[News] Philippines - UN blames military for political murders

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Thu Feb 22 12:25:09 EST 2007

2 Articles Follow

Under UN pressure, Philippines to release report on murders


Wed Feb 21, 11:11 PM ET

The Philippines is to declassify a report on a 
rash of political killings amid pressure from the 
United Nations, which has blamed the military for 
some of the murders, a senior official said Thursday.

The report, written by an independent commission 
headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jose 
Melo, would be made available to the press later 
Thursday, said Eduardo Ermita, President Gloria Arroyo's chief aide.

"The president decided to release the report to 
show the public we are not hiding anything," Ermita told local radio.

The decision came a day after UN special envoy 
Philip Alston blamed the military for many of 
what rights groups say are more than 800 
political assassinations, a wave of violence that has rocked the country.

Alston said the military was in "almost total 
denial" about the killings, which he said stemmed 
from the government's counter-insurgency program 
that had in some case been combined with efforts 
to intimidate left-wing activists.

Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on 
extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, 
said after a nearly two-week mission to the 
Philippines that he found cases presented to him 
"proved credible under cross-examination."

The UN envoy called on Arroyo to release the 
so-called Melo report, which contains names of 
military officials who reportedly should be 
charged, according to officials who have seen the document.

Ermita said that unlike Alston's report, the Melo 
report was more limited because the commission 
only interviewed military officials, as relatives 
of victims and leftist activists had failed to testify in the internal probe.

The Arroyo aide hit out at Alston, charging that 
the Australian-born lawyer "may have been 
influenced somewhat" by representatives of 
leftist organisations that Ermita said were 
leading a smear campaign against the Manila government.

"We hope Mr. Alston's final report would be 
fair," Ermita said, pointing out that the 
killings came against the backdrop of a decades-long communist insurgency.

"He's only been here 10 days. He cannot claim 
expertise on the nuances and the nitty-gritty of the insurgency," Ermita said.

Melo said Alston's report reflected the contents 
of his own report, which he said put the blame 
for the deaths on rogue elements of the military 
without offering specific hard evidence against them.

"We have done our work. It is essentially a 
police work now, finding and charging these 
people," Melo told AFP. "This is an eye opener 
for the security establishment -- that killings 
exist and the military could be culpable."

Copyright © 2007 
France Presse. All rights reserved. The 
information contained in the AFP News report may 
not be published, broadcast, rewritten or 
redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse.

Inquirer Headlines / Nation

UN blames military for political slays

Arroyo orders release of Melo Report

By Fe Zamora

Posted date: February 22, 2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Whatever the figure, the 
number of killings of journalists and leftist 
activists in the Philippines is “distressing,” 
and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should 
persuade the Armed Forces to “acknowledge” the 
fact and conduct a “genuine” investigation, 
United Nations Special Rapporteur 
Alston said Wednesday.

Alston, who has just concluded a 10-day visit to 
“inquire into the phenomenon of extrajudicial 
executions,” also said the President should make 
public the findings of the Melo Commission, which 
linked retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and 
other military commanders to the killings.

Alston said he did not know exactly how many had died, but added:

“I am certain the number is high enough to be distressing.

“The impact of even a limited number of killings 
of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways.”

While the President’s directives in response to 
the Melo Report “constitute important first 
steps,” he said, “a huge amount” of work needed to be done.

The human rights group Karapatan claims that more 
than 800 people, mostly leftist activists, had 
been murdered or reported missing since Ms Arroyo 
came to power in 2001. But the military says most 
of the deaths could be attributed to internal 
fighting in the Communist Party of the 
Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP/NPA).

‘Almost total denial’

“The AFP remains in a state of almost total 
denial (as its official response to the Melo 
Report amply demonstrates) of the need to respond 
effectively and authentically to the significant 
number of killings which have been convincingly 
attributed to [it],” Alston said at a news 
conference, reading from a press statement on his initial findings.

Immediately afterward, he left for the Ninoy 
Aquino International Airport (NAIA). He flew out 
of Manila at 12:15 p.m. on board a Korean Air 
plane bound for Seoul, where he will take a connecting flight to New York.

According to Alston, Ms Arroyo showed “good 
faith” when she formed the commission chaired by 
retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo in August last year.

“But the political and other capital that should 
have followed is being slowly but surely drained 
away by the refusal to publish the report,” he said.

The Melo Commission submitted its findings to the 
President in January. After initial reluctance, 
saying the report was “by no means complete,” 
Malacañang has released the report to Alston, the 
European Union and the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights.

Alston said he had met with Ms Arroyo and senior 
members of her Cabinet, military, security and 
judiciary officials, as well as human rights 
advocates, representatives of civil society 
organizations, and relatives of alleged victims of extrajudicial killings.

He said his “formal role” was to report his 
findings to the UN Human Rights Council and to 
the Philippine government. He said he expected 
his final report to be ready within the next three months.

‘Unconvincing evidence’

Alston said that while Ms Arroyo had acknowledged 
the “seriousness” of the problem, other 
government officials had reacted with 
“incredulity” and dismissed reports of the killings as “propaganda.”

He said military and other government officials 
had “relentlessly pushed” the theory that the 
killings were the result of a purge within the CPP/NPA.

“[But] the evidence offered by the military in 
support of this theory is especially unconvincing,” Alston said.

He said concerned sectors, including the 
party-list group Akbayan, had suggested that of 
the 1,227 killings blamed by the military on the 
CPP/NPA, not even 10 percent could be attributed to the latter.

According to Alston, the military is like an 
alcoholic who refuses to admit addiction to alcohol.

“The guy says, ‘Look, I’m not an alcoholic, I’m 
not. I just have a few occasional drinks and 
sometimes I like it. But that’s it. It’s not a 
problem.’ That’s just how I see the military at 
this stage,” Alston said, adding:

“The President needs to persuade the military 
that its reputation and effectiveness will be 
considerably enhanced, rather than undermined, by 
acknowledging the facts and taking genuine steps to investigate.”


Alston, who has taken part in human rights 
missions in Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Lebanon and 
Nigeria since the 1970s, suggested a reevaluation 
of the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency strategy.

“In some areas, an appeal to hearts and minds is 
combined with an attempt to vilify Left-leaning 
organizations and to intimidate leaders of such 
organizations. In some instances, such 
intimidation escalates into extrajudicial execution,” he said.

He also said “the enduring and much larger 
challenge” was to “restore the various 
accountability mechanisms” put in place by the 
Philippine Constitution and Congress, “too many 
of which have been systematically drained of their force in recent years.”

Virtual impunity

As well, Alston called for the strengthening of 
the witness protection program (WPP) in order to 
address “the problem of virtual impunity that prevails.”

He described the WPP as “impressive -- on paper.”

“The present message is that if you want to 
preserve your life expectancy, don’t act as a 
witness in a criminal prosecution for killing,” he said.

Alston also called for an acceptance of “the need 
to provide legitimate political space for leftist groups.”

He said that despite the party-list system and 
the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act, “the 
executive branch, openly and enthusiastically 
aided by the military,” had been “trying to 
impede the work of the party-list groups and to 
put in question their right to operate freely.”

‘Small victory’

But Pedro Gonzales, a leader of the militant 
fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, on Wednesday said he 
took little comfort in Alston’s initial findings.

Gonzales, 62, told Agence France-Presse that 
Alston’s findings were a “small victory,” and 
that he doubted the bloodshed would stop.

“The killings will continue. There is this policy 
to silence us,” he said from an undisclosed location in Manila.

According to Gonzales’ account, he was smoking a 
cigarette outside his modest house in Quezon 
province two years ago when two men casually 
walked up to him and pumped nine bullets into his head and body.

He fell to the ground in a pool of blood as 
neighbors ran to his side. “I didn’t know I had 
been shot until I could feel my own blood oozing 
out of my body,” he told the wire agency.

Gonzales miraculously survived, but his life 
since then has been one of constantly moving and looking over his shoulder.

Ambush survivor

The attempt on his life by a “death squad” left 
him with deep emotional scars, as well as an 
impaired nervous system that now forces him to walk with a severe limp.

Gonzales said the ambush was related to his activism.

The military has denied involvement in the 
attack, but Gonzales said his relatives and 
friends saw intelligence agents trying to enter 
the hospital lobby where he was taken after the ambush.

He said that when the agents saw his family had 
spotted them, they quickly withdrew.

“They failed to finish the job and I am still 
lying low, moving from one place to another so as not to be detected,” he said.

Gonzales was among those interviewed by Alston, 
and his case is now among the voluminous 
documents that the UN rapporteur would use in preparing a final report.

“It’s a good thing there was international 
pressure that led to this UN investigation. But 
between now and the final report, I’m telling 
you, more will die,” Gonzales said.


Reached for comment on the phone, Karapatan 
secretary general Marie Hilao Enriquez said: “We 
feel that we have been vindicated by what 
[Alston] said, that allegations of extrajudicial 
killings are not trumped up but rather credible.”

Enriquez added: “We are happy and thankful that 
he went around to meet and listen to the victims 
... His visit opened up cases and brought out witnesses.”

At the NAIA, staff members of Korean Air said 
Alston was due to arrive in the United States at 
7:20 p.m. of Feb. 21 (New York time).

They said he was assisted by an officer of the 
Department of Foreign Affairs when he checked in.

Public affairs officers of the Manila 
International Airport Authority said Alston no 
longer passed through the Dignitaries Lounge, 
where special accommodations had been prepared 
for him. With reports from Agence France-Presse and Tarra Quismundo

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