Extra judicial killings are on decline in Philippines – Bayani S. Mercado Ambassador of Philippines to Norway
SATURDAY 11 MAY, 2013 – THE OSLO TIMES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS –
Honorable Ambassador of Philippines to Norway Bayani S. Mercado (L) in Exclusive Interview with Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times Mr. Hatef Mokhtar (R).
TOT: The Philippines “continued to face the daunting task of tackling transnational drug trafficking organizations without strong legal tools, such as provision for judicially authorized interception of criminal communications, plea bargaining and an efficient drug abuse asset forfeiture process”
a. How effective do you think the law enforcement agencies in the Philippines are in gathering evidence against high-level drug traffickers and restricting them without important legal tools?
b. Has the government taken any steps to tackle the growing crisis?
Bayani S. Mercado: Yes, the Philippine government has taken steps and continues to take steps to stem this problem.
While the Philippines has legal frameworks in place (i.e. Republic Act 9165, IRR RA 9165, Executive Order No. 218, BR No. 2 S 2009, and the Anti Money Laundering Act, etc.) the government recognizes that more needs to be done so it continues to work hard towards strengthening the country’s legal and enforcement frameworks in order to effectively tackle transnational drug trafficking and the organizations behind the latter.
Our current efforts in combating drug trafficking have proved promising. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has been working diligently together with other stakeholders and partners, both locally and internationally, to tackle drug-trafficking concerns that are of high importance to us.
In order to protect Filipinos from being victimized as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates, the Philippine government created the Task Force Drug Couriers (TFDC) last 08 February 2010 by virtue of Administrative Order No. 279. PDEA currently co-chairs this Task Force together with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and includes 10 other agencies as members.
Since its creation, the TFDC has had several accomplishments, which includes the conduct of international operations leading to the arrest of members of the notorious African Drug Syndicate (ADS), seizure of millions-worth of dangerous drugs, and the rescue of Filipinos who were utilized as drug couriers. TFDC also continues to develop and distribute posters and IEC materials which are placed in strategic areas nationwide as part of its information dissemination campaign. The Task Force also conducts lectures and seminars on the issue.
Aside from TFDC, another notable project to combat drug trafficking has been the creation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Inter-Agency Drug Interdiction Task Group (NAIA-IADITG), with its Operations Center recently inaugurated at Terminal 3 of the NAIA. The creation of this Task Force has been strongly supported by the US Government which gave Php12M for the center. The NAIA-IADITG was created to effectively synchronize anti-illegal drug efforts to prevent the NAIA from being exploited as entry and exit points for drug trafficking.
PDEA and another government agency, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) also have supply reduction initiatives and demand reduction efforts to compliment anti drug trafficking efforts.
Since the Anti-Trafficking Law has been enacted in 2003, many other efforts are in place and I would encourage you to visit PDEA’s website for more information on what the Philippine government has done and continues to do to fight transnational drug trafficking.
TOT: Earlier this year, some of the Filipino migrant workers captured the town in Sabah, which escalated to a military raid and turned into a diplomatic spat between the two peaceful nations that stunned the world in an unprecedented way. Have the recent tensions between Malaysia and Philippines compromised the integrity and unity of the ASEAN in any manner?
Bayani S. Mercado: No, it will not. Let me clarify that Filipino migrant workers were not at all involved in the Sabah issue. Warriors from the Sulu sultanate in Mindanao, southern Philippines, led by Jamalul Kiram III, were the ones that sailed to Sabah from Tawi-Tawi Island, in the Sulu Archipelago, to press the sultanate’s ancestral claims to Sabah.
As in any family, there will always be tensions between members; the ASEAN to which the Philippines and Malaysia belong, as a regional family of nations, is no exception. Since its formation, there have been occasional tensions between member states, e.g. Indonesia and Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Yet, as in any family strengthened by long-held traditions of equality, consensus, amity and cooperation, ASEAN’s integrity and unity have prevailed.
All ASEAN member countries are deeply committed to resolving their differences through peaceful means and in the spirit of mutual accommodation. Every dispute would have its proper season but it would not be allowed to get in the way of the task at hand. When ASEAN was founded at that time, the essential task was to lay the framework of regional dialogue and cooperation.
The Bangkok Declaration contains the rationale for the establishment of ASEAN and its specific objectives. It represents the organization’s modus operandi of building on small steps, voluntary, and informal arrangements towards more binding and institutionalized agreements. All the founding member states and the newer members have stood fast to the spirit of the Bangkok Declaration. Over the years, ASEAN has progressively entered into several formal and legally-binding instruments, such as the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the 1995 Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone.
As an organization of sovereign states, ASEAN has seen many challenging times; yet to this day, after more than 40 years, it still remains a viable organization. Proof to the strength of ASEAN is the increasing number of foreign representations to the organization.
As of April 2013, there are now 70 Ambassadors from non-ASEAN member states to the ASEAN (with a few pending agreement from ASEAN Member States, and awaiting presentation of credentials). This number shows an increasing commitment of countries to engage and/ or partner with ASEAN on political, economic, social and cultural, environment and other development efforts.
In 2007, or 40 years after its formation, ASEAN came out with its legally-binding Charter. With this Charter, the member states enshrined into law the very principles that have bound their unity as an organization up to this day. Last month the ASEAN leaders met in Brunei and as a sign unity, they achieved significant progress in efforts to erase tensions or maintain regional stability. According to the ASEAN Secretary General Le Wong Minh and “leaders have arrived at a consensus on the issue and have agreed to continue engaging China for consultations and dialogues to ensure full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) and moving towards the conclusion of a code of conduct” According to SG Le, ASEAN leaders also agreed to further discuss maritime issues and thresh out ways to strengthen strategic partnership among member-countries. Under Brunei’s chairmanship, he said “the leaders were able to agree on the “6-point principles in resolving maritime issues with China.”
TOT: The Philippines has been at odds with China on the South China Sea issue, which remains unsettled to date, and now, amid the crisis of the Korean peninsula, the Philippine republic has offered the US to provide its military bases in the wake of war if needed.
a. Would this kind of offering heighten tensions of the Philippines with China, who has always sought to keep Americans out of the sea it claims?
b. Under what perspective do you find these kinds of decisions would strengthen the position if the Philippines in global affairs or in the region?
Bayani S. Mercado: a. No. The Philippines and China may have differences in West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) issue but these have not precluded progress in other aspects of bilateral interaction particularly on people to people contacts and trade and investments.
On the matter of the West Philippine Sea located south of China, the Philippines shall always adhere to the peaceful settlement of disputes through lawful, non coercive, and transparent means that promote the healthy functioning of an equitable and rules-based international system. The Philippines resorted to the rule of law by initiating arbitral proceedings under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), last January to clarify the country’s maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippine arbitral initiative, when objectively considered, will benefit all parties. For the Philippines, it will clearly define what is legitimately ours, specifically maritime entitlements under UNCLOS with regards to our fishing rights, rights to resources and rights to enforce our laws within our Exclusive Economic Zone.
For China, an arbitral award will finally clarify for the Chinese people its lawful maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea located south of China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This will enable China to provide responsible leadership towards fostering stability in the region.
For ASEAN and the rest of the global community, the clarification of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS would assure peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation in the region.
b. I would like to point out that the Philippine government did not “offer” to the U.S. the use of Philippine bases. There is the fine distinction between “offering” and “keeping our commitment” as a good and faithful treaty partner. The Philippines and the US has a Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in 1951. Where under article IV an “armed attack in the pacific area on either of the parties, would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and decides that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitution processes”. Pursuant to the mutual defense treaty, the Philippines is under obligation to assist the United States, and vice versa. Decisions that strengthen the position of the Philippines in global affairs or in the region are made from the perspective of the Philippines as an actor on the international world stage, as a member of the international community of nations, and being faithful to a role rooted in the tradition of good global citizenship.
TOT: Tourism is one of the most important industries and the Philippines are chosen as destination by many from all across the world for their leisure. What measures has the government planned in order to improve the experience of foreign tourists in the country that will also benefit the industry eventually?
Bayani S. Mercado: Tourism is now one of the focal aspects that the Philippine government believes is a key driver towards achieving rapid, inclusive and sustained socio-economic growth for the country. It is an industry which serves to upgrade the country’s brand and profile on the global stage, and is a main economic driver in job-creation, among others.
Numerous government agencies are working closely together in a rapid time frame to provide the excellent overall experience for all our visitors to the country. The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) is upgrading 12 airports in the Philippines to international status within the next few years. Our main gateway, NAIA, is undergoing a PHP1.1B rehabilitation and expansion plan.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) is currently implementing an extensive plan to continuously provide training to frontline service personnel so as to ensure the best experience possible for every individual visitor.
With both foreign and domestic investments in the hotel and travel industry, there is an addition of 12,000 rooms each year to absorb the increase in tourist arrivals over the coming years.
Part also of the National Tourism Development Plan of the government is to develop “clusters” around each attraction in the Philippines. What this means is that a tourist going to Puerto Princesa, for example, will be able to visit at least 12 more attractions in this region apart from the famed Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Infrastructure is being developed quickly to provide efficient access to all these attractions.
Conservation too, is top on the list of the government. Stringent rules on eco-tourism were long implemented in the Philippines before the concept became main stream globally.
Numerous efforts to protect our maritime and eco parks in many places around the country continue to win international awards on conservation.
All of these are just a few plans of the government to ensure that every visitor to the country will indeed find that it is definitely more fun in the Philippines.
TOT: What are the key areas of cooperation that the nations of Norway and the Philippines intend to explore, since they enjoy considerable bilateral relations?
Bayani S. Mercado: One of the main areas of cooperation between Norway and the Philippines is in the shipping industry. We intend to maintain if not enhance it. The Philippines intends to explore cooperation in the management of natural and human resources within the ambit of sharing prosperity, fair distribution and inclusive growth. Norway’s government, in its vision of “Sharing Prosperity”, plans to focus its international development policy on fair distribution, sustainable management of natural resources, job creation, fiscal and financial administration and others. Norway’s expertise in the field of the management of natural resources is in demand internationally and the Philippines can benefit from this expertise in reforestation projects and eco-system based fisheries management. Agriculture is an important industry in the Philippines, and poverty reduction will depend on increasing productivity in this sector. Fish is a renewable resource that contributes to both food security and good nutrition and Norway has built expertise on the whole value chain.
Another area of cooperation could be in clean energy and power generation. In the management of human resources, we are now having informal talks on how more Filipino medical workers could fill the need in Norway’s health care sector. The Philippines is world class in its capable talent in health care and we believe this is an urgent matter for Norway.
TOT: After the adoption of the human rights legislation in 2012, the overall situation seemed to improve in terms of extrajudicial killings and the passage of laws promoting human rights. However, significant abuses and cybercrime are still areas where the government has failed to take action. What challenges were encountered in the process of implementing the laws concerning these abuses and why are there still problems in applying them?
What measures does the Philippine government need to take in order to stop the increasing number of threats and attacks against human rights, environmental and social activists?
Bayani S. Mercado: The Philippine Government has taken concerted actions that have resulted in a dramatic decrease in reported incidents on extrajudicial killings. From a high of 46 cases in 2006, there is zero or no case on record for 2012. It is erroneous to say that the Government failed to take action. The Government takes action punishing extrajudicial killings in accordance with laws on murder, homicide, kidnapping, and arbitrary detention under the Revised Penal Code. The Philippine Supreme Court has taken a proactive role in addressing cases of extra-judicial killings of political activists, members of the media and judges. The Court issued Administrative Order Bo. 25-2007 designating 99 regional trial courts nationwide as special courts to hear try and decide cases. These special courts were ordered to conduct mandatory continuous trial for at most, 60 days, after which judgment should be rendered within 30 days.
In terms of implementing laws and the purported problem in applying them, the perceived “slowness” of justice could be administrative in nature and in ensuring that the rights of the accused are also protected. In this context, hastening the mechanisms and processes of justice is not warranted and can be construed as interference that engenders bias in judgment, invalidating the whole process.
Be that as it may, the Supreme Court has adopted additional remedies to speed up action in order to protect the constitutional right to life, liberty and security of people. These remedies are the writ of Amparo, which took effect on 24 October 2007 and the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data, which took effect on 2 February 2008. Petitions for such writs may be filed before any appropriate regional trial court, including the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals or Supreme Court, and additionally, in case of a writ of amparo, before any justice of such courts.
On cybercrime, the Philippine Government passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act in 2012 to address internet-related crimes. As of February 2013, the Supreme Court has extended an earlier temporary restraining order on its implementation. The temporary restraining order was issued owing to petitions received by the Supreme Court right after the law was passed. The government considers this law important and Congress is expected to repeal the law after the Supreme Court (SC) issued an indefinite temporary restraining order (TRO) on its implementation in February this year. These developments should not be seen as “problems” in applying them; rather, it should be taken as an effect of democratic principles at work in good governance.
To prevent online child pornography, identity theft and other forms of internet related abuses, the Philippine Congress adopted into law the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Under this law, a person found guilty of online libellous comments, including those posted on social media could be fined and jailed. Government authorities would also have the power to search and seize data from one’s online accounts. Protesters, journalists and human rights activists, however, filed and were successful in having the Supreme Court of the Philippines issue a temporary restraining order in the implementation of this law.
Since the suspension or Cybercrime Prevention Act, the government has been dealing with cybercrime related cases through existing laws such as:
a. E-Commerce Act
b. Anti-photo and Voyeurism Act of 2009
c. Anti-child Pornography Act of 2009
d. Anti-trafficking of Persons Act of 2003; and
e. Anti-wire Tapping Law
TOT: Philippine delegates, along with representatives of other Asian countries, voted recently against the promotion of human rights, wartime accountability and international support resolutions in Sri Lanka. What reasons did the Philippines hold for voting against the Human Rights Council resolution?
Bayani S. Mercado: The Philippines supports Sri Lanka’s post-conflict reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. We also recognize Sri Lanka’s initiatives to address allegations of human rights violations.
There are instances when the HRC has proposed resolutions that seek to hasten domestic mechanisms/processes which are unwarranted; these are construed as interference in internal affairs. In the case of Sri Lanka, the HRC resolution contains a provision of “unfettered access” for special rapporteurs. This provision is contrary to the Philippines’ views on special rapporteurs, because we have always maintained that special rapporteurs can only undertake visits upon invitation of the host country.
TOT: Given the failure in preventing and prosecuting harassment, violence and extrajudicial killings, some of these are being directed towards journalists, what is your view on the situation of media and freedom of speech in the Philippines?
Bayani S. Mercado: For the record, the Philippines do not condone killing journalist. The resolution of these cases is on the priority list of the government and where evidence working cases are filed in court against the perpetrator. It is erroneous to say that the Government failed to take action. The Government has not failed in preventing and prosecuting the perpetrators. The Philippines has one of the freest media and an environment for a rather extensive freedom of speech.
Because there are reactions that have endangered journalists and made their occupations fatal, the situation you refer to should also be looked at as a sort of validation of this extensive freedom, because some journalists in the Philippines cross the lines of responsible journalism and in some cases, have ignored or dismissed advisories not to venture into places where safety is not yet a hundred percent assured.
We believe that journalists should also take the responsibility for self-censorship as well as to know and fully understand the effects and consequences of their reportage.
The Philippine Government is addressing the need to make the situation safer. From a legal viewpoint, our Justice Department has issued its Operational Guidelines in Evidence-Gathering, Investigation and Case Build-up in cases of political and media killings. As an innovative measure, the prosecutors are now working closely with law enforcers in evidence gathering and case build-up.
The Philippines under the leadership of President Aquino utterly condemns these crimes. The Administration is firmly committed to resolving verified cases and bringing perpetrators to justice, whether they are State or non-State actors in accordance with due process and the rule of law.
The witness protection system is being strengthened. The wheels of the Philippine justice system are indeed moving, with all verified cases either under investigation or already in the courts.
Our concerted actions have resulted in a dramatic decrease in reported incidents. Our Government’s Task Force Usig, a special unit under the Philippine National Police, has independently verified that incidents have clearly declined. This is shared by independent stakeholders and international partners.
Notwithstanding this progress, our Government is not complacent and continues to upgrade its legal and operational responses to address the issue.
The Department of Justice has issued its Operational Guidelines in Evidence-Gathering, Investigation and Case Build-Up in cases of Political and Media Killings. As an innovative measure, our prosecutors are now working closely with law enforcers in evidence gathering and case build up.
The Philippines has also partnered with the international community in capacity-building and forensic training for prosecutors in evidence-gathering and case build up, which can help increase convictions in cases of extrajudicial killings. The EU-Philippines Justice Support Program is an example of such a partnership.
In addition, our Government continues its work to transform its security sector into one that fully complies with human rights, international humanitarian law, and the rule of law. Human Rights Offices in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are playing an important role in instilling a culture of human rights in the security forces. Members of the security forces are regularly trained on human rights and the international humanitarian law, specifically in their responsibility to protect human rights and human rights defenders. These responsibilities and obligations are embodied in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Internal Peace and Security Plan which was the product of multi-stakeholder consultations.
To enhance the exercise of freedom of expression, our Supreme Court has adopted the policy that libel convictions should be meted only with the penalty of fine. There is also a pending bill to de-criminalize libel. Solving reported media killings is top priority of our Government, and where evidence warrants, cases are filed in court against perpetrators. As a state party to OPCAT, our Government is in the process of constituting a multi stake holder National Preventive Mechanism which shall be led by the independent Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
Under the Philippines’ Anti-Torture Act, the Commission on Human Rights not only investigates torture complaints, but assists victims in the prosecution of these complaints.
TOT: The Philippines stands as a republic, with a democratic government, presidential system and a developing constitution. On the other hand, there is an international concern over the abuses in the country and the slow implementation of relevant laws. What do you think about the current development of democracy in the country and how does it compare to global politics?
Bayani S. Mercado: The Philippines is one of the most democratic countries in Asia where anyone can criticize the Government and its leaders without fear. The Philippines is a state party to the major human rights conventions.
In any democracy, even in the United States, justice may be viewed as slow because the rights of the accused are also protected and the concerns of all stakeholders are likewise considered.
Next week, 13 May, we will be having national elections where senators and members of House of Representatives will be elected. This is democracy in action.
TOT: As Ambassador of the Philippines, how would you rate the significance and benefits of international relations your country has established?
Bayani S. Mercado: As a charter member of the United Nations, the Philippine places great value in international relations, peaceful settlement of disputes and observance of rule of law in dealing with all countries. It is an active member of ASEAN, ARF, APEC, IPU, NAM, IFRCS, WHO, IMP ILO, the United Nations and other international organizations.
On a number of occasions the Philippines has been elected a number of times by its peers in different international bodies such as the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC, UNICEF, UN Security Council, ILO, IMO and WHO. It is also an active contributor to UN peace keeping operations. These are manifestations of the trust and respect other countries confer on the Philippines as a reliable partner and peace-loving member of the international community.
As an active member of ASEAN the Philippines has led in promoting human rights in the region and in advocating peace and security and prosperity in the region.
TOT: What areas have shown significant improvement in your country over the past few years and what do you think are the overall trends for 2013?
Bayani S. Mercado: The Philippine economy has shown significant improvement over the past 3 years. Last year, the Asian Development Bank rated the Philippine bond market as the 2 fastest growing among emerging economies in Asia, rising by 20.5%. The Word Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index for 2012 to 2013 ranked the Philippines 10 notches up from no. 75 to no. 65 out of 144 countries rated. The Economic Freedom, of the World 2012 elevated the Philippines from no.77 to 61, while the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom moved the Philippines up from 115 in 2011 to 107 in 2012 out of 184 countries.
2013 started well for the Philippines. Last March, Fitsch Ratings upgraded the Philippines to investment grant (BBB – 2 from BBB) and last week Standard and Poor’s followed suit by also giving an investment grade rating to the Philippines. All of these reflect the efforts of President Benigno S. Aquino III to combat corruption in government, strengthen the rule of law, reduce poverty, promote transparency in government institutions and level the playing field for everyone.
With these investment grade ratings, we expect more foreign investments coming in which will translate to more jobs which will consequently help reduce poverty in the Philippines.
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