Updated: 03/01/2014 14:24 | By Agence France-Presse

US rights report to move Philippine agencies to improve

A US government report criticising the Philippines for failing to stamp out extra-judicial killings will help Manila improve human rights safeguards, a presidential spokeswoman said on Saturday.

US rights report to move Philippine agencies to improve

Local journalists protest at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, on November 23, 2012, to commemorate the third anniversary of the November 23 Maguindanao massacre - by Noel Celis

The US State Department's global annual human rights report, released Thursday, said:

"The (Philippine) government continued to investigate and prosecute only a limited number of reported human rights abuses, and concerns about impunity persisted". 

The "most significant human rights problems continued to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces", it added.

President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte told AFP the government was taking note of the criticism from a key ally and aid donor.

"We'll have the national government agencies go through it and address particular areas of concern, focusing on what can be done to further our efforts" to improve, she added.

The criticism of the Philippines, a former US colony that relies heavily on US defence aid, is part of a series of State Department reports on the human rights situation in various countries.

It criticised "a dysfunctional (Philippine) criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays", along with "widespread official corruption and abuse of power".

Mark Cebreros, spokesman for the Philippine government's Commission on Human Rights, said much of the information in the US report actually came from the Philippine agency.

"We acknowledge there are few convictions for extra-judicial killings in this administration," Cebreros told AFP.

He said there had been improvements under Aquino, including a drop in extra-judicial killings.

However, torture cases were still at the same level, he added.

The commission, which documents and investigates allegations of abuses, also cited other problems like lengthy trials and overcrowded prisons.

"We are talking about the entire criminal justice process," Cebreros said.

Human rights organisations allege that the Philippines suffers from a "culture of impunity" where powerful men feel they can commit abuses without fear of punishment.

In the worst such incident, in 2009 a Muslim political clan murdered 58 people including members of a rival clan, lawyers and journalists to prevent a rival from running for a local post against one of its members.

Despite a global outcry, the trial of the accused has dragged on for years and many suspects still remain at large.

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