Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Philippine Embassy has described the recent visit to the United States of Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima as a success, saying legislators and human rights watchdogs she met with were convinced that the Aquino Government is sincere in its efforts to address their concerns over extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations.

“The Philippine Government, through Secretary De Lima, was able to successfully convey to our friends here in the United States the message that while we still have a long way to go, we are taking sincere steps in confronting the issue of extrajudicial killings,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said in a statement.The visit of Secretary De Lima, according to the envoy, was successful not only because US legislators came out in support of the measures being undertaken in Manila to deal with the issue but also because human rights groups have expressed their willingness to assist the Aquino Administration in its efforts to bring to justice those involved in these killings.

During her recent visit here, Secretary De Lima met with ranking members of the US House of Representatives led by Rep. Harold Rodgers, (R, Kentucky), Chair of the Committee on Appropriations. She also had a dialogue with representatives of US-based human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In all her meetings, Ambassador Cuisia said Secretary De Lima was forthright in saying the Philippine Government still has much to do in terms of prosecuting those involved in extrajudicial killings, especially those that took place in previous administrations.

The justice secretary, who was former Chair of the Commission on Human Rights, however, gave assurances that the Philippine Government will continue to take concrete steps not only to prosecute those involved but also to prevent similar killings from taking place.

“We made it very clear that the Aquino Government is serious in addressing the problem. We made them understand that there are constraints but certainly these should not be used as excuses for not immediately acting on these concerns. We certainly need to improve the situation as much as we can,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

“At no point did we sugarcoat our presentations on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Neither did we peddle lies,” the top Filipino diplomat in the United States said in response to criticism from militant organizations in the Philippines that have been insisting that the number of extrajudicial killings is supposedly on the rise.

Ambassador Cuisia said human rights groups that attended the dialogue at the Philippine Embassy last month actually agreed that cases of extrajudicial killings have gone down during the term of President Aquino. While they expressed their concern over the lack of progress on previous cases, they acknowledged the government’s sincerity and even offered to assist in efforts to prosecute offenders.

In that meeting, human rights advocates also welcomed Ambassador Cuisia’s initiative to hold a dialogue, saying it was the first time the Philippine Embassy opened its doors and listened to them.

“The Aquino Government has always been very open. This is the reason why we did not even hesitate in reaching out to dialogue with them. In the first place, we have nothing to hide,” Ambassador Cuisia said.###

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