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AFP SHOULD RESPECT CHR’S POWER TO INVESTIGATE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. said today it would be a grievous mistake and a dangerous gesture for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to defy the authority of the Commission on Human Rights to investigate allegations of human rights violations by refusing to present the 43 health workers that it has placed under detention for alleged involvement in rebellious activities.

Pimentel said the AFP, represented by military lawyers, gave a flimsy excuse by arguing that they could not present the detainees during Thursday’s hearing on the case before the CHR due to the absence of a court order.

“I believe that the CHR, in exercising its powers as an independent constitutional body, has the right to require the AFP to produce the health workers who have been indefinitely detained in a military camp,” the senator said.

“The duty of the AFP to protect the security of the state should be liberally interpreted in favor of safeguarding the human rights of accused citizens.  Otherwise, the powers of the CHR in extending protection to victims of human rights violations will be unnecessarily impaired,” the senator said.

Pimentel said he supports the position of CHR Chairman Leila de Lima that a court order was not required to compel the authorities concerned to produce any complainants or witnesses, in this particular case the incarcerated health workers. A contrary view would reduced the CHR to an inutile agency.

The 43 health workers were arrested by lawmen on Feb. 6 during a raid on a rest house in Morong, Rizal while they were attending a seminar. The military and police claimed they were members of the New People’s Army.

Noting that the inquiry was made by the CHR in response to the detainees complaints of torture, Pimentel said the Commission would be abdicating its duty if it had simply ignored the matter.

He reminded the AFP not to act as if it were above the law by defying the summons issued by the CHR.  He said the military should refrain from actions that would make it difficult for the CHR to carry out its delicate investigative responsibility, given its inherent weaknesses arising from its lack of power to prosecute violators of human rights.

The opposition leader challenged newly-appointed AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Delfin Bangit not to tolerate any attempt of coverup of allegedly human rights violations by the military handlers of the health workers.

Pimentel warned that the AFP is merely allowing its credibility to be eroded by not cooperating with civilian authorities in unearthing the truth behind the arrest and jailing of the so-called “Morong 43” in the face of their claim that they were innocent and victims of trumped-up charges.

He cited the fact that the military earlier failed to present the detained health workers before the Court of Appeals even after the court had granted the habeas corpus petition of lawyers of the suspects.

“They are raising so many alibis to evade accountability in the treatment of the Morong 43,” he said.
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