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Nation falling short of Ninoy's principles

Rights abuses rife under the rule of slain former leader's son

  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • August 21, 2012
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Celebrations today marking the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino have lauded the efforts by the slain former opposition leader credited with bringing down the two-decade dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in a bloodless coup in 1986.

The “People Power” uprising swept Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, into power and into a position to deliver the justice inspired by her husband to a country beaten down by years of authoritarian rule.

Now 29 year later, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, holds the reins of power, and many in the country wonder what if anything he has done to live up to the ideals of his martyred father.

“With the current human rights situation in the country – the bombings of communities, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention – we can’t help but wonder,” said Cristina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan.

The elder Aquino was a prominent figure in the nation’s struggle for justice and democratic rule and a high-profile political prisoner.

Rights activists are quick to note that the country, under leadership of the younger Aquino, continues to detain political prisoners, and that some 385 detainees are languishing in prison under the same trumped up charges – murder, illegal possession of firearms and other offenses – that the president’s father was accused of three decades ago.

“Despite the opportunity to correct this practice and stop human rights violations, [having] witnessed the suffering of his own father, Noynoy has refused to release all the political prisoners,” Palabay has said.

President Aquino, like his predecessors, denies the existence of political prisoners. Karapatan, however, says it has documented 170 political prisoners arrested and detained in the two years of Aquino’s presidency.

Palabay said the same human rights violations and culture of impunity that was a trademark of martial law under Marcos did not end with the death of the elder Aquino and the downfall of Marcos but continue up to the present day.

Indeed, paramilitary units continue to operate in the countryside; checkpoints and military detachments in communities are still in existence, and forced evacuation of people in the countryside, torture, killings and disappearances are realities that are reported in the media almost daily.

As of June 30, Karapatan has recorded 30,000 individuals who have become victims of forced evacuation since Aquino came to power.

Today, the president offered flowers and prayers during a Mass to commemorate the heroism of his father and to commemorate the anniversary of his assassination.

While Vice President Jejomar Binay said the country had no better way to mark Ninoy’s death than to continue to live by the principles for which he gave his life, activists and others continue to wonder whether the country has not already betrayed those principles.

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