(UPDATE 2) MANILA, Philippines — A team of representatives from the European Union here to assess possible assistance in addressing the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country has acknowledged that “serious problems remain” despite government efforts to put a lid on the situation.
Alistair MacDonald, ambassador of the European Commission to the Philippines, said that killings and abductions have continued, prompting the EU Needs Assessment Mission that conducted the 10-day study to make initial recommendations on how to help prosecute those involved in the killings.
At the same time, MacDonald stressed that the needs assessment mission was “not an investigation or fact-finding exercise in relation to the killings themselves.”
“The international community is concerned and willing to help, but bringing these killings to an end, and bringing the perpetrators to justice, is the sole responsibility of the Philippine government,” MacDonald said at the joint RP-EU press briefing at the Palace Guest House Friday.
The team went to several areas in the country, including Pampanga and Sorsogon, to see how it could help the Philippines.
Asked how they found the members of the military, Macdonald said there was “tremendous sense of pride among them.”
But MacDonald said there was also “great need” for the military to be aware of the International Human Right Law, specifically the law of armed conflict “on how to deal with the question of civilians.”
“There is a great need for more awareness of human rights law, of international humanitarian law, of military law, or armed conflict, of how we could deal with the question of civilians who are not bearing arms caught up in a conflict or a counter insurgency can be, so that awareness was there even if there is a long road, yet we travel,” MacDonald told reporters.
The reputation that the Philippines has gained because of the killings and the growing international concern makes it “imperative” for the government “to address it effectively and to stop the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Rolf Saligmann, deputy ambassador of the Embassy of Germany, said a “more comprehensive” study to the Philippine situation was needed because the problem has also become “pretty comprehensive.”
“It is hurting the image of the country and that is why they have requested us to help in solving this problem,” Saligmann said.
MacDonald said there was need for a stronger link between the prosecutors and investigators so that cases could move forward.
He also said that funds should be poured in to train investigators on handling human rights cases. He also recommended training of the police and the military on human rights awareness.
The EU team also emphasized the role of civil society in monitoring the human rights situation and in working with the government in helping solve the cases.
Getting the confidence of the witnesses to come out and help solve the cases is also important, Macdonald added.
“The witness element is very important in the process, but the system as a whole needs to give confidence to the citizens that these issues can be addressed effectively,” he said.
Macdonald said the final report of the EU team would be submitted to Brussels, the headquarters of the EU in July, and to the Philippine government by September or October.
Earlier on Friday, Malacañang reiterated its need for technical assistance from the European Commission in solving the extrajudicial killings.
At the same briefing, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita thanked the EU team.
“It is the hope of the Philippine government that after seeing the very real actions and conditions on the ground here, the EU Needs Assessment Mission will be able to recommend some areas in which the EU might be able to extend technical assistance,” Ermita said in a prepared statement.
Ermita stressed that the Arroyo administration was serious in stopping the killings and solving the cases.
“The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo condemns these killings in the strongest terms. The Philippines fully acknowledges its responsibilities to promote and protect human rights,” Ermita said.
Aside from MacDonald and Saligmann, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol and presidential human rights committee head Coco Quisumbing were also present at the briefing.
The team of six experts from EU visited the country from June 18 to 28 to evaluate needs and identify technical assistance that it could give the Philippines to enable it to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.
Originally posted at 10:33am