WASHINGTON, D.C.— Leading members of the United States House of Representatives are satisfied with the efforts being undertaken by President Aquino to address concerns that were earlier raised at Capitol Hill over the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. said American legislators led by Kentucky Rep. Harold Rogers, Chair of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, expressed satisfaction with the report of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the progress that Manila has made in the human rights front.
Secretary De Lima is in Washington to lead government efforts in raising the awareness of American legislators as well as officials of the Department of State and the Department of Defense and leaders of non-government agencies on the human rights achievements of President Aquino.
The visit of Secretary De Lima comes in the wake of Manila’s recent success at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva where the Philippines was able to demonstrate improvements in its human rights record.
“We think we were able to bring our message across that the Philippines has been making significant progress as far as the human rights situation is concerned and that the Philippine Government continues to take concrete steps to address human rights issues,” Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. said.
In addition to Congressman Rogers, Secretary De Lima also met with the following members of the House Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Foreign Affairs: Rep. Tom Marino (R, Pennsylvania); Rep. Steve Austria (R, Ohio); Rep. Ed Royce (R, California); Rep. Mike Kelley (R, Pennsylvania); Rep. Tom Cole (R, Oklahoma); Rep. Donald Manzullo (R, Illinois). She is scheduled to meet members of the US Senate this week.
According to Ambassador Cuisia, the American legislators who Secretary De Lima met all expressed their support for the efforts of the Philippine Government to improve its human rights record.
“I am very pleased to learn about the progress being made by the Philippines and I will bring this to the attention of my colleagues,” Congressman Marino, a member of the House Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, told Secretary De Lima, adding that the US should “assist true allies who promote human rights, observe the rule of law and dismantle organized crimes.”
Ambassador Cuisia said Secretary De Lima assured American legislators that the Philippine Government has been consistent in its efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of extra-judicial killings and other human rights cases that have previously been brought to the attention of Manila.
“The Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of Justice have recently come up with a unified protocol called Operational Guidelines in Evidence-Gathering, Investigation and Case Build-up in Cases of Political and Media Killings,” Secretary De Lima told legislators.
“As an innovative measure, prosecutors are also now working closely with law enforcers in evidence gathering and case build-up,” she said.
Secretary De Lima also pointed to the creation of a special task force to oversee the investigation and prosecution of cases of extra-judicial cases and other human rights violations as well as the recent memorandum between the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights that aims to achieve a high level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases.
Secretary De Lima also cited the following other steps being undertaken by the Philippine Government:
- DOJ Order No. 841 which prescribes a period of 60 days within which a case of extrajudicial killing must be decided for probable cause;
- DOJ Memorandum Circular No. 4 which directs Provincial and City prosecutors to designate a prosecutor who will assist in the handling of political or media killings within their jurisdictions;
- DOJ and Commission on Human Rights Memorandum of Agreement that aims to achieve a high level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases;
- The National Monitoring Mechanism (NMM) that was forged among government agencies, the CHR and non-government agencies;
- The Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Letter of Instruction Samahan of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that calls for continuing training of military and police personnel on human rights and international humanitarian law;
- The institutionalization of the AFP Human Rights Office and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office to monitor respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law during actual field operations;
- The strengthening of the Witness Protections Program; and
- The partnerships with the international community in capacity-building, particularly the training for Filipino prosecutors in evidence-gathering and case build up under the Philippines Justice Support Program of the European Union.