Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing & Justice (PATH) was formally organized in 2002, pioneering in its focus on human rights violations by a non-state armed group. Composed of torture survivors, families, relatives and friends of victims missing or executed during the anti-infiltration campaigns within the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) in the 1980s, PATH seeks truth and justice from the CPP-NPA and other Left blocs involved in the anti-infiltration campaigns.
PATH believes that all non-state armed groups, including those not from the Left movement, should observe human rights in the conduct of their resistance against the State. Ultimately, PATH holds the State accountable as well for the purges, and for military atrocities during martial law and throughout successive administrations.
Goals & Objectives
PATH's goals and objectives are as follows:
1. Complete the documents of the cases of all victims during the purges and all those involved.
2. Organize a national community of human rights defenders and advocates composed of survivors, families, relatives and friends of victims during the purges.
3. Facilitate the healing of survivors as well as the families, relatives and friends of purge victims.
4. Conduct exhumations so that victims are given due respect and proper burial.
5. Conduct a comprehensive advocacy work. Its main components will be public information and campaign, solidarity-building and lobbying at the local, national and international levels.
6. Deepen and popularize the culture of human rights through artistic and popular education, productions and other cultural endeavors.
7. Come up with case studies of country experiences on the setting up of Truth and Justice Commissions and strive for the creation of a Truth and Justice Commission in the country together with other human rights organizations and individual human rights advocates.
Research & Documentation. Documents stories and produces a database of victims in aid of locating burial sites; conducts research to surface facts and circumstances of the purges; publishes materials as tools for justice campaigns; ensures confidentiality and security of records and files.
Recovery of Victims' Remains. In cooperation with the victims' kin, locates gravesites, retrieves the remains and arranges their proper burial; mobilizes the services of forensic experts and other professionals; initiates dialogues with the victims' families as well as with perpetrators.
Counseling & Therapy. Facilitates healing sessions that address the long-term trauma of surivivors and victims families; mobilizes professionals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry; builds support groups for victims and their families towards eventual closure.
Communications & Popular Education. Develops education programs, including theoretical materials and tools for reflection, that revolve around human rights and respect for human dignity; holds commemoration activities and builds memorials for the victims; develops external communications through publications and mass media.
Legal & Security. Leads in the initiation and pursuance of legal actions for victims; assist in the handling and protection of material evidence in coordination with the RVR Committee; conducts research on the possibilities of a Truth Commission; studies the implications of PATH's work on the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the CPP-NPA-NDF; and ensures lines with established institutions that will help strengthen PATH;
Arts & Culture. Produces musical compositions, literary works, plays, video documentaries, films, and other cultural works from the stories of survivors and victims.
Organizing & Advocacy. Reaches out to survivors and victims' families in different regions and encourages solidarity in their journey towards justice and healing.
98 Albatross St., RJ Vil., Canaman, Cam. Sur (currently here)
Tel. (054) 4744659, Cel. (0920) 29036xx
Hon. Reynato S. Puno
Dear Mr. Chief Justice,
Re: National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings
and Enforced Disappearances – Searching for Solutions
Greetings of Peace and Justice!
I am writing you on the above-indicated subject in various capacities but, first of all, as a member of the bar and thus officer of the court. As a human rights lawyer, I join others in commending you on this initiative as well as your earlier administrative order designating RTC branches nationwide to handle such cases. Allow me to proceed to some points for consideration in relation to your planned Summit, for some of which points I mention my relevant capacity.
(1) I wish to share with you the enclosed “Joint SSN-PATH Reaction to Prof. Philip Alston’s Philippine Mission Press Statement of 21 February 2007” to which I was a co-signatory as Regional Focal Point for Asia of the South-South Network (SSN) for Non-State Armed Group Engagement. The main point of this reaction is that it may help to place the current extrajudicial executions (EJE) issue in perspective by noting that it swirls around the facts (and propaganda) involving at least three types of EJE with different sets of victims of human rights violations:
a) state/military-inspired or anti-Left EJE, esp. killings of legal Left activists and media persons from 2000 to 2006 -- which is what the Task Force Usig, the Melo Commission, the Alston Mission, some other international missions, and local human rights groups like Karapatan have focused on
b)ongoing NPA liquidations or summary executions of civilians outside combat e.g. civilian informers or spies, criminal “bad elements” like rapists and cattle rustlers, policemen who do not have combat duties but are killed for their weapons, “despotic” landlords and “abusive” local officials/politicians -- regarding which the AFP claims to have listed 1,227 liquidations, also for 2000-2006
c)CPP-NPA internal purges of many of its own members suspected of being military “deep penetration agents” in the 1980s -- which has been PATH's advocacy issue as victims, survivors and relatives
Any inquiry into the current EJE issue in the Philippines should be informed by this local context of an internal armed conflict which involves two sides. Political violence in the Philippines is both state and non-state. There must therefore be no mixing up of or confusion about the three types of EJE as outlined above, so that correspondingly appropriate measures for justice can be laid out whereby the victims of all types, not just one type, of EJE are given their due. In a state-oriented legal and human rights system, there mechanisms and processes for responsibility and accountability are much more developed for states and state actors than they are for non-state actors like rebel groups. This asymmetry has to be reckoned with in the search for solutions and justice.
(2) In a context of armed conflict, as we mentioned, international humanitarian law (IHL) is of particular relevance as a term of reference, not just constitutional and human rights. For while human rights have been traditionally invoked against the state and state actors (though there is a recent trend to invoke it also against non-state actors), IHL can be invoked against both state and non-state actors, more precisely government and rebel forces which are parties to an armed conflict. Thus, human rights instruments on EJE largely deal with the state and state actors, while IHL provisions on EJE cover both/all parties to an armed conflict.
Regarding IHL, it bears noting that in the case of Kuroda vs. Jalandoni [83 Phil. 171 (1949)], it was ruled that “the rules and regulations of the Hague and Geneva conventions form part of and are wholly based on the generally accepted principles of international law… Such rules and principles, therefore, form part of the law of our nation even if the Philippines was not a signatory to the conventions embodying them.” (italics supplied) In fact, the same decision referred to “generally accepted principles and policies of international law which are part of our Constitution.” (italics supplied)
With regard in particular to enforced disappearances, we should therefore factor in whatever relevant guidance not only from the new human rights instrument which is the International (UN) Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances but also from the IHL regime on the missing or unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence. Aside from the relevant codal provisions of key IHL treaties like the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols I & II (30th anniversary this year!), there is much developed guide material on this particular area of IHL based on many years of experience in handling the matter by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The most developed material is known as the ICRC Report: The Missing and Their Families. The Court and/or the Summit can avail of this from the ICRC-Manila Delegation Office.
(3) While we are speaking of international legal references, it might also be relevant to any effort of the Court to enhance the rules of court or promulgate new ones, to refer to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the International Criminal Court, which is considered the highest development of international criminal procedure. Of course, this procedural instrument is tied to or is in the context of a substantive international treaty, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, not yet ratified by the Philippines [see Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., et al. vs. Office of the Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 158088, 6 July 2005]. But this should not necessarily deter your Court from adopting or adapting good rules from an international model, such as in the procedural protection of victims and witnesses.
(4) In connection with the coming Summit, you were reported as speaking of the possibility of altering the scope of command responsibility. As you know, there was extensive discussion of this concept, including its historical legal antecedents, in the Melo Commission Report (at pp. 63-71). Though the latest precise definition of command responsibility is that found in the Rome Statute’s Article 28, the general concept (not necessarily the Rome Statute definition) of command responsibility can already be considered as part of binding customary international law. Still, it is in the realm of substantive law (principles of criminal responsibility) rather than procedural rules.
For the information of the Court and of the Summit, there have been bills filed in Congress which define command responsibility in the accordance with the latest international criminal legal definition per the Rome Statute. It is found in what the proponent Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) calls the “IHL Bill,” or more precisely “An Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law and Other Serious International Crimes, Operationalizing Universal Jurisdiction, Designating Special Courts, and for Related Purposes.” The leading example of this in the defunct 13th Congress was the enclosed Senate Bill No. 2511 (see Sec. 10) introduced by Senator Richard J. Gordon who happens to also be the PNRC Chair. I in turn happen to be the PNRC legislative consultant for this IHL Bill. This will be re-filed in both legislative chambers of the coming 14th Congress.
(5) It has also been reported that the coming Summit might tackle the problem of false charges/fabricated cases which are politically motivated by the government against Leftist personalities and activists. I wish to bring up another matter of false charges/fabricated cases especially for murder – those filed, prosecuted, tried and decided against innocent fall guys despite rebel group (e.g. NPA) claims of responsibility for the extrajudicial killings in question. There have already been a number of cases of this sort over the years. I can speak with personal knowledge of one such case which has reached the Court wherein I was a defense counsel. I am referring to the Abadilla murder case of 11 years which reached the Supreme Court in 2000 on automatic review as G.R. No. 141660-64 (People vs. Fortuna, et al. but transferred to the Court of Appeals in 2005) and on certiorari petition as G.R. No. 142065 (with a Decision on 7 September 2001, see Lumanog vs. Salazar, 364 SCRA 719).
In that Abadilla murder case, both the RTC first and then the Supreme Court twice later rejected motions/petitions of the “Abadilla 5” death convicts to present new/additional evidence showing Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB of the NPA then) responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of a former military officer turned civilian politician and businessman Rolando Abadilla, including his taken Omega wrist watch which an ABB personality had turned over to “Running Priest” Fr. Robert Reyes to back up the ABB’s claim in several written and verbal media statements that it was responsible for the killing, so as to exculpate the innocent death convicts. There must be a way to receive, test/cross-check and appreciate various forms of evidence that underground rebel sources who cannot come out might proffer in relation to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances which they have had a hand in or have intimate knowledge of, if only to spare the innocent from false charges/fabricated cases.
This is relevant to our early point in paragraph (1) above about the problem of existing mechanisms and processes, including judicial ones, when it comes to non-state actors like rebel groups which cannot just surface from their underground status – lest they themselves become victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. There is an element of vicious cycle here – killing and counter-killing - that must be broken.
Again, you and the Court must be commended for doing your/its part in breaking that cycle. The coming Summit, together with the earlier catalyzing Alston Mission, have emerged as key parts of a counter-cycle of searching for and finding solutions. Thank you for your efforts, and for your attention to this letter.
(October 16, 2006) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with Presidential Adviser for Job Creation Sec. Arthur Yap and UN Resident Coordinator Nileema Noble, during the Flag Raising ceremony and the United Nations Campaign "Stand-up" to signal the Philippines' participation in the Nationwide Stand Against Poverty and the Millenium Development goals at the Kalayaan Grounds, Malacañang.
HOW does one pick up a pen that he or she accidentally drops to the floor? If it’s a woman, more often the man nearest to the pen picks it up and hands it over to its owner with a smile. If it’s a man, he just bends a bit or stoops (depending on his height) to pick it up. No big deal, right?
Apparently, not in the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office, if letters and complaints from aggrieved staff are to be believed. It seems the head of this office, a woman named Nileema Noble dropped her pen. A male staff who happened to be in the room when this happened was about to pick the pen from the floor. The lady boss motioned him to stop and proceeded to call out her secretary’s name. The secretary, who was seated in her desk outside the boss’ office, went in. She meekly picked up the pen from the floor and handed it to her boss. And this, my friends, is one particular example of how a UN official based in the Philippines prefers to pick up her pen.
I write this piece with malice towards none, but with a firm belief that all people – regardless of nationality – must treat people with respect. This is the foundation of decent work. Aware that the official being complained about has her rights, too, I promise her an equal right to rebut the information volunteered by her staff, through this column.
But first, here are the points raised by a group of Filipino staff members who recently sought the help of the Blas Ople Policy Center so that they could ventilate their grievances:
1. The head of the UNRC, without minimum courtesies as expected in any other organization, unceremoniously terminated two UN Staff, one, an assistant resident representative for operations, and the other, a UN coordination specialist. They were given only a few hours to leave the UN premises after they were sacked. Adding insult to injury, they were told that if they keep silent and don’t contest her decision to pre-terminate their contracts, they can have other opportunities to work within the UN system. However, if they talk, she will make sure they never get to work for the UN again.
2. The unpopularity of the UNRC head is reflected in the UNDP’s Global Staff Survey where she came out last among the UNDP resident representatives in terms of approval rating. She scored 43%, a much lower score than the global average of 60%. Majority of UN resident representatives in Manila received 90%+ in approval ratings.
3. UNRC personnel continue to be traumatized in her presence. For example, she would throw documents on the floor when she was angry and then order her secretary to pick them up for her. She would also go into a flying rage whenever someone argues or tries to correct her. On another occasion, she literally shook another staff that dared proffer an explanation during one of Mrs. Noble’s foul moods.
4. This dynamic has spilled over to implementation of various government-UN projects with the disbandment of project management staff offices to help bridge these projects. Several government implementing agencies were surprised to learn about the UNRC’s unilateral decision to change implementing partners without due process, disband project management offices even at the risk of affecting results and imposing new program realities despite earlier agreements reached with stakeholders.
These are just some of the complaints raised by a group of staffmembers who came to see me a few days before my column deadline. One of them, former coordination specialist, Robert Francis Garcia, said he has written the Department of Foreign Affairs, the UN Ombudsman and the rest of the UN Country Team members and the UNDP Headquarters in New York. He also gave me a copy of his letter.
In it, he wrote: "The Coordination Specialist position was designed to assist the UN Resident Coordinator (UNRC or simply RC, officially the highest-ranking UN position in a country) in harmonizing work among various UN agencies. The post as vacated successively by two other people (the first one, temporarily). I won’t hazard a reason for their premature departure, though it is particularly telling that people under Nileema’s watch are leaving in droves. More than 20 people have left the UNDP since she came, and counting. I also cannot speak in their behalf, but I can speak from my own experience."
"Tolerance and understanding are basic human values. They are essential for international civil servants, who must respect all persons equally, without any distinction whatsoever. This respect fosters a climate and a working environment sensitive to the needs of all. To achieve this in a multicultural setting calls for a positive affirmation going well beyond passive acceptance." [Article 6 of the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service, The United Nations Ombudsman’s Office.]"
"There was never an instance when she did not raise her voice. The surreal "meeting" (when he learned he was being sacked) on May 4 was not unusual – it was a daily occurrence with Nileema."
I am convinced that the staff members who came to see me are telling the truth. I hope that the United Nations look into their complaints. The Department of Foreign Affairs could also help by calling the attention of the UNRC on how our nationals should be treated. We talk about protection for Overseas Filipino Workers. Here at home, we must be just as passionate in protecting the rights of our own workers.
Sometimes a simple gesture speaks volumes about the humanity of a person. So tell me, how do you pick up your pen from the floor?
(Visit my blog at www.susanople.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
I write this piece with the standing belief that internal democracy and freedom of expression are still practiced and honored within the United Nations system. That belief may have been shaken some with my recent work experience at the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines , but I nevertheless remain confident that a small but deeply flawed component does not represent the whole. I also trust that a progressive institution such as the UN has the capacity and tools to self-repair.
"Managers and supervisors are in positions of leadership and it is their responsibility to ensure a harmonious workplace based on mutual respect; they should be open to all views and opinions and make sure that the merits of staff are properly recognized. They need to provide support to them; this is particularly important when they are subject to criticism arising from the carrying out of their duties. Managers are also responsible for guiding and motivating their staff and promoting their development." (Underscoring supplied). [Article 15 of the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service , The United Nation's Ombudsman's Office.] I have been with the UNRC Office for four months, having been invited to apply (and chosen) for the temporary post of Coordination Specialist for nine (9) months from December 2006 to September 2007. Since then I've been clocking in 12-15 work hours everyday, given the extraneous load of the RC office.
On 4 May 2007 at 1:00 p.m. , I was called to a meeting by my boss, Ms. Nileema Noble (UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative). Two other UNDP officers were also called in: Mr. Kyo Naka, UNDP Deputy Representative and Ms. Ethel Capuno, UNDP Procurement Officer.
After having seated, Nileema got straight to the point and said that they were already terminating my contact that same day. (I was to be paid half a month after the termination date in lieu of the 15-day notice as provided in the contract).
"Can I ask for the reason why?" I queried, matter-of-factly.
"You know that we are not required to give you a reason," replied Nileema. "Your Special Service Agreement (SSA) contract allows either party to unilaterally terminate it at any point within the duration." She then stated that she was not satisfied with my performance, and that there is a mismatch between the skills I possess and those that are demanded by my work.
"I would like to contest that," I answered. "I am not questioning your move to unilaterally terminate my contract, as that is your prerogative, but I do not agree with the arbitrary appraisal of my performance. I am not perfect, and I'm sure I have had lapses in my work like anyone else, but I have so far delivered the tasks expected of me." I went on to enumerate the accomplished assignments thus far: the clockwork regularity of the UN Country Team (UNCT) meetings, the series of Delivering as One briefings, the UNCT Retreat, the mission of Prof. Philip Alston (UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions), and so forth. In all this I was able to harness the collective strength of the UNRC office team, ensuring that tasks were properly delegated while taking on direct, hands-on work myself. I have indeed received positive feedback from UNCT members and other UN colleagues.
"The UNCT members have negative comments against you," Nileema retorted, "but I don't want to divulge them here. Also, you may of course contest this decision but that is up to you, and there are consequences. As it is now, you can leave with a record of good standing in the UN, because we are not declaring any reason for the contract's termination. But if you contest, then we will do that.
"Furthermore, another reason is that there are confidential RC Office documents that somehow reached other people." I gave her a bewildered look, thus she continued: "I'm not saying you yourself leaked them. But it is the RC office's responsibility to safeguard these documents."
I asked what exactly these documents were, for I was clueless, but again she refused to say. I was thus left unable to clarify whatever it was or even defend myself against accusations.
I was then asked to sign the letter of termination, stating that the Coordination Specialist function I was performing was no longer required. I said I do not want to sign any document, asking for some time to consider these things.
"No!" she blurted. "You cannot confer with anyone!"
I found that incomprehensible. Since when did the "freedom to consult" been banned in a higher institution such as the UN? But I simply said I don't intend to "confer" with other people about this. I just needed a few hours to mull things over.
"You don't have that option." "So what will you do if I refuse to sign this document? Bodily carry me out of the UN premises?" I was beginning to boil then.
It was then Ethel's turn to intervene, trying to be diplomatic. "No, we don't do that naman at the UN. All we ask is that you simply 'acknowledge receipt' of this notice." Nileema stated further that, whether I sign it or not, the termination will be effective anyway.
So I silently sat there for a number of minutes, weighing things, looking each of them in the eye, finding it strange that within the UN such disregard for due process and humane conduct continue unhampered. I considered defying it, but realized in the same instance that I wouldn't want to stay a minute longer in such an oppressive work environment. In all of my years as a professional, it was only at the UNRC Office where I felt I was living a nightmare existence. I've been dragging my feet to work every single day.
Thus I wrote "notice received" in the one-page document, signed it, and quickly packed my stuff. I wasn't able do a proper handover because my email was immediately cut that very afternoon.
Taking the Fall
Soon as I left, I contemplated the reasons for the early termination of my contract. "Mismatch of my skills with those demanded of the job" she said. Perhaps there is some of that element. I was once described by Nileema as an "academic" type, but what was required of us was to attend to the voluminous, assembly line-like routine of the RC office and perform simultaneous tasks. Hardly anyone, however, can keep up with this. The "work-life balance" bandied about was an illusion. As one UN official told me: "I'm in your mailing list, and I can't imagine how you can perform all those demanding assignments. I saw the ones before you leave one after the other. The system, clearly, is designed to fail." While I am confident that my extraneous efforts delivered the goods, amid the difficulties and aggravations that multiplied the burden, I grant that the boss has the prerogative to declare otherwise.
The other reason was the so-called "leaked document," of which I remain uninformed, thus the best I can do is speculate. It maybe something related to human rights, or MDGs, or whatever themes we worked on. Hundreds of documents fly around and from the UN everyday, though I can assert that I have not sent any document to anyone with malice and without authorization or protocol. Still, Nileema can claim any single one of them has "fallen into the wrong hands" and I would be in no position to question that. What I object to is the arbitrariness and utter disregard for proper procedure, and more importantly the abhorrent behavior one would not expect from a civilized human being, much less from a UN diplomat.
A Dreadful Work Environment
The Coordination Specialist position was designed to assist the UN Resident Coordinator (UNRC or simply RC, officially the highest-ranking UN position in a country) in harmonizing work among various UN agencies. The post was vacated successively by two other people (the first one, temporarily). I won't hazard a reason for their premature departure, though it is particularly telling that people under Nileema's watch are leaving in droves. More than 20 people have left the UNDP since she came, and counting. I also cannot speak in their behalf, but I can speak from my own experience.
"Tolerance and understanding are basic human values. They are essential for international civil servants, who must respect all persons equally, without any distinction whatsoever. This respect fosters a climate and a working environment sensitive to the needs of all. To achieve this in a multicultural setting calls for a positive affirmation going well beyond passive acceptance." (Underscoring supplied) [ Article 6 of the Standards of Conduct for the I nternational Civil S ervice, The United Nation's Ombudsman's Office.]
The present RC is some kind of an enigma. I have never seen such kind of leadership conduct before. It is the kind of behavior one can associate with a jail warden (from whom it is not acceptable as well). There is no normal conversation with her, at least so far as I have observed in her interaction with all the staff. (Equal or higher-ranking officials are a different matter – she deals with them casually or with reverence). There was never an instance when she did not raise her voice. The surreal "meeting" we had on May 4 that I just narrated was not unusual – it was a daily occurrence with Nileema.
A senior UN official, from whom we sought advice a few months earlier, suggested that the problem might have something to do with "cultural differences." I considered that notion, and caught myself thinking that, if at all, the cultural dimension here takes the form of an anachronistic social construct called the "caste system," which bases the treatment of human beings based on their position in the pecking order. . What apparently matters to Nileema is a person's place in the human artifice called "hierarchy."
As such, Nileema somehow antagonizes most everyone she meets, as most of us are "subordinates" anyway. Her behavior towards people seemingly comes with a personal sense of entitlement; that her high UN position gives her the Brahman license to treat people in such abysmal manner.
In all four months with the office I forced myself to hang on. I resolved to try and "survive" it and find ways to somehow solve the unbearable situation we were all in. I saw an opportunity to constructively address it at our UNRC Office retreat, where presumably we can air out grievances. I told Nileema in the most reasonable manner that there could be a better way of relating with the UN staff. "Whenever you are around, the stress level among the staff shoots up." She responded that she always had that effect on people wherever she was – whether in her previous posts or even in her family.
"But that is how I am, and it has to do with my passion for work. I'm just passionate."
Fine. It's just unfortunate that she seems to have mistook treating people as virtual slaves 'to get the job done' as 'passion.'
It also gives her the authority to dictate what is wrong and what is right, regardless of what others say or think. You cannot argue your point. Nileema is known to crash in on a workshop underway, whether it's a government or civil society function, undermine the proceedings and declare that "everything is wrong." She then proceeds to declare what is right. What is right is not based on merit but on brandished authority.
An example indicative of this abrasive unilateralism was when she was asking me about a human rights-related meeting that was not proceeding according to how she wanted.
"Are you sabotaging the RC office?" she exclaimed.
Sabotaging?! I was so incredulous and offended I almost replied: "With the way you are running this office, I don't even need to." But I checked myself, realizing that would've entailed stooping to the level of coarseness I was objecting to. I simply expressed my incredulity. "Of course not. Why would I do such a thing?"
One of Nileema's oft-repeated justifications for her behavior is that she is just hammering people to work better. "Not good enough!" is a common outburst. The question is: does it work? The exodus of her staff is hardly an indication that things are going in the right direction. Frayed nerves of those who remain can never produce quality work. Nileema does not believe in positively motivating people; she promotes a culture of submissiveness and subjugation. In the process, she continues to lose the cooperation and respect not only of her staff but partners as well from donors, government offices, and civil society.
A sympathetic colleague tried to assuage my distress by saying that Nileema is an exception, rather than the rule, in the UN. She is just a fluke and therefore I should not be disillusioned with the entire system. But this aberration has the potential to wreak havoc on the whole. Allowing this to continue, apart from driving people out and restricting the creative freedom of workers, holds the greater danger of perpetuating a vicious cycle. It creates a system that cultivates a handful of clones that unquestioningly do their boss' bidding and replicate her behavior toward their respective colleagues and subordinates, while leaving a throng of embattled, embittered soldier ants. It breeds "transfer of oppression;" or the so-called "kick the dog" syndrome. I saw it happening already, and the repercussions are frightening.
What is ironic in all this is that other UN agencies and parallel international organizations have already evolved far more egalitarian systems of work. The present UNRC, assigned with the momentous role of leading the UN system's sweeping reform agenda under the "Delivering as One" banner, remains stuck in a patently feudal mindset and form of rule. This may perhaps explain the major reluctance of officials and staff during the Delivering as One briefings, which provides for "one leader" among others. This would've been easier to swallow if that "one leader" respects "all persons equally, without any distinction whatsoever…and fosters a climate and a working environment sensitive to the needs of all." Regrettably, the current UN leader in the Philippines considers the organization as her own private fiefdom.
I realize that the foregoing could very likely jeopardize any possible UN career for me in the future. For all it's worth, right now I am still presumably "in good standing" and can continue searching other options within the system, so long as "I keep my peace." I'm better off being mum about it, however I can never feel fine with myself knowing that such abomination continues to exist and I simply let it pass.
It is incumbent for those who are still within the UN, especially those who relate with Nileema directly, to do something about the regressive state of affairs she is perpetuating. The country's development is at stake, and so is the UN's potential to affect its course. The country and the UN cannot condone yet another tyrant, for that would breed more of her kind. As Lord Achton once famously declared: "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." In many of our meetings, Nileema often declared that she "does not know anything about human rights." Does one really need to overstate the obvious?
I rest my case.
Robert Francis Garcia Former Coordination Specialist UN Resident Coordinator's Office Philippines
By Michael Lim Ubac, TJ Burgonio Inquirer Last updated 01:49am (Mla time) 06/22/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- The six experts sent by the European Union to investigate the unabated political killings in the country will ascertain whether the mass graves unearthed in Leyte and other provinces by the military held the remains of communist purge victims, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Thursday.
According to Ermita, the team that he dubbed “the first RP-EU needs-assessment mission” could help explain the proliferation of mass graves in the country because its members were experts in the fields of criminal investigation and prosecution. He said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had personally invited the team to come over as part of the EU assistance to the Philippines to solve the political killings. The experts arrived in Manila on Monday on a 10-day mission. Ermita said ascertaining the authenticity of the mass graves was crucial to government efforts to unmask the masterminds of the “unexplained killings.”
The government has charged Rep. Satur Ocampo of the militant party-list group Bayan Muna and 51 others in connection with the decades-old purge of suspected military spies in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), whose purported remains were found by the military in mass graves in the town of Inopacan in Leyte province.
But the Eastern Visayas chapter of the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the CPP, said the graves were “a hoax which the 8th [Infantry Division] had a hand in making up.” Ocampo was arrested and detained on multiple murder charges in March; the Supreme Court allowed him to post bail in April. The main petition seeking to quash the case filed in the lower court is still pending.
Welcome, but... The human rights group Karapatan Thursday suggested that the EU team also meet with the families of the victims of political killings. Karapatan secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the assistance of the EU experts was “much welcome.” “But for it to be meaningful, they should look at the plight of the victims. They should hear them out,” she said.
Enriquez said that while the European Union was providing all sorts of technical assistance to the Philippine government, it should also look into the latter’s purported policy on the killing and “enforced disappearance” of leftist activists. “The government does not lack technical expertise in investigation. For all we know, this is being messed up,” she said, adding: “Instead of helping the government alone, the EU should also help the victims. We’ve not gotten a single cent from the government.”
Karapatan records show that as of May 31, there have been 863 “extrajudicial” killings since 2001, when Ms Arroyo came to power. The list of those killed does not include Mario Auxillo, head of the Bohol chapter of Bayan Muna, who was slain in Tagbilaran City on June 17.
Of the victims, around half were farmers, Karapatan said. The regions where at least 100 had been killed were Bicol, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog. Both the military and Malacañang have denied involvement, saying Oplan Laya I and II -- the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterinsurgency plans -- had not institutionalized a policy on the killing of leftist activists.
Stints in Kosovo, etc. Malacañang hosted cocktails on Monday for the experts from the United Kingdom, Finland and Sweden. The reception included a briefing by Cecilia “Coco” Quisumbing of the Presidential Human Rights Committee. Ermita said he had a chance to talk with three of them during the reception. “And I can see that they are experts, especially in forensics and crime scene investigation. They have experience in such places as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and even Kosovo,” he said. Ermita said the invitations to the experts were coursed through their respective embassies. “We would like them to see for themselves how and what kind of assistance they can give to our investigating agencies, to our prosecuting agencies and even to the courts because of their experience,” he said.
One issue is the military’s discovery of the mass graves, Ermita said. “In our conversation, they said they might be able to help in determining, first, the kind of skeletal remains that have been discovered. [They will] try to see whether there is truth to the allegation that indeed these are subjects of foul play by any group -- whether the military, the police, or the NPA (New People’s Army, the armed wing of the CPP) itself,” he said. ‘Wherewithals’ Ermita said that apart from the technical assistance, the President welcomed such missions because they could lead to increased funding in prosecution and investigation. “We hope to get some pledges from them. There are wherewithals that we lack. For example, it can’t be denied that funding is always a problem with us because we are a third-class economy, a Third World country,” Ermita said.
“We may not have enough for the prosecution of human rights violators. And, of course, they will help us strengthen our techniques of investigation,” he said. Malacañang has repeatedly said that the government needed training and equipment for DNA testing, an integral part of criminal investigation. On Wednesday, the EU experts met with officials of the Department of Justice to discuss the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
“They have been informed by the ambassadors here that one of the problems in our prosecution of suspects in the unexplained killings is the hesitation of witnesses to come out,” said Ermita. “And, therefore, there is a need to enhance the WPP.” On Thursday, they were scheduled to meet with members of the judiciary, “with the end in view of strengthening the prosecution of cases,” he said.
How to stop killings Said Romeo Capulong, legal counsel of the families of victims from Bayan Muna and other progressive groups: “Any form of assistance that will improve the legal system is most welcome. But that will not address the immediate problem.” Capulong said the assistance should include “how to stop the unabated executions and abductions.”
“What should be done now is to extend all forms of assistance to organizations in the Philippines and abroad who are documenting these human rights violations and gathering evidence. Because under the Arroyo administration, it’s a mere illusion that the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Capulong said. He said the EU team should establish a mechanism that would protect witnesses to the human rights violations from “reprisals.”
Human Security Act The European Union has called on the Philippine government to introduce concrete measures to prevent human rights abuse, especially with the implementation next month of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, or the anti-terror law. In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 26, the European Union said the enactment of the HSA was “liable to further increase the incidence of human rights violations by the security forces because it will allow arrests without warrant and arbitrary detention for up to three days.”
The EU resolution highlighted both the findings of the Malacañang-created Melo Commission and the results of the investigation by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, which cited the possible involvement of the military in the political killings.
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