Saturday, January 09, 2010

Respect rights of citizens, Philippine human rights body tells police, soldiers

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / January 9, 2010) – The Philippines Commission on Human Rights on Saturday warned authorities to respect human rights as police and soldiers enforce a six-month gun ban ahead of the May 10 national and local elections.

Lawyer Leila de Lima, the head of the Commission on Human Rights, said policemen and soldiers should respect the rights of citizens, especially motorists who pass through road blocks and checkpoints.

The gun ban, which will begin Sunday, is aimed at minimizing political violence during the election campaign period.

“Respect human rights of motorists, even while enforcing the gun ban. The idea of checkpoints to enforce the gun ban in order to minimize political violence during the current election campaign period can be an effective tool for peace and order,” De Lima said. “But even good intentions do not justify human rights violations and abuse of police power.”

In Zamboanga City, policemen and soldiers have been accused of violating human rights after they physically searched vehicles and frisked motorists at checkpoints even before the start of the gun ban.

Television news footages also show soldiers and policemen frisking motorcycle riders at checkpoints around Zamboanga.

Licensed gun owners, who deposit their firearms to security guards in malls and hospitals, also end up in police stations after authorities confiscate their guns. Many of them were traders who have received death threats and need to protect themselves against possible attacks.

The Commission on Human Rights said the rights of all persons stopped at the checkpoints should be respected, including their right to privacy and the right to be secure in their persons.

De Lima also reminded the police and soldiers that the law requires them to be identifiable at all times with name labels on their uniforms. She said the Commission on Human Rights will monitor the implementation of these checkpoints and any others that may be set up around the country.

“Clear and polite communication with the general public will go a long way in garnering the public’s cooperation,” De Lima said. “Most people are happy to cooperate for the sake of peace and order but they do not want to be treated like criminals or suspects from the very outset.”

De Lima said citizens can report to the Commission on Human Rights improper conduct or rights violations by soldiers and policemen. (Mindanao Examiner)

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