President Aquino creates special teams to probe human rights violations

President Benigno S. Aquino III has ordered the creation of special teams to investigate human rights abuses by state and non-state forces and ensure a focused probe and speedy resolution of all unsolved and new cases, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said on Monday.

Ochoa said the special teams would form part of the inter-agency committee (IAC), which the President established under Administrative Order (AO) No. 35 he signed on November 22, that will exclusively handle cases of extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of human rights violations.

“This presidential directive reinforces the Aquino administration’s resolve to uphold and protect the rights of the people,” Ochoa said. “We believe that the creation of this high-level committee will be a more effective mechanism in handling and monitoring cases of human rights violations,” Ochoa explained.

According to Ochoa, AO 35 takes effect immediately and replaces AO No. 211 issued in 2007 that created the Task Force Against Political Violence. The presidential directive directs the task force to turn over all documents, data, reports, supplies, resources and its remaining budget to the IAC.

“The President envisions the administrative order to harmonize and standardize the government’s policies and action plan for resolving human rights abuses. This way we can have a focused investigation and speedy resolution of all the cases,” Ochoa added.

One of the first tasks of the IAC is to organize special teams and a technical working group to carry out the immediate inventory of all alleged human rights violations committed by state and non-state forces; monitor the development of cases which are pending in courts or under investigation, and conduct an investigation into unsolved and new cases, as well as prosecute the perpetrators.

Under AO 35, the secretary of the Department of Justice (DoJ) serves as chairperson of the IAC, which members include the head of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), the secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the National Defense (DND), the presidential advisers of the Peace Process (OPAPP) and Political Affairs (OPAPA), chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National police chief and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director.

The chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Ombudsman sit as observers and resource persons in the IAC.

The IAC is required to submit to the President every six months a progress report, a detailed inventory of pending human rights abuse cases, and accomplishment and recommendations, among others.

The President has asked all other government agencies and local government units to give their full support and cooperation to the IAC to make sure that the AO 35’s objectives and the committee’s mandate are achieved.

The initial budget requirement of the committee will be taken from the current appropriation of the agencies comprising the IAC and subsequent funding will be incorporated in their respective regular budgets. ###