Wednesday, September 15, 2010

AFP urges human rights groups to attend HR summit in October, even as son of former SELDA coordinator is abducted in Cebu City

MANILA, Sept. 14 (PNA) - The Armed Forces of the Philippines exhorts all human rights advocates to attend the human rights summit it will host next month to be part of a convergence that promotes and protects civil liberties.

The military leadership hopes to bring together various groups and personalities to a summit based on a clear and hopeful vision for the realization of human rights and the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Realization of human rights is one of the most fundamental roles of a state. As embodied in the Philippine Constitution, the AFP is firm on its role as protectors of the people and be a paragon of human rights advocacy," said Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias, commander of the Information Division Group of AFP Civil Relations Service.

"However, all of us who believe in equal rights share the responsibility of promoting it. We hope that this summit can provide the coalition of human rights groups who can be a steady guiding light for every Filipino,” Osias said.

The AFP also expressed hope that groups like Karapatan and other AFP critics not to immediately cast doubts and easily dismiss the forthcoming summit and the many possibilities it may offer.

“We hope that Karapatan and other groups will listen first to the different voices of human rights advocates before issuing judgments. In fact, the summit may be the best forum for them to raise their issues concerning the AFP. We would appreciate their inputs especially those that can improve AFP’s adherence to human rights. We believe that any event that gives importance to human rights is worth attending and should not be held in low esteem,” said Osias.

The AFP expects other government bureaus, law enforcement and security agencies, non-government organizations, policymakers, human rights foundations, academic institutions, and religious groups, among others to attend the October 2010 summit.

“I believe that we can set aside our differences and work with mutual respect to forge common grounds to ensure human rights and human dignity for every Filipino. Indeed, together, we can make a world of difference,” said Osias.

But even as this developed, the son of a former SELDA coordinator was abducted in Cebu City on September 8, 2010 by perpetrators alleged to be intelligence agents of the Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) based in Camp Lapu-Lapu, Lahug, Cebu City

Elke Bacalso a 20 years old single male is the son of Julian Bacalso, a former political detainee and coordinator of Society of Ex-Detainees for Liberation, against Detention and for Amnesty (SELDA). He is a student of Bachelor of Arts in Education in Cebu Institute of Technology (CIT). The abudction took place near CIT, N. Bacalso Ave., Cebu City.

According to reports Bacalso first noticed the surveillance on him on 23 August 2010. He noticed two men following him the entire day. And at around 8:00 PM of 3 September, as he was standing in front of the CIT campus, these two men who at this time were armed, closed in on him and warned him not to waste the time of their “sir” and tried to drag him to the waiting gray van parked near Luzon Lumber just across from where he was standing. The slightly-built man threatened him by sayingin vernacular “Kahibalo baya ko asa magpulong-pulong ang mga anak sa komunista. Di ba anak mo og komunista?” (I know where the children of communists hold their meetings. You (plural) are children of communists, right?”) However, Elke managed to free himself and ran back inside the campus. He reported the incident to KARAPATAN-Cebu the following day.

At around 4:00 in the afternoon of 8 September 2010, Bacalso together with a KARAPATAN-Cebu staff reported the attempted abduction to the police station in Brgy. Mambaling. From the police station, he dropped by at CIT. He came out of the campus at around 4:30 PM. As he was standing in front of the gate, two men blindfolded him and dragged him inside a waiting van.

When Balasco failed to go home on the evening of 8 September, his family contacted KARAPATAN and together they filed a missing person report at the Labangon Police Station at around 8:00 PM.

The following morning, 9 September, they went to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office in Jones Ave., Cebu City to likewise report the incident.

Then the search team received an information that Bacalso was brought to Santander, a municipality in the southern most tip of Cebu Province. The team immediately left for Santander. Upon arrival at around 7:00 PM, they filed a missing person report at the Santander Police Station and gave them his picture. The team spent their evening in Santander and was on their way to continue the search to the next town the following day when they received a call at around 12:00 noon from Elke's family. The family informed the team that Bacalso called from Alcoy, the third municipality north of Santander. The team proceeded there and went straight to the Alcoy Police Station. The police escorted them to the Sta. Rosa de Lima Parish Church, where they found the very distraught Elke.

He recounted that he was blindfolded the whole duration of his captivity. He was interrogated on his alleged illegal activities and the whereabouts of his father. Everytime his interrogators were displeased of his answers, he was hit with what he felt to be a stick on his left arm and he has a big bruise to show for it. He also reported that as they were travelling, he was transferred to three different vehicles and was brought to a safehouse where he heard the voices to the two men who attempted to abduct him on 3 September.

He also said that minutes before he was released, his captors received a radio message saying “Target with police escort.” That soon after hearing this report, his abductors stopped the vehicle and just pushed him outside. He then hired a tricycle and asked to be brought to the church. Upon reaching the church, he looked for a pay phone and made a call to his family. Then he anxiously waited for help to come.

The human rights alliance KARAPATAN dared President Benigno S. Aquino III to "take full responsibility for the on-going human rights violations committed by the police and the military,” including that against Bacalso.

“If the President could take responsibility for a case which left eight foreign nationals killed, it is morally and legally proper that he should also take full responsibility to render justice for over a thousand of his own kababayan (countrymen) victimized by extra-judicial killings, for the hundreds involuntarily disappeared, and the more than three hundred political prisoners including the illegally arrested, detained and tortured Morong 43 health workers,” KARAPATAN Acting Seretary-General Jigs Clamor said.

“At best, this admission of the President is just part of a grand cover-up and whitewash of the issue before he flies to the US this month. The incident has spurred international condemnation and the President wants to save face before shaking US President Obama’s hand,” Clamor added.

Human rights defenders marched Monday towards Malacanang on the International Day of the Disappeared but was largely ignored by the President and Palace officials.

Political detainees, meanwhile, are preparing protest actions to demand their immediate release. There are some 373 political prisoners when Aquino assumed office. The DOJ has promised to look into their cases, particularly that of the Morong 43 health workers but has prioritized investigations into the the hostage-taking crisis

KARAPATAN is calling for the immediate formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into the abovementioned human rights violations against Elke Bacalso; They are also asking the military to stop the labeling and targeting of human rights defenders and their families as “members of front organizations of the communists” and “enemies of the state.”

Additionally, KARAPATAN is asking the The Philippine Government to withdraw its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya 2 (Operation Freedom Watch).

The military's decision to extend Oplan Bantay Laya, an anti-insurgency strategy that has been linked to extra-judicial killings, has drawn criticism from human rights advocates who are pushing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to improve its record instead.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo, who headed a fact-finding body that investigated the spate of media killings during the Arroyo administration, also expressed concern about the military's decision and said, "They should exert efforts to improve (their) human rights record."

The AFP has extended Oplan Bantay Laya 2, which the military began implementing in June 2007 and expired at the end of the Arroyo administration last June, for six months.

Melo explained that in 2006, there were 144 victims of extrajudicial killings - all of them unarmed and many of them abducted before they were killed.

(With reports from Philippine News Agency and KARAPATAN).

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