The US State Department has reported that extrajudicial killings remained a major problem in the Philippines last year and that security forces and insurgent groups were both responsible.
The "2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," released to the US Congress on March 11, noted that concerns about impunity in the Philippines persisted.
"Prisoners awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under primitive conditions. Disappearances occurred, and arbitrary or warrantless arrests and detentions were common. Trials were delayed, and procedures were prolonged. Corruption was endemic," the report said.
"Leftist and human rights activists often were subject to harassment by local security forces. Problems such as violence against women, abuse of children, child prostitution, trafficking in persons, child labour, and ineffective enforcement of worker rights were common," it continued.
While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of security forces, the report said there were elements that acted independently and committed atrocities.
The communist New People's Army and the Abu Sayyaf bandit group murdered local officials and civilians, in addition to the killings of soldiers and police in armed encounters, it said.
The two groups also used child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, the report said, committing bombings that caused civilian casualties and conducting kidnappings for ransom, it said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which investigated 57 new complaints of political killings last year, suspected personnel from the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in some killings of leftist activists, the report said.
By year's end, the PNP's Task Force Usig recorded 156 cases of killings since 2001, nine of which occurred during the year. Of these, 95 cases were filed in court and prosecutor's offices, 60 cases were under investigation, and one case was closed.
The US report cited the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao as the most significant incident last year.
"Human rights groups and the CHR noted little progress in implementing and enforcing some reforms aimed at decreasing the incidence of killings," the report said, citing the lack of cooperation between police and prosecutors and inadequate funding.
Compounding the problems was the vigilante groups suspected of conducting summary killings of adult criminals and children involved in petty crime in Metro Manila and the cities of Davao, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Tagum and General Santos.
CHR Chair Leila de Lima said that the US report should remind the PNP and the AFP of the importance of human rights training.
She said the report confirmed that "human rights violations were attributed to the institutional deficiencies of the state's security forces."
Reform a PNP advocacy
PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa said the observations of the US authorities and other sectors would push the PNP to continue the reforms within the 120,000-strong police organisation.
"The promotion of human rights is one of our major advocacy and we have done a lot in educating our men to always respect rights of every individual," Verzosa said.
He said several police officers had been dismissed after they were convicted for disregarding human rights.
"These reports of human rights violations, like the case of the 'Morong 43', allegedly perpetrated by AFP personnel are just propaganda against us," Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, AFP spokesperson, said in a phone interview.
"The AFP has been very strict. Any soldiers caught violating human rights are discharged from the service and (indicted) for criminal offenses," he said.