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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Extra-judicial killings and the Philippine Armed Forces

THis is from Malaya a left leaning Manila based newspaper. AFP is Armed Forces of the Philippines. Malacanang is the seat of government like the WHite House in the US.Many leftist groups think that extra-judicial killing is a government policy not the result of a few rogue soldiers or commanders.

AFP sings new tune, concedes some soldiers behind killings

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BY VICTOR REYES

THE Armed Forces yesterday acknowledged that soldiers were involved in extra-judicial killings of activists but said the military leadership is not condoning the abuses.

The military and government previously blamed communist rebels for the spate of killings, saying the New People’s Army was purging its ranks as it did in the 1980s.

"We acknowledge that some members of the AFP have been involved in the deaths of some members of militant organizations but we definitely do not condone these. In fact, more than condemning acts, we have taken action to investigate them in order to prosecute those who are responsible," said AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

Records of the human rights group Karapatan showed 825 killings since President Arroyo assumed power in January 2001. But records of the PNP’s Task Force Usig, which Arroyo tasked to look into the political killings, showed there were a little over 100 cases.

The Melo Commission, which Arroyo created in August last year also to investigate the killings, said soldiers have murdered hundreds of Left-wing activists since 2001 and their commanding officers should be held responsible.

Arroyo formed the panel after human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said the series of killings of political activists could be linked to some members of the security forces.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, head of the commission, said "elements in the military" were behind the fatal shooting of hundreds of leftwing activists, community workers and farmers.

"It’s a small group in the military who are doing these things with the tolerance of some commanders, but it is not the policy of the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines," he said.

Melo submitted his panel’s report to the President yesterday after the Cabinet meeting.

Melo recommended that commanding officers face military tribunals for extrajudicial killings in their areas.

"They should have known what was happening and they just kept silent," he said.

Asked how many of the murders were carried out by soldiers, Melo said: "Most of them."

Left-wing groups said the report was a whitewash.

"It has been established by documentary evidence that there is a national policy sanctioning the killing of activists," said Renato Reyes, general secretary of leftwing umbrella group Bayan.

"We have seen Cabinet-level documents that show how these killings were sanctioned at the highest levels of office. The Melo Commission had it wrong when it says the killings were perpetrated by soldiers who are merely unchecked by their superiors."

Left-wing groups have said "The Butcher," Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jovito Palparan, was responsible for many of the killings.

Palparan, who has denied the charges, said: "To me it (the report) is just propaganda. As far as I’m concerned, my conscience is clear."

Esperon said the AFP cannot file charges against Palparan because the latter has retired.

"If there is evidence against him, he can be taken to (civilian) courts but since he is already retired, we cannot pursue a case against him," he said.

Palparan reached the mandatory retirement of 56 in September last year. His last post was chief of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.

Col. Arthur Abadilla, provost marshal, said the military can pursue a case if an officer was charged and investigated while in active service.


ALL ALLEGATIONS


Esperon conceded military did not launch an investigation after Left-leaning organizations accused Palparan of instigating the killings.

"As far as I know, he was not formally investigated…There was no formal complaint, it was all allegations so what was the basis for an investigation?... When allegations were made, it was just proper that the Melo Commission was called to investigate those things," he said.

Palparan has appeared in one of the hearings conducted by the Melo Commission. He said the allegations were meant to derail the military’s fight against the NPA.

Esperon said the military "will leave no stone unturned in our investigation and we will spare no one, regardless of rank or position."

He said several soldiers have been investigated for the killings.

Cpl. Alberto Rafon has been discharged from service for the killing of Nicanor delos Santos in October 2002.

Cpl. Esteban Vivar is facing charges before the Naga City Prosecutors Office while three others – M/Sgt. Antonio Torilla, Sgt. Rowie Barua M/Sgt. Donald Caigas – have been cleared either by the courts or government prosecutors, Esperon said.

An alleged militiaman, Ronnie Canet, was also implicated in one of the killings in the Bicol region. However, records from the 9th Infantry Division showed Canet is not in the list of its militiamen.

Esperon was quoting from the records of the Task Force Usig.


114 KILLINGS PROBED


Esperon said 114 killings have been investigated by the task force headed by Deputy Director General Avelino Razon.

"Of the 114 cases investigated by TFU, 48 cases were filed in court while the remaining 66 are still under extensive investigation. Out of the 48 filed cases, 22 are found to be perpetrated by the CPP/NPA/NDF while only six cases implicate military personnel," he said.

Esperon gave reporters a compiled list of victims of summary executions by the communists from 2000 to May 2006. Of the 1,227 victims, Esperon said 843 were civilians while the rest were soldiers and policemen.

"We challenge the CPP/NPA/NDF to account for the deaths of these people," said Esperon.

He posed the same challenge to Karapatan, which is among the organizations, accusing the military of involvement in the killings of leftist people.

President Arroyo ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to ask Spain, Finland, Sweden and the European Union to send representatives who would help look into the extra-judicial killings.


MORE TIME NEEDED


Arroyo, in a statement, said it was unfortunate that none of the militant organizations have participated in the hearings of the Melo Commission. She said this is the reason she asked the panel to continue its work and submit supplemental reports from time to time.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the panel members acknowledged they need more time to complete their probe because not all the parties involved participated.

This is also the reason Arroyo ordered the DFA to send formal proposals to the EU, Spain, Finland and Sweden on the sending of representatives to assist the commission in its probe.

"The feeling is the others might be more inclined to participate with these investigators but these investigators would be working under the umbrella of the commission," Bunye said.

Arroyo first announced her government’s intention to seek the help of the foreigners in September last year.

Bunye said Arroyo also ordered the AFP, PNP and the defense department to review and update documents on command responsibility.

Bunye said this means the policy of command responsibility should be laid out in very clear, unmistakable and understandable terms.


SPECIAL COURTS


Arroyo also directed the defense and justice departments to work with the Commission on Human Rights on the creation of a joint fact-finding body that will look deeper into the killings.

She also wants the justice department to enhance the witness protection program "to cover all witnesses to the unexplained killings of an ideological/political nature."

She directed the chief presidential legal counsel to draft a letter to the Supreme Court "seeking the creation of special courts for the trial of charges involving unexplained killings of a political/ideological nature."

Arroyo stressed she deplores the killings.

"I aim to stop it once and for all…the Philippines is likely the most democratic country in the region. I have no tolerance for human rights violations, particularly the killings of journalists and activists," she said.


SCAPEGOAT


Foreign and local Leftist activists called on Arroyo to take concrete actions on the killings.

They also said the commission’s recommendation that commanding officers face military tribunals for extrajudicial killings in their areas only told activists what they already knew and just made Palparan a "scapegoat."

During the Asian Conference on Participatory Democracy and Alternative Forms of Popular Power held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, an Indonesian delegate who was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2001, said the Philippine government would eventually "humiliate" itself if it does not act on the cases of killings.

Dita Indah Sari, Magsaysay awardee for emergent leadership, said "the announcement is not enough if there’s no effort and political will (on the part of the government) to be responsible and take concrete steps and go further."

Indah Sari, head of the trade union called the National Front for Indonesian Labor Struggle, said Leftist groups face a similar problem in Indonesia.

She said while there is the National of Commission of Human Rights in her country, the "government does not want to take steps to follow (the recommendations)."

"The government is trying to protect itself… to protect its own clique…It is very much clear that the state is behind this…Many reports (of human rights violations) come in… but nothing comes out from them. The people doing these violations are still on top of the government, on top of the military… (They are) untouchables. The government didn’t want to have conflicts with these people. What the government wants to do is wait for the issue to be calmer," Indah Sari said.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) challenged government to file charges against Palparan. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Reinir Padua and Reuters

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