Manila-The Philippine military should take all necessary and appropriate action to prevent abuses by its personnel and to ensure accountability for human rights violators, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri. President Benigno S. Aquino III named Iriberri, the former commander of the army, to the position on July 10, 2015.

“General Iriberri is now the point man for making sure the Philippine armed forces stop committing abuses and respect human rights,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s his responsibility to ensure the military meets its international legal obligations throughout the Philippine archipelago.”

Iriberri should ensure prompt, transparent, and impartial investigations of abuses in which military personnel are implicated, and take appropriate action against personnel responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

Philippine military personnel continue to be implicated in violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflict situations involving the communist New People’s Army and Moro insurgents. Abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture and unlawful killings of civilians and rebel fighters in custody. The armed forces should uphold international humanitarian law in conflict areas and Iriberri should ensure accountability for AFP abuses.

Iriberri should also investigate and appropriately punish military elements implicated in the harassment of activists, which includes red-baiting – the practice of publicly smearing government critics as state enemies – that in many instances has resulted in attacks against the subjects of the harassment.

The chief of staff should likewise ensure effective command and control of paramilitary groups, which have long been responsible for serious human rights abuses. Until such abusive units are disarmed and disbanded, the AFP will be responsible for ensuring that they act in accordance with the law, Human Rights Watch said.

To start with, the AFP’s Human Rights Office should be reformed because it has not lived up to its mandate and responsibilities. Transforming the AFP Human Rights Office into a more responsive arm of the military requires a clear statement from Iriberri regarding the importance of this office to promote and protect human rights.

The military should also join the new international Safe Schools Declaration, which has been signed by 47 countries. The declaration is a political commitment to do more to protect students, teachers, and schools from the negative consequences of armed conflict.

“General Iriberri has the time and the opportunity to make greater respect for human rights a priority of the Philippines armed forces,” Kine said. “It is long overdue for the Philippine military to deliver on its human rights rhetoric.”

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