Militants to present evidence Malacanang sanctioned killings

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Activist groups in the Philippines led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) or Bayan are set to submit "cabinet level documents" as evidence to international bodies purportedly showing that the office of the President, Malacañang sanctioned the series of extrajudicial killings in the country.

The evidence is to be presented to the Permanent People's Tribunal and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs, which is scheduled to visit the country this year.

In a press statement, Bayan expressed disappointment with the report of the Melo Commission saying that "the report merely tells us what we already know, and that the report stops short of finding the roots of the extra-judicial killings."

"Everyone knows that Palparan is involved in the killings," said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., asking that "why is it that after Palparan retired [in September 2006], the killings continued?"

Reyes concluded that "this only shows that the killings go beyond Palparan. We have repeatedly said that there is a national policy involved which sanctions the assassination of activists. The Melo Commission seems to have conveniently ignored this reality and has limited its report to Palparan's responsibility and shielded the administration from any culpability."

The documents, Reyes said, detail a "step-by-step matrix" on how to "neutralize" legal organizations. He added that the document was presented to the Arroyo Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the group challenged Malacañang to abide by the fact-finding commission's recommendation to file charges against retired Major General Jovito Palparan and other military field commanders for their involvement in the killings.

He also said President Arroyo, as commander-in-chief, should "take responsibility for the killings."

Human rights group Karapatan recorded more than 700 leftist activists, farmers, community organizers and journalists killed since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001.

The latest victim, Dominador L. De Luna, 51, an employee of the National Food Authority (NFA) in Samar, was gunned down just when the necrological mass for Jose Maria Cui, a professor at University of Eastern Philippines who was shot in front of his students, was being held last January 29.

International pressure imperative

Dita Indah Sari, head of the National Front for the Indonesian Labor Struggle and 2001 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for emerging leadership, yesterday said the Philippine government should implement the recommendation of the Melo Commission to hold top generals responsible for the assassination of hundreds of leftist activists.

Just like in Indonesia, the Philippine government, according to her, seemed afraid to take its military brass to account on the basis of command responsibility. She said international pressure was imperative at this point to move concerned governments to make appropriate moves regarding human rights cases based on recommendations by a fact-finding body.

"The international pressure will humiliate the government," Sari added.

Making one general accountable would not solve the extrajudicial killings in the country, according to America Vera-Zavala of Sweden's Left International Forum.

"I'm quite sure this extreme [number] of people killed is not due to one single general. It would be a unique country if only one general is responsible for all this," she said.

Vera-Zavala said the European Union was aware of the series of killings in the country and was continuing to monitor the matter.

Arroyo to seek Europe help

In a related report, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday said she would ask the European Union to assist in the commission's work, declaring that she had "no tolerance for human rights violations."

She issued a statement containing detailed instructions after meeting with retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo in Malacañang. The instructions were not clear though on how she intended to address the latter's recommendation to hold Palparan accountable for the killings.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said [Palparan] could be brought to court if indeed there is evidence.

"But since he is already retired, we cannot take him under our jurisdiction," Esperon added.

Militant lawmaker suspects whitewash

"The Melo Commission failed in its public vow to get to the bottom of the killings: its report, based on Justice Melo's statement to the media, is indicative of a whitewash," Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said in reaction to Melo's statements.

He disclosed plans of filing a case against retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan with the International Criminal Court, "for command responsibility under international humanitarian law."

"Melo is silent on GMA's (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's) role. The killings go on even with Palparan out, so what has [the commission] accomplished?" Ocampo said in a phone interview.

In a text message, Rep. Teodoro Casiño, also of Bayan Muna, said "the report merely scratches the surface and tells us what we already know."

He said the Melo Commission missed the whole point because "the institution of policies on counterinsurgency like Oplan Bantay Laya are crucial in allowing the likes of Palparan to wreak terror on a national scale."

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano said the Melo Commission had "consciously avoided the responsibility of the President, the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security and the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya in its report."

"Like we said before, the Melo Commission is a whitewashing machine," he said.

Mariano also said "the killings of activists was integral to the Arroyo administration's counterinsurgency policy," predicting that "the killings won't stop as long as the mastermind is not punished."

His colleague in Anakpawis, Rep. Crispin Beltran, who is still detained for rebellion charges, saw in the Melo report a move to make it "appear that it was a mere matter of negligence of command that set off the spate of extrajudicial killings."

Ocampo emphasized their "demand that Malacañang immediately make public the full 89-page report for scrutiny by all parties, including the media."

"[The Melo Commission] must adhere to established UN protocols and Amnesty International's recommendations on such an independent commission."