortunately, killed or harassed only because they tried to address this topic. Once again, it is the duty of the state of Philippines to protect journalists, so that they can carry out their activity.
Last but not least, the state of Philippines must fight against the corruption that allows the Ampatuan clan to act with impunity.
Corina Creţu, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (RO) Mr President, our debate was triggered by the third crime committed against the witnesses in the trial of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, where 58 people, including women and journalists, were killed for political reasons. The state of impunity in the Philippines cannot go on forever, especially since we have seen that the price of this impunity is new lives being sacrificed.
Political killings and disappearances remain common in the Philippines, and their perpetrators are encouraged by the complicity of the corrupt judicial system. Unfortunately, the protection criminals benefit from does not apply to journalists who are the victims of harassment and brutal intimidation. The fact that justice is sacrificed in violent score-settling between the private militias of political and economic clans is of extreme concern, and it condemns the Philippine society to poverty, corruption and façade democracy.
We call on the Philippine authorities to take urgent action against these bloody methods aimed at silencing the other witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre trial.
Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, President Aquino declared that human rights, good governance and the fight against corruption will be a priority. He wants clear policies against extra-judicial killings and other violations of human rights. This is a positive declaration. We also welcome the ratification of the Rome Statute by the Philippines, but now these words need to translate into actions and results.
There is plenty of reason for concern about impunity in the Philippines. Witnesses, as well as journalists, are being killed, and sadly the Philippines ranks as one of the most dangerous countries for the media. Urgent measures are needed to protect witnesses, judges, lawyers and prosecutors involved in investigating the sensitive trials. A clear message should be sent by ending impunity for extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and torture by bringing those responsible to justice, including people with high-ranking military or government jobs or who are in the chain of command of paramilitary factions.
The government of the Philippines is urged to invite the UN Special Rapporteur to visit the country to investigate the human rights situation, and the EU stands ready to help with the Justice For All programme, which has been allocated EUR 10 million for 2012-2015.
Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (SK) Mr President, I firmly believe that the cause of the dismal situation of continuing impunity in the Philippines is either the weakness of official state structures, or the interconnection of parts of these circles with the private armies operating in the country with the consent of the State. In either case, our partner in finding remedies for the passivity of official law enforcement authorities in the Philippines must be the state institutions. In the civilised world, it would be indefensible for a country’s administration to hand over the performance of security and law enforcement activities to private units whose activities it cannot manage or be officially accountable for before its own citizens or the world public. This game of hide and seek played by President Aquino is merely an arrogant alibi, and we must not accept it. We must therefore demand that the Philippines Government fulfil its human rights commitments and remind it of its full responsibility for unpunished murders in that country.
Seán Kelly (PPE). - Mr President, as has been said, the situation in the Philippines is not very pleasant and it is not the first time we have had to discuss it here in Parliament.
Certainly the endless killings, particularly between 2001 and 2009, when 59 journalists were killed, are not acceptable. The fact that only five people were tried and there were no convictions is also very worrying, and does not say much for the judicial system in the Philippines.
As a result of that, it is not surprising that a year and a half after President Aquino took office there was a protest march. One of the banners in that protest march said ‘500 days since the massacre is time for Aquino to act’. There was much expected of him when he took over as President and, while there has been some improvement, it is not enough. Certainly we need to put pressure on him to end the impunity of members of the police force and the military, to end corruption and to end violence, particularly against would-be witnesses.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D). – (PL) Mr President, the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in the Philippines are not functioning properly, as confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council in the conclusions it adopted in May. In addition, the level of violence against journalists and political activists has increased dramatically since the last review in 2008. The report by the UN Human Rights Council pays particular regard to the events in November 2009, when armed men from the Ampatuan clan affiliated with the local police prepared an ambush on citizens supporting the opposition candidate in the regional elections for provincial governor. As a result of this brutal incident, 57 people were murdered, with foreign journalists among the victims. Subsequent actions taken by the judiciary were deliberately delayed and consequently proved to be completely ineffective. Lack of efficiency goes hand in hand with a lack of transparency in the law enforcement system, casting serious doubts on its independence. Frequent unlawful killings and kidnappings still go unpunished. The Philippines must take all possible measures to protect security and guarantee law enforcement in its territory.
Justas Vincas Paleckis (S&D). – (LT) Mr President, almost three years have passed since 58 people were killed for political reasons in the Maguindanao province of the Philippines. Members of the Ampatuan clan responsible for this crime still hold many important posts in the province’s administration, and retain a private army with hundreds of armed security guards, who torture victims, bury them alive and mutilate their bodies. The Maguindanao tragedy and the failed investigation into it are a serious signal to the Philippines Government that by losing the remains of democracy the country may be thrown into chaos.
We strongly urge the country’s leadership to prohibit and swiftly disarm the numerous private armies and to immediately arrest all those suspected of committing the Maguindanao massacre. The safety of witnesses of the crime participating in judicial proceedings also needs to be guaranteed.
Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the massacre in Maguindanao occurred in 2009 and the victims, who were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for the deputy mayor of the city of Buluan, were kidnapped and brutally murdered – 58 people in total including the wife of the would-be candidate, his sisters, 35 journalists and lawyers, assistants and drivers.
The most incredible thing is that until now justice has not been able to take its course, due to the country’s justice system’s lack of independence and the lack of progress in the cases already underway. Twenty-five indictments are pending against Andal Ampatuan, considered to be behind the massacre, who was seen to direct the assassins towards those innocent people. However, his family is powerful in the region and therefore few people would be inclined to testify against him in court. Today we call for the perpetrators who are still at liberty to be brought to justice, for the Philippines to ratify the international convention and for its government to change the law so as to ensure full respect for human rights in the country.
Mitro Repo (S&D). - (FI) Mr President, impunity and corruption are an ever-growing problem in the Philippines. Long-standing corruption in the country has also kept foreign investors away from the country.
The roots of impunity date back to the bloodbath in Maguindanao in 2009. The murders of eye-witnesses to the massacre are a source of shame in the Filipino judicial system. There are clearly political motives behind the violence and enforced disappearances.
The Philippines must act in accordance with its international obligations. There must be proper protection for people testifying in court and for their families. I call on the European External Action Service to monitor developments in the country’s political situation and, in particular, the hearing with regard to the massacre already referred to.
Rui Tavares (Verts/ALE). – (PT) Mr President, this is not the first time that we have discussed the Maguindanao massacre here in Parliament. We had a resolution in early 2010 about this massacre, in which more than 50 people involved in a local election in the Philippines were killed. Of those 50 people, at least 30 were journalists. The trial began in 2010, almost a year later. However, according to the calculations of a lawyer for the prosecution, the number of witnesses presented and the slowness of the process is such that this trial could take a century.
We had high hopes for the election of the new President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, and we hoped that this would also mean an end to impunity. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and the international institutions need to address the Philippines Government and ask, once and for all, whether this trial can be carried out under conditions where this is implemented, and if not, that they ask for international assistance. The government should be asked to disband the over 70 private militias operating in that region and, if it cannot, it should ask for international assistance. The international community can offer assistance. Please ask for it and be honest about what is needed.
Charles Tannock (ECR). - Mr President, I too express my deep concern over the reported climate of impunity that has developed in recent years in the Philippines. Of particular concern was the 2009 tragic massacre of 57 individuals, including civil rights campaigners and journalists, participating in a peaceful convoy in Maguindanao. This tragic event illustrates the extent to which the Manila Government is increasingly presiding over a criminal culture of intimidation, extra-judicial killings and widespread corruption.
The Philippines currently ranks just above the notoriously corrupt and failed state of Somalia in terms of press freedom. I therefore urge President Benigno Aquino to respect his country’s commitment to the rule of law and to upholding fundamental human rights by, for instance, instigating a witness protection programme to protect witnesses, and also by fighting very strongly to eliminate all the forced disappearances and all the harassment of the political opposition in what is otherwise a beautiful country.
Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). - (FI) Mr President, impunity thrives in the Philippines. The situation reached the attention of the international community once again when the body of Esmail Amil Enog was found a few months after he disappeared. His limbs had been torn off, and he is thought to have been murdered with a chainsaw. Enog was one of the main witnesses to the genocide at Maguindanao, and is now the third murder victim.
Hundreds of political murders ordered by the state or the army have been reported in recent years. However, only seven cases have been heard in court. Not one has been judged since the current President assumed power.
For some time, the international community was pleased with the improvements in the human rights situation in the Philippines, but now again it has been demonstrated that the Philippines has not lived up to its commitments as signatory to the Statute of the International Criminal Court. I was also very disappointed with the Filipino political leadership, for example, for not being present when the UN Human Rights Council voted on the situation in Syria.
It is excellent that the EU has implemented programmes in partnership with the Filipino Government. The country’s leaders must now understand that the international community is not going to turn a blind eye to impunity.
(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)
John Dalli, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, the issue of impunity, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are unfortunately long-term challenges in the Philippines that have been widely acknowledged. This is why, for the European Union, support for the reform of the justice sector and the fight against impunity in the area of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances are key issues on the human rights agenda with the Philippines.
Only two weeks ago, the EU, through its Member States in the UN Human Rights Council, actively participated in the Second Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines. Extrajudicial killings, torture and the need for a functioning witness protection programme were among the main concerns raised in this second round of the peer-review process.
I welcome the fact that on that occasion the government of the Philippines presented its human rights agenda and notable progress since the last review in 2008. As the House will know, we have been encouraging the administration of President Aquino to speed up the process of prosecution of the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, including those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre, and to put in place a comprehensive and reliable set of measures to prevent these acts from reoccurring.
There were many previous attempts to address this issue and the course now set by President Aquino is in the right direction. We all welcome the commitment and the progress made by the Aquino administration in addressing human rights, the culture of impunity and respect for the rule of law in the Philippines. The ratification of the Rome Statute and of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is an excellent step forward. I warmly welcome it.
However, there is a need to achieve more progress. The serious lack of trust in public offices is an endemic historical and structural political problem. Therefore, we encourage President Aquino not only to address corruption and fraud committed by the previous administration but also to fight impunity.
We were encouraged by the requests of the government of the Philippines for EU assistance. We responded with the Justice Support Programme (EPJUST) 2009-2011, which provided technical assistance for strengthening capacity, particularly in the investigative and judicial areas. Achievements of that EPJUST programme included a decrease in the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances – from around 300 cases in 2006 down to three in 2011 – increased quality in the investigations of murder and abduction cases that have been filed, and an increased number of cases filed at the prosecutor’s office.
Let me assure you that the EU remains active in cooperating with the Philippines on human rights issues and in particular in the justice sector to address impunity. We have recently approved a EUR 10 million programme that will build on the work carried out through EPJUST and focus on strengthening the criminal justice system.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place at the end of the debates.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE), in writing. – The elusive prosecutions for extrajudicial killings in the Philippines are deeply troubling. The murder of the third witness to the Maguindanao massacre was reported on 31 May 2012 and four journalists have been assassinated. This calls for the need for the Philippine government to take further measures to end impunity through thorough investigations and vigorous prosecution of perpetrators, and strengthen accountability mechanisms. The Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines held on 29 May 2012 recommends that the Philippines end impunity for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances as well as torture, and bring those responsible to justice. I call on the Philippine government to provide adequate protection to journalists and human rights defenders and intensify the fight against extrajudicial killings. I also recall that this country has ratified the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and other human rights bodies and must fulfil its commitments.