“To seek justice and to right a wrong done to families who have been victims of enforced disappearances, will that be considered a leftist act?”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Reacting to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s statement that human rights violations are mere products of leftist propaganda, Mrs. Edita Burgos called it “the height of insensitivity to a mother who continues to search for his missing son.”
Mrs. Burgos’s son Jonas was abducted more than five years ago and remains missing to this day.
In a radio interview in New Zealand, Aquino, responding to a question about the human rights situation in the country, said that “a very vocal leftist community” in the Philippines is “very good at propaganda” on human rights. The president added that “the record speaks for itself.”
“Now, when you are looking for a missing loved one, is it justified to label you as leftist?” Mrs. Burgos said. “Unless the definition has been changed, I would not subscribe to what has been officially said by Malacañang. To seek justice and to right a wrong done to families who have been victims of enforced disappearances, will that be considered a leftist act?”
The Burgos family has been vocal in their plea for the government and the military to produce Jonas. In June last year, Mrs. Burgos filed charges of arbitrary detention and possibly murder against several military officers previously assigned to the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to issue a resolution after the preliminary investigation ended a few months ago.
In an earlier ruling dated July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the military to produce Jonas.
“With Malacañang’s tough branding of human rights violations as leftist propaganda, are the authorities now saying that I will never see my son again?” Mrs. Burgos asked.
In a similar vein, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said: “It may be hard for the President to admit that
the abuses continue but please don’t dismiss them as mere Leftist propaganda. You should be ashamed to the mother of Jonas Burgos, to the children of Gerry Ortega, to the families of those killed by [men] riding in tandem and many other victims of human rights violations who seek justice.”
In the same radio interview, Aquino dismissed the allegations of human rights violations and instead said that the “leftist” community’s senatorial candidate had low survey ratings.
Casiño who felt Aquino was referring to him said: “Let me remind the President that before his mother died, he did not even rate in any survey nor was he considered by anyone to be of presidential caliber.” “In fact, he only became senator because of his lineage and the heroic efforts of his mother and sister. So before he derides me or any candidate for that matter for rating low in surveys, he should look at himself first.”
In a report, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda defended Aquino, saying: “With due respect to Congressman Casiño, don’t take it personally. Read the context of the President, he was saying that the left has massive propaganda.”
To which, Casino replied: “It’s nothing personal? Don’t worry about me, I can shrug off the President’s insults anytime. But to dismiss the plight of human rights victims and their families as mere propaganda is personal, painful and dangerous.”
In a related development, the Philippine Solidarity Network in Aotearoa (PSNA)’s called on Prime Minister John Key to raise the issue of human rights in the Philippines during Aquino’s visit to New Zealand.
Responding to the PSNA statement, Ramon A. Carandang, secretary of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, wrote in The New Zealand Herald that the PSNA’s views “resemble misinformation commonly being disseminated by a number of individuals and organisations with ties to extreme leftist elements in the Philippines.”
“Just like previous administrations, President Aquino, Mr. Carandang and other government apologists resort to red-baiting when they are confronted on outstanding issues of corruption and impunity,” the PSNA said in reaction to Carandang’s accusation.
The solidarity group pointed out that even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Council of Churches and other reputable institutions and various individuals have raised concern on the continuing human rights abuses under more than two years of the Aquino presidency.
In its open letter, the PSNA challenged Aquino to immediately respond positively to the request of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country.
In July 2012, Margaret Sekaggya and Christof Heyns, special rapporteurs on human rights defenders and extrajudicial killings, urged the government to immediately adopt measures to protect rights defenders in the Philippines and investigate the increasing number of threats and killings targeting them over the past months.
In a separate statement, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said: “Mr. President, your human rights record indeed speaks for itself with 114 victims of extrajudicial killing, 127 victims of frustrated killing, 70 persons tortured, 12 disappeared, and scores of other rights violations under your administration.”
“These violations, plus the fact that your security forces are a miserable failure in arresting the Butcher Gen. Palparan, speak volumes on your administration’s culpability in promoting impunity and rights violations,” Palabay said.
Palparan, along with three other military officers, were charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention in relation to the enforced disappearance of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. A Bulacan court issued a warrant of arrest against Palparan in December last year but authorities have so far failed to arrest him.
For Mrs. Burgos, the state of human rights under Aquino is telling.
She noted that a few days ago, Aquino approved the promotion of several military generals, including Col. Eduardo Año who was promoted to brigadier general.
Año is one of the respondents in the criminal case Mrs. Burgos filed with the DOJ.