In the same hall in Camp Aguinaldo where an important chapter in the 1986 EDSA Revolution took place, the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) of Administrative Order No. 35 (A.O. 35), or the body charged by President Benigno S. Aquino III to address grave human rights violations, agreed to deploy immediately composite teams of prosecutors and investigators to investigate and prosecute cases involving extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearance. Special tracker teams will also be formed to hunt down fugitives from justice who have pending warrants of arrest for cases also involving human rights violations.
The said Administrative Order was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III last 22 November 2012 creating the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ), as Chairperson, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Office of the Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs (OPA), Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The fifth (5th) IAC Meeting was hosted yesterday, o8 October 2013, by DND, in the very same hall which laid witness to the historical defection of Marcos allies who joined the movement against the dictatorship and which eventually put in power Corazon C. Aquino, the mother of the current President.
Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima said that President Noynoy Aquino is building on the gains of his mother on whose term the 1987 Constitution was promulgated. "Remember that the 1987 Constitution is known as a Human Rights Constitution because of its important provisions ensuring civil liberties and the protection and promotion of human rights," said De Lima right after the meeting yesterday, which was also attended, among others, by DND Secretary VOLTAIRE T. GAZMIN, Secretary TERESITA QUINTOS-DELES of OPAPP and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson LORETTA ANN P. ROSALES.
She continues, "President Aquino understands that the vision of his mother, that every citizen be afforded full enjoyment of their human rights, has not yet been achieved. The IAC is one such mechanism the President hopes will address recurring human rights violations."
As a "superbody," the IAC is well aware that sometime soon, it is expected to produce results in the investigation and prosecution of extralegal killings, enforced disappearance and torture. Initially, twenty-seven (27) cases are assigned to designated A.O. 35 prosecutors from parts of the country with incidents of human rights violations. These prosecutors will lead the composite team of investigators and prosecutors. "It is a paradigm shift indeed," said De Lima, "very seldom are prosecutors in the thick of the criminal investigation. In AO 35 cases, we expect our prosecutors to be pro-active and the legal guide for the investigators from the NBI and PNP, so that in the collation of evidence, we are ensured of an airtight case that will stand under judicial scrutiny in trial." Criminal investigation stage is that investigation phase before the filing of a complaint composed primarily of case build-up and evidence-gathering.
The Justice Secretary signed Department Order No. 726 last September 30, 2013 identifying prosecutors from all over the country that will be designated to lead the criminal investigation in cases involving extralegal/extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and torture.
De Lima further clarified that the IAC, through the Special Oversight Teams of senior prosecutors and investigators, are monitoring, evaluating and mentoring the handling prosecutors of active AO 35 cases already in court.
Another innovation of the IAC is the creation of a composite tracker team coming from both PNP and NBI who will work together to enforce the standing warrants of arrest. They will be guided by the AO 35 prosecutor who is also in charge of the trial involving the fugitives from justice. These fugitives have not yet been arrested despite existing warrants of arrest and who are the accused in criminal cases.
Not disclosing the identities of these fugitives, Sec. De Lima said that these fugitives are prioritized because of their public notoriety, their involvement in multiple cases, their having multiple victims or that the chances of a successful prosecution is high. De Lima said the fugitives to be pursued by the special tracker teams range between five (5) to ten (10) in number. She cannot disclose details for fear of jeopardizing the tracking operations.
During the presentation, Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales extended her appreciation for the "superbody's" interest and commitment in solving and prosecuting these human rights violation cases. The CHR and the Ombudsman sit as observers in the IAC.
The next IAC meeting will take place on 19 November 2013 with DILG as host.