Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing & Justice (PATH) was formally organized in 2002, pioneering in its focus on human rights violations by a non-state armed group. Composed of torture survivors, families, relatives and friends of victims missing or executed during the anti-infiltration campaigns within the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) in the 1980s, PATH seeks truth and justice from the CPP-NPA and other Left blocs involved in the anti-infiltration campaigns.
PATH believes that all non-state armed groups, including those not from the Left movement, should observe human rights in the conduct of their resistance against the State. Ultimately, PATH holds the State accountable as well for the purges, and for military atrocities during martial law and throughout successive administrations.
Goals & Objectives
PATH's goals and objectives are as follows:
1. Complete the documents of the cases of all victims during the purges and all those involved.
2. Organize a national community of human rights defenders and advocates composed of survivors, families, relatives and friends of victims during the purges.
3. Facilitate the healing of survivors as well as the families, relatives and friends of purge victims.
4. Conduct exhumations so that victims are given due respect and proper burial.
5. Conduct a comprehensive advocacy work. Its main components will be public information and campaign, solidarity-building and lobbying at the local, national and international levels.
6. Deepen and popularize the culture of human rights through artistic and popular education, productions and other cultural endeavors.
7. Come up with case studies of country experiences on the setting up of Truth and Justice Commissions and strive for the creation of a Truth and Justice Commission in the country together with other human rights organizations and individual human rights advocates.
Research & Documentation. Documents stories and produces a database of victims in aid of locating burial sites; conducts research to surface facts and circumstances of the purges; publishes materials as tools for justice campaigns; ensures confidentiality and security of records and files.
Recovery of Victims' Remains. In cooperation with the victims' kin, locates gravesites, retrieves the remains and arranges their proper burial; mobilizes the services of forensic experts and other professionals; initiates dialogues with the victims' families as well as with perpetrators.
Counseling & Therapy. Facilitates healing sessions that address the long-term trauma of surivivors and victims families; mobilizes professionals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry; builds support groups for victims and their families towards eventual closure.
Communications & Popular Education. Develops education programs, including theoretical materials and tools for reflection, that revolve around human rights and respect for human dignity; holds commemoration activities and builds memorials for the victims; develops external communications through publications and mass media.
Legal & Security. Leads in the initiation and pursuance of legal actions for victims; assist in the handling and protection of material evidence in coordination with the RVR Committee; conducts research on the possibilities of a Truth Commission; studies the implications of PATH's work on the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the CPP-NPA-NDF; and ensures lines with established institutions that will help strengthen PATH;
Arts & Culture. Produces musical compositions, literary works, plays, video documentaries, films, and other cultural works from the stories of survivors and victims.
Organizing & Advocacy. Reaches out to survivors and victims' families in different regions and encourages solidarity in their journey towards justice and healing.
Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.Manila, 21 February 2007
I have spent the past ten days in the Philippines at the invitation of the Government in order to inquire into the phenomenon of extrajudicial executions. I am very grateful to the Government for the unqualified cooperation extended to me. During my stay here I have met with virtually all of the relevant senior officials of Government.
They include the President, the Executive Secretary, the National Security Adviser, the Secretaries for Defence, Justice, DILG and the Peace Process. I have also met with a significant number of members of Congress on different sides of the political spectrum, the Chief Justice, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Chair of the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman, the members of both sides of the Joint Monitoring Committee, and representatives of the MNLF and MILF.
Of particular relevance to my specific concerns, I also met with Task Force Usig, and with the Melo Commission, and I have received the complete dossier compiled by TF Usig, as well as the report of the Melo Commission, and the responses to its findings by the AFP and by retired Maj-Gen Palparan. I have also visited Baguio and Davao and met with the regional Human Rights Commission offices, local PNP and AFP commanders, and the Mayor of Davao, among others. Equally importantly, roughly half of my time here was devoted to meetings with representatives of civil society, in Manila, Baguio, and Davao. Through their extremely valuable contributions in the form of documentation and detailed testimony I have learned a great deal.
Let me begin by acknowledging several important elements. The first is that the Government's invitation to visit reflects a clear recognition of the gravity of the problem, a willingness to permit outside scrutiny, and a very welcome preparedness to engage on this issue. The assurances that I received from the President, in particular, were very encouraging.
Second, I note that my visit takes place within the context of a counter-insurgency operation which takes place on a range of fronts, and I do not in any way underestimate the resulting challenges facing the Government and the AFP. Third, I wish to clarify that my formal role is to report to the UN Human Rights Council and to the Government on the situation I have found. I consider that the very fact of my visit has already begun the process of acting as a catalyst to deeper reflection on these issues both within the national and international settings. Finally, I must emphasise that the present statement is only designed to give a general indication of some, but by no means all, of the issues to be addressed, and the recommendations put forward, in my final report. I expect that will be available sometime within the next three months.Sources of information.
The first major challenge for my mission was to obtain detailed and well supported information. I have been surprised by both the amount and the quality of information provided to me. Most key Government agencies are organized and systematic in much of their data collection and classification. Similarly, Philippines civil society organizations are generally sophisticated and professional. I sought, and obtained, meetings across the entire political spectrum. I leave the Philippines with a wealth of information to be processed in the preparation of my final report.
But the question has still been posed as to whether the information provided to me by either all, or at least certain, local NGO groups can be considered reliable. The word propaganda' was used by many of my interlocutors. What I took them to mean was that the overriding goal of the relevant groups in raising EJE questions was to gain political advantage in the context of a broader battle for public opinion and power, and that the HR dimensions were secondary at best. Some went further to suggest that many of the cases were fabricated, or at least trumped up, to look more serious than they are.
I consider it essential to respond to these concerns immediately. First, there is inevitably a propaganda element in such allegations. The aim is to win public sympathy and to discredit other actors. But the existence of a propaganda dimension does not, in itself, destroy the credibility of the information and allegations. I would insist, instead, on the need to apply several tests relating to credibility. First, is it only NGOs from one part of the political spectrum who are making these allegations?
The answer is clearly 'no'. Human rights groups in the Philippines range across the entire spectrum in terms of their political sympathies, but I met no groups who challenged the basic fact that large numbers of extrajudicial executions are taking place, even if they disagreed on precise figures. Second, how compelling is the actual information presented? I found there was considerable variation ranging from submissions which were entirely credible and contextually aware all the way down to some which struck me as superficial and dubious. But the great majority are closer to the top of that spectrum than to the bottom.
Third, has the information proved credible under 'cross-examination' ? My colleagues and I heard a large number of cases in depth and we probed the stories presented to us in order to ascertain their accuracy and the broader context.
As a result, I believe that I have gathered a huge amount of data and certainly much more than has been made available to any one of the major national inquiries.
Extent of my focus
My focus goes well beyond that adopted by either TF Usig or the Melo Commission, both of which are concerned essentially with political and media killings. Those specific killings are, in many ways, a symptom of a much more extensive problem and we should not permit our focus to be limited artificially. The TF Usig/Melo scope of inquiry is inappropriate for me for several reasons:
(a) The approach is essentially reactive. It is not based on an original assessment of what is going on in the country at large, but rather on what a limited range of CSOs report. As a result, the focus then is often shifted (unhelpfully) to the orientation of the CSO, the quality of the documentation in particular cases, etc.; (b) Many killings are not reported, or not pursued, and for good reason; and (c) A significant proportion of acknowledged cases of 'disappearances' involve individuals who have been killed but who are not reflected in the figures. How many have been killed?
The numbers game is especially unproductive, although a source of endless fascination. Is it 25, 100, or 800? I don't have a figure. But I am certain that the number is high enough to be distressing. Even more importantly, numbers are not what count. The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country. Permit me to make a brief comment on the term 'unexplained killings', which is used by officials and which I consider to be inapt and misleading. It may be appropriate in the context of a judicial process but human rights inquiries are more broad-ranging and one does not have to wait for a court to secure a conviction before one can conclude that human rights violations are occurring. The term 'extrajudicial killings' which has a long pedigree is far more accurate and should be used. Typology It may help to specify the types of killing which are of particular concern in the Philippines:
· Killings by military and police, and by the NPA or other groups, in course of counter-insurgency. To the extent that such killings take place in conformity with the rules of international humanitarian law they fall outside my mandate. · Killings not in the course of any armed engagement but in pursuit of a specific counterinsurgency operation in the field.
· Killings, whether attributed to the military, the police, or private actors, of activists associated with leftist groups and usually deemed or assumed to be covertly assisting CPP-NPA-NDF. Private actors include hired thugs in the pay of politicians, landowners, corporate interests, and others.· Vigilante, or death squad, killings· Killings of journalists and other media persons.· 'Ordinary' murders facilitated by the sense of impunity that exists. Response by the Government The response of Government to the crisis of extrajudicial executions varies dramatically. There has been a welcome acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problem at the very top. At the executive level the messages have been very mixed and often unsatisfactory. And at the operational level, the allegations have too often been met with a response of incredulity, mixed with offence. Explanations proffered When I have sought explanations of the killings I have received a range of answers.
(i) The allegations are essentially propaganda. I have addressed this dimension already.
(ii) The allegations are fabricated. Much importance was attached to two persons who had been listed as killed, but who were presented to me alive. Two errors, in circumstances which might partly explain the mistakes, do very little to discredit the vast number of remaining allegations.
(iii) The theory that the 'correct, accurate, and truthful' reason for the recent rise in killings lies in purges committed by the CPP/NPA. This theory was relentlessly pushed by the AFP and many of my Government interlocutors. But we must distinguish the number of 1,227 cited by the military from the limited number of cases in which the CPP/NPA have acknowledged, indeed boasted, of killings. While such cases have certainly occurred, even those most concerned about them, such as members of Akbayan, have suggested to me that they could not amount to even 10% of the total killings. The evidence offered by the military in support of this theory is especially unconvincing. Human rights organizations have documented very few such cases. The AFP relies instead on figures and trends relating to the purges of the late 1980s, and on an alleged CPP/NPA document captured in May 2006 describing Operation Bushfire. In the absence of much stronger supporting evidence this particular document bears all the hallmarks of a fabrication and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation.
(iv) Some killings may have been attributable to the AFP, but they were committed by rogue elements. There is little doubt that some such killings have been committed. The AFP needs to give us precise details and to indicate what investigations and prosecutions have been undertaken in response. But, in any event, the rogue elephant theory does not explain or even address the central questions with which we are concerned. Some major challenges for the future
(a) Acknowledgement by the AFP
The AFP remains in a state of almost total denial (as its official response to the Melo Report amply demonstrates) of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them. 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. When the Chief of the AFP contents himself with telephoning Maj-Gen Palparan three times in order to satisfy himself that the persistent and extensive allegations against the General were entirely unfounded, rather than launching a thorough internal investigation, it is clear that there is still a very long way to go.
(b) Moving beyond the Melo Commission
It is not for me to evaluate the Melo Report. That is for the people of the Philippines to do. The President showed good faith in responding to allegations by setting up an independent commission. But the political and other capital that should have followed is being slowly but surely drained away by the refusal to publish the report. The justifications given are unconvincing. The report was never intended to be preliminary or interim. The need to get 'leftists' to testify is no reason to withhold a report which in some ways at least vindicates their claims. And extending a Commission whose composition has never succeeded in winning full cooperation seems unlikely to cure the problems still perceived by those groups. Immediate release of the report is an essential first step.
(c) The need to restore accountability
The focus on TF Usig and Melo is insufficient. The enduring and much larger challenge is to restore the various accountability mechanisms that the Philippines Constitution and Congress have put in place over the years, too many of which have been systematically drained of their force in recent years. I will go into detail in my final report, but suffice it to note for present purposes that Executive Order 464, and its replacement, Memorandum Circular 108, undermine significantly the capacity of Congress to hold the executive to account in any meaningful way.
(d) Witness protection
The vital flaw which undermines the utility of much of the judicial system is the problem of virtual impunity that prevails. This, in turn, is built upon the rampant problem of witness vulnerability. 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. Witnesses are systematically intimidated and harassed. In a relatively poor society, in which there is heavy dependence on community and very limited real geographical mobility, witnesses are uniquely vulnerable when the forces accused of killings are all too often those, or are linked to those, who are charged with ensuring their security. The WPP is impressive – on paper. In practice, however, itis deeply flawed and would seem only to be truly effective in a very limited number of cases. The result, as one expert suggested to me, is that 8 out of 10 strong cases, or 80% fail to move from the initial investigation to the actual prosecution stage.
(e) Acceptance of the need to provide legitimate political space for leftist groups
At the national level, there has been a definitive abandonment of President Ramos' strategy of reconciliation. This might be termed the Sinn Fein strategy. It involves the creation of an opening the party-list system for leftist groups to enter the democratic political system, while at the same time acknowledging that some of those groups remain very sympathetic to the armed struggle being waged by illegal groups (the IRA in the Irish case, or the NPA in the Philippines case). The goal is to provide an incentive for such groups to enter mainstream politics and to see that path as their best option. Neither the party-list system nor the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act has been reversed by Congress. But, the executive branch, openly and enthusiastically aided by the military, has worked resolutely to circumvent the spirit of these legislative decisions by trying to impede the work of the party-list groups and to put in question their right to operate freely. The idea is not to destroy the NPA but to eliminate organizations that support many of its goals and do not actively disown its means. While non-violent in conception, there are cases in which it has, certainly at the local level, spilled over into decisions to extrajudicially execute those who cannot be reached by legal process.
(f) Re-evaluate problematic aspects of counter-insurgency strategy
The increase in extrajudicial executions in recent years is attributable, at least in part, to a shift in counterinsurgency strategy that occurred in some areas, reflecting the considerable regional variation in the strategies employed, especially with respect to the civilian population. 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. This is a grave and serious problem and one which I intend to examine in detail in my final report.
Conclusion The Philippines remains an example to all of us in terms of the peaceful ending of martial law by the People's Revolution, and the adoption of a Constitution reflecting a powerful commitment to ensure respect for human rights. The various measures ordered by the President in response to Melo constitute important first steps, but there is a huge amount that remains to be done
By Michael Lim Ubac Inquirer Last updated 02:15am (Mla time) 02/17/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- The European Union and the United Nations’ special rapporteur may expect to receive on Monday copies of the Melo Commission’s report on the extrajudicial killings, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said yesterday.
The disclosure came on the same day that police and the human rights group Karapatan announced the killing of leftist student leader Farley Alcantara II in Camarines Norte on Thursday. Alcantara was shot dead by a lone gunman who managed to get away.
Gonzales said in an interview that President Macapagal-Arroyo gave him the go-signal on Tuesday to transmit copies of the “thick document” requested by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, and UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.
“We’re all after the truth, so we will have to release it to appropriate bodies,” he said.
But the media will not have access to the report containing the Melo Commission’s findings on the unabated killings of journalists and leftist activists since Ms Arroyo took power in 2001.
The report was submitted to Ms Arroyo late last month by the commission chair, retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo. Its contents have yet to be made public.
Asked what took him so long to implement the President’s directive, Gonzales said he had to make “some transmittals” to the offices of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.
“But I was asked by the President to make the decision as early as Tuesday,” he said.
No major discrepancies
Gonzales told the Inquirer that the report had no “major discrepancies” from the earlier statement made by Melo linking the military, particularly retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, to some of the killings.
He reiterated the Palace’s position that the report was “incomplete.”
“It’s a preliminary report only. That’s why we said that we will release it when [it] is already complete,” he said, adding that the Melo Commission was “expected to continue” with its investigation.
He said the commission had no “timeframe” to finish the probe and “come up with its conclusions.”
Gonzales wondered why critics of the President had accused Malacañang of hiding the report: “I don’t know why this issue came out.”
Asked why Malacañang described the report as “inconclusive,” he said: “It only covered 10 percent of what should have been covered.”
Only one source
Ermita said on Thursday that the latest killings in Samar, Bicol and Misamis Oriental should be incorporated into the commission’s final report.
He took militant groups to task for snubbing the invitation of the commission to testify at its hearings, and for supposedly bloating its list of victims.
Asked about the reason for the withholding of the report, Ermita said Malacañang did not want the public to think that the report was based on only one source—Palparan and other generals who served as resource persons.
It was Bunye who told reporters on Thursday that the Palace was temporarily withholding the report.
“The government intends to work closely with the UN to get at the root of the matter although we have held the first Melo report from distribution because it’s still incomplete and, at this point, inconclusive,” he said.
Bunye welcomed the statement of the families of slain activists that they would fully cooperate with Alston and his team.
“This will complete the picture that the Melo Commission could not understandably achieve in view of the refusal of the families to testify before the probe body,” he said.
He added that with the inputs of the UN and “other well-meaning agencies, hopefully we can come up with a more comprehensive appreciation of the issue and undertake all means to resolve it permanently and close the book on it.”
Gonzales said yesterday that he expected the issue of the extrajudicial killings to be resolved soon.
He said the independent inquiries by the EU and the UN team would “tell us how to proceed.”
“Their recommendations are most welcome by the government,” he said.
Oplan Bantay Laya
Bayan Muna, the militant party-list group that lost at least 127 of its leaders and members to extrajudicial killings, lauded the planned creation of special courts devoted entirely to such cases.
But Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño told the Inquirer that the initiative of Chief Justice Reynato Puno was bound to fail without Ms Arroyo’s unequivocal support.
They specifically want Ms Arroyo to “rescind” the so-called Oplan Bantay Laya, a military campaign purportedly targeting the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing the New People’s Army, and groups tagged as its fronts.
“What is more crucial at this point is for the President to issue an order to all state security forces not to engage in such killings, to relieve military commanders where the killings happen ... and overhaul the government’s counterinsurgency program,” Casiño said.
To make the special courts work, Ms Arroyo “must first end the policy of abetting, encouraging and sanctioning political killings as contained in Oplan Bantay Laya,” according to Ocampo.
“This policy and counterinsurgency operation-plan have rendered useless all previous investigative bodies, and continue to make justice elusive for victims’ families, and may sabotage the special courts formed by the Chief Justice,” he said in a statement.
Of no use
After meeting on Thursday with the UN team led by Alston, Puno announced that he was forming special courts to concentrate on extrajudicial killings.
Karapatan has listed 832 alleged summary executions since 2001. Of the number, 127 of the victims belonged to Bayan Muna, according to its media coordinator Tonyo Cruz.
“Unfortunately, the executive branch does not share the commitment of Chief Justice Puno to end, investigate and prosecute such cases,” Ocampo said.
He said the special courts would practically be of no use, and predicted that prosecutors and investigators—who are under the executive branch—would “doom all cases against the military and police under the present circumstances.”
Palparan cases dropped
According to Ocampo, all cases against Palparan had been dropped by the Department of Justice.
“The prevailing policy of Ms Arroyo, as implemented by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and Norberto Gonzales, will make it impossible for victims to successfully file cases before the special courts,” he said.
MANILA, Philippines -- A journalists’ union slammed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s decision to withhold a human rights fact-finding body’s report from media, calling it an “insult to the people’s right to know” and proof of “this administration's policy of governance by exigency and spin.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in a statement signed by its chairman Jose Torres Jr. and secretary general Rowena Carranza-Paraan, said it “cannot accept” Arroyo’s decision to release the report of the Melo Commission to the European Union and visiting United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston but not to media.
The NUJP reminded the government that its “first duty is to its citizens. Withholding the Melo report from the media deprives the Filipino people of their basic right to information -- in this case, information that directly relates to the security of lives in this nation.”
“Filipinos paid for the Melo Commission's work with their taxes. The least this government owes them is disclosure,” it said.
The commission, chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo, was created last August to investigate the extrajudicial killings human rights groups say have to date claimed more than 830 lives since 2001 after the administration came under increasing local and international pressure on its human rights record.
Its report was submitted to Arroyo last month after which she invited international experts to conduct their own investigations into the killings.
Arroyo’s decision was actually made Tuesday but disclosed only Friday by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to whom it was directed, according to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
As late as Thursday, Malacañang insisted it was not releasing the report, which it described as “incomplete,” despite a request from Eneko Landaburu, director general for external relations of the European Commission (EC), which like the UN has also been invited to look into the killings, had earlier asked for a copy of the Melo Commission report.
Melo disputed the Palace’s description of the report as incomplete, although he acknowledged that it was “not final” because of the continued killings, which have prompted Arroyo to ask the commission to continue its work.
The NUJP noted that the decision to finally release the Melo report was made after its initial insistence that it be withheld, even from international bodies it had invited, “was met by outrage.”
It also scored the administration for a “favorite tactic -- blaming the victims, in these case militant groups that have lost 800 members in murders the government refused to acknowledge for a long time,” as one of the reasons for describing the report as incomplete and, thus, not fit for release.
“The government has no reason to keep the report secret,” the NUJP said. “It has stated repeatedly that most of the murder victims' kin and colleagues boycotted the Melo hearings. It must trust Filipinos to balance this fact with the findings of the commission.”
It also noted that not all human rights and activist organizations snubbed the Melo Commission’s appeal for cooperation. These groups, it said, “complain of feeling betrayed by the government's refusal to release the Melo report.”
The Melo Commission’s mandate included investigating the murders of journalists, which the NUJP places at 48 since Arroyo came to power in 2001, the highest death toll under any president, including the 14-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
Posted by: Isa Lorenzo on 6 February 2007 at 7:27 pm
IT’S with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has yet to release it to the public.
For the time being, people have had to rely on statements issued by members of the Melo Commission.
One of the major findings of the 89-page report is that military commanders are mainly responsible for extra-judicial killings. Majority of the victims were leftist activists.
Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan is among the officers mentioned in the report, according to former Supreme Court justice Jose Melo, who heads the fact-finding commission.
The military perpetrators were soldiers who participated in political killings without supervision from their commanding officers, Melo added.
Other perpetrators of extra-judicial killings include politicians and the security guards of some landlords.
Citing the principle of command responsibility, the report held Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and other officers responsible for the spate of political killings. However, the report did not hold President Arroyo likewise responsible, even though she is the commander-in-chief of the AFP.
According to a report from Newsbreak, the Melo report also recommends the creation of an independent civilian unit within the AFP that will focus on investigating human rights complaints against members of the military, strengthening the government’s witness protection program, and enhancing the quality of evidence submitted by the police.
Various sectors have scored the government and military’s efforts to address the spate of extra-judicial killings. Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement that the CBCP found the government and military’s response ” most unsatisfactory.” Lagdameo added that people should demand for a “greater and more effective performance of their duties as guardians and protectors of our peace.”
Leftist groups and leaders have assailed the Melo report. “The report merely scratches the surface and tells us what we already know, said Bayan Muna representative Teodoro Casiño. Casiño added that the military’s counter-insurgency policies such as Oplan Bantay Laya “are crucial in allowing the likes of Palparan to wreak terror on a national scale.”
Palparan, meanwhile, insisted that none of the killings were committed by soldiers under his command.
Arroyo has said that she would seek help from the European Union in order to assist the Melo commission in continuing its work. The EU is among the numerous members of the international community who have repeatedly expressed their alarm at the continued spate of political killings.
Yet the government’s invitation to other countries to participate in the Melo commission’s investigation is questionable, when the credibility of the commission remains in doubt, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel said in a statement.
Pimentel added that Malacañang officials have admitted that the Melo report is incomplete and one-sided because it focuses only on the testimonies of military and police generals, and does not present the side of the witnesses and relatives of victims of political killings.
The Melo commission was formed last August in response to the outcry against extra-judicial killings. It completed its report in four months, just before President Arroyo was due to visit Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
The leftist umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan believes that the report’s release was purposely timed with Arroyo’s trip, in order to soften international condemnation toward the killings.
Yet until the Melo report is released in its entirety, both the international community and the Filipino people can dig no deeper than the statements made by members of the Melo commission and by those who have apparently read it.
Or will it go the way of another controversial fact-finding report — the Mayuga report, which probed into charges of fraud during the May 2004 elections, and which has also yet to be released in its entirety? The Mayuga report cleared the four generals mentioned in the “Hello, Garci” tapes and remained silent on other top military officials that had also been linked to allegations of cheating.
Critics argue that it is pointless to create fact-finding bodies if their findings and recommendations are never released to the public. Pimentel says that it is ludicrous for President Arroyo to order the Melo commission to continue its investigation when she has not bothered to release the Melo report.
They agree that in order for the merits of the Melo report to be adequately analyzed and adjudged, its contents must be fully disclosed.
By Cynthia Balana, Fe Zamora, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. Inquirer Last updated 02:53am (Mla time) 02/16/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- The European Union will seek more information on the Melo Commission’s report on the killing of journalists and leftist activists despite Malacañang’s refusal to provide the EU a copy.
Eneko Landaburu, the European Commission’s director general for external relations, met with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday to clarify the refusal. But it could not be immediately determined if the matter was indeed taken up at the meeting.
The European Commission is the executive body of the 27-nation European Union.
“I’m going to see your President this afternoon and we’ll discuss exactly the issue, and we’ll see [what the EU decision will be],” Landaburu told reporters during the launch of the P750-million Mindanao Health Sector Policy Program at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“At this stage, we’re waiting for more official information on the report. I hope that by the next day, it will be possible to have the information that we need to be able to assess what’s on the report and maybe prepare an answer,” he said.
The President had sought the participation of the EU in the inquiry into the unabated killings, but the EU said it needed a copy of the report to determine how it could help.
Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of the EC delegation in Manila, said it would be best to hear it from Ms Arroyo herself.
“We don’t rely on third-party information,” MacDonald said, referring to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s remarks on Wednesday.
Ermita said on Wednesday that the 89-page report was “by no means complete” because Ms Arroyo had directed the commission chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo to continue with its work.
Thus, Ermita said, Malacañang would not be able to provide copies to the EU as well as to Philip Alston, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who is in the Philippines on a 10-day visit.
The report has yet to be made public, but Melo said retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and other military commanders should be held accountable for the killings on the principle of command responsibility.
MacDonald, one of the members of the diplomatic corps who attended a two-hour meeting with the Melo Commission on Thursday, also said the EU was watching how Ms Arroyo would implement its recommendations.
“We are certainly very interested to know how the government intends to pursue these follow-up activities,” he said.
Steven Rheault-Kihara, counselor of the Canadian Embassy, said “the general consensus” of the diplomats who attended the meeting was that the commission was “very sincere and honest in its findings.”
Melo, along with National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño and University of the Philippines Regent Nelia Gonzales, briefed the diplomatic corps on the results of its inquiry into the killings.
The retired justice also renewed the invitation to the rights watchdog Karapatan and other militant groups to attend the commission’s hearings and disclose what they knew.
“I am personally inviting Karapatan to come forward. We are ready to hear them,” Melo said.
But a member of the commission, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, took Karapatan to task for distrusting the commission’s efforts.
“Sayang talaga (It’s such a pity). It (the report) could have been more objective. That’s why I am really blaming them,” the bishop said in a phone interview. Disservice to victims
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Malacañang’s refusal to furnish Alston and the EU copies of the Melo report was “a disservice to all victims of human rights abuses.”
“In failing to release the report, the Arroyo government only shows callousness toward the victims and gross insincerity in stopping the cycle of state-sponsored violence,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said in a statement.
Reyes pointed out that a month after the Melo Commission announced that it had submitted its report to the Palace, “the Filipino people and the concerned international community [are still] in the dark.”
He said a possible reason for the secrecy was that there was actually no complete report, and that the announcement of the submission of a report was intended to boost Ms Arroyo’s “sagging approval ratings in the EU.”
Another possible reason, he said, was the Arroyo administration’s purported inability to hold some military generals accountable for the killings, especially during the election season.
“For whatever its weaknesses may be, the Melo report has tagged generals like ... Palparan responsible for the killings. However, ... it is the election season and the administration does not want to antagonize the military at this crucial period,” he said, adding:
“Historically, the military is important for the electoral interests of any administration.”
Reyes also speculated that the report was being held hostage by the “hawks” in the administration. He pointed out that the “finding” blaming some generals for the killings could affect Malacañang’s counterinsurgency program.
Enrile Alston and his team and the EU members met Thursday with Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, the current chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, in the hope of getting Congress’ cooperation in their probe.
But by his account to reporters, Enrile gave his visitors a talking-to.
“They were asking questions about extrajudicial killings and I said that’s a police matter, and that if there is any need to enact corrective legislation, we will do it. But we have conducted hearings on these things and the laws are sufficient to deal with the problem,” said the architect of martial law in the Philippines.
Enrile recalled a similar encounter with a foreign human rights activist during the martial law era, who “came to see me and lectured me about human rights.”
“I told her, Look, have you handled an insurgency problem in your country? No, she said. So I said, ‘Don’t lecture me then on how to handle the insurgency problem,’” Enrile said.
He said he told the Alston/EU group the same thing: “I told them there is more to this problem than just suspecting other people.”
According to the senator, some of his guests reddened (“namumula”) and fell silent (“hindi umiimik”).
Enrile said he also told a German official in the group that like Germany’s strategy in going after terrorists, “we do the same thing -- we do intelligence work.”
“We’ve handled insurgency problems in the country but I have never allowed foreigners to interfere with my work. After all, if this country will sink, they will be safe in their country and we Filipinos will be the one who will suffer,” he said.
Enrile said if there was a problem in the unresolved killings, “it should be the function of the department head to look into the problem.”
“When I was defense secretary (under Ferdinand Marcos), when I hear of any misbehavior of any military officer or enlisted personnel, I act immediately. I don’t have to wait for any other agency to look into the matter,” he said.
Enrile also said it was he who had brought up the issue against Palparan, whom activists have tagged a “berdugo” (butcher): “I was the one who mentioned Palparan [at a] public hearing during the confirmation [of his promotion to major general], where members of the House who were complaining about him did not present complete evidence to warrant the disapproval of his confirmation.”
The senator said he saw no need to rush public disclosure of the Melo report.
But he added that he did not view the foreigners’ inquiry into the extrajudicial killings as undue interference: “They just want to find out if we are adhering to international conventions [on human rights] that we signed.”
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said Alston had expressed concern over the government’s treatment of supposed legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Alston pointed out that the government “considers these legal fronts as enemies,” Gonzalez told reporters after meeting with the UN special rapporteur at the Department of Justice.
He said Alston had maintained that leftist party-list groups were using their funds legally: “He was sticking to his position that if the [CPP] is legal, all the funds are legal.”
Gonzalez said he told Alston that the legal fronts had been fighting the government. Documents on CPP fronts
He also said the government had documents and a videotape showing Jose Ma. Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF), and his wife identifying the militant groups Migrante, Bayan and Gabriela as fronts of the CPP.
Gonzalez said Alston’s report to the UN, if unfavorable, would reflect badly on the Philippines.
But the UN cannot impose sanctions on the country, he said.
He likewise said that his meeting with Alston was “not antagonistic,” and that he thought he had disarmed the latter.
“I thought he was already brainwashed. You know, he first met, not with the government, but with Karapatan,” Gonzalez said.
Ermita: Findings still not complete By Michael Lim Ubac Inquirer Last updated 01:52am (Mla time) 02/15/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- Malacañang has refused to furnish the European Union and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur a copy of the findings of the Melo Commission, insisting that the report on extrajudicial killings was still incomplete.
The report, which has yet to be made public, linked some of the killings of leftist activists to the military, particularly retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formed the Melo Commission, which is chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, in August 2006.
Both the EU and UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston have asked the Palace for a copy of the report.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on Wednesday said at his regular weekly briefing that the commission’s report was just “a preliminary report” and “by no means complete.”
He reminded reporters that Ms Arroyo had earlier directed the Melo Commission “to continue with its work.”
Short of saying that the report was one-sided, Ermita pointed out that vital “resource persons” other than military and police officials had not accepted the commission’s invitation to attend its hearings.
The families of those killed, as well as members of militant groups, had expressed doubt on the commission’s independence and ignored its invitation.
Alston and his team have been kept busy meeting with officials and members of the Armed Forces, the defense department, the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig, and the Melo Commission.
He had a meeting with Ermita at the Palace on Monday, where the latter pledged the cooperation of the Arroyo administration, including “all the information that [Alston and his team] need, short of allowing them interference in our court system.”
Overview of insurgency
Ermita said Palace officials had given Alston, who is here on a 10-day visit, a briefing.
“We talked about his purpose for coming to the Philippines,” Ermita said.
He said he had to give Alston “an overview of the insurgency,” to “look at the issue of extrajudicial killings in the context of the overall insurgency problems in the Philippines” -- a reference to the 38-year communist insurgency and the Moro secessionist movement in the south.
Ermita said this gave Alston a good background “on why these things are happening.”
He said he also told Alston and company that the AFP was using the term “unexplained killings” to refer to the murders.
Ermita said Alston’s inquiry into the killings was being supported by Ms Arroyo “for purposes of transparency, to show them that the government under the President is doing everything to address this.”
The EU, which has repeatedly expressed alarm at the unabated killings, will also conduct its own probe. But it had said it needed a copy of the Melo report to do this.
Asked if Alston’s inquiry would open the proverbial can of worms, Ermita said: “I always say that the truth will always come out.”
He also said Alston had been shown “pictures of mass graves” of civilians and communist cadres believed to have been executed by the communist New People’s Army.
“It’s up to [Alston] how he will look at it ... and make his own assessment,” Ermita said.
Ermita also announced that Ms Arroyo had named Cecilia Quisumbing, daughter of Supreme Court Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, executive director of the President’s Committee on Human Rights, which Ermita heads.
The young Quisumbing has worked for the broadcast network CNBC and served as the Philippine consultant to the UN mission involved in human rights.
Ermita told reporters Ms Arroyo was convinced that Quisumbing, “being like you a journalist, and a foreign journalist at that,” would be “very helpful” as the committee’s executive director.
On Wednesday, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings met with survivors and relatives of the victims, according to Ruth Cervantes, spokesperson of the rights group Karapatan.
The Associated Press quoted Cervantes, who attended the meeting, as saying that Alston had met with about 20 relatives of slain leftist activists.
The venue of the meeting was not disclosed to protect the complainants, AP said.
Cervantes said activists gave Alston’s team a briefing on alleged human rights abuses under the Arroyo administration. Then the victims started to recount the attacks, some breaking into tears, Cervantes said.
Among them was Josie Javier, who was shot with her husband in their rural home north of Manila last October by suspected soldiers, who resented his membership in a left-wing urban poor group. Javier’s husband died in the attack.
“As I think of my husband this Valentine’s Day, I hope that Mr. Alston really listened to our story and will do everything in his power to give us justice,” Javier said in a statement.
The victims had sought the meeting with Alston in an effort to urge the UN and other foreign groups to pressure Ms Arroyo to take drastic steps to halt the killings, Cervantes said.
She added: “The victims have gone to the courts, Congress and the CHR (Commission on Human Rights), but the killings have not stopped.”
Karapatan has listed 832 summary killings, including 356 leftist activists, since Ms Arroyo took office in 2001. But the administration has disputed the figures and blamed many deaths on purges within the communist movement.
Even officials of the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, wants to meet with Alston in their base in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
The invitation was contained in a letter hand-delivered to Alston in Quezon City Wednesday by the staff of the NDF-Joint Secretariat.
In the letter, NDF negotiation panel chair Luis Jalandoni said Alston and his team could meet with other NDF negotiators and monitors in Utrecht “to discuss matters of mutual concern regarding the human rights situation” in the Philippines.
Jalandoni also gave Alston a study of 23 cases of extrajudicial killings that have yet to be resolved.
“The submission of human rights groups are supported mainly by fact sheets which contain enough material information for conducting an impartial investigation by concerned parties; the submission by the AFP and PNP representatives are woefully lacking in supporting documents and information,” Jalandoni said in a statement issued from Utrecht.
Jalandoni also lamented that the 23 killings had been blamed on the CPP/NPA/NDF by the police and military, causing “grave injustice to the victims.”
The 23 cases in the study given Alston included 17 victims who were members of groups “viciously vilified” by the government, Jalandoni said.
He said these included the party-list groups Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and affiliated peasant organizations, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Karapatan, United Church of Christ of the Philippines, and Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR).
The AFP is not lacking in papers.
On Tuesday, defense and military officials gave “reference materials” to Alston during a briefing at Camp Aguinaldo.
The military said that the CPP-NPA was behind the liquidation of 1,335 persons from 2000 to 2006 and that most of these incidents happened in communist-infested areas of Bicol, Central Luzon, Southern Mindanao, Eastern Visayas, Southern Tagalog and Caraga.
According to the military document, many of those killed, or 650, were civilians or ordinary citizens; 499 were military and police personnel; and the rest were former rebels and rebel returnees and government officials.
Of the 111 local government officials, 64 were purported barangay chairs of “communist-affected or threatened barangays.”
The document said 336 other persons were killed for failing to give in to the communists’ extortion demands; for suspicion they were government informants; and for malversation of funds of the movement, among others.
It also said the CPP had conducted purging operations from 1986 until the 1990s.
“The areas where the purging occurred are the same areas that are currently experiencing a high level of unexplained killings,” it said.
‘Look, listen, judge’
But the Church-based PCPR called on Alston not to be “fooled” by Palace, police and military officials.
“Look, listen and judge beyond the Malacañang-AFP-PNP cover-up on state accountability over the 833 cases of political killings under Arroyo,” the PCPR said in a statement.
The group said it had received reports that the killing of Aglipayan Bishop Alberto Ramento on Oct. 3, 2006, was supposedly cited as a robbery case during one of Alston’s meetings with government officials.
It maintained that Ramento was killed, not by thieves, but by “state agents ordered to eliminate groups and personalities advocating regime change.”
“As we have [written] Mr. Alston earlier, the fact that Bishop Ramento and 23 other church people were not spared is a glaring manifestation of an extreme level of state repression,” the PCPR said.
Challenge to Senate bets
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano challenged both administration and opposition senatorial candidates to publicly condemn the killings.
“We are already on the second day of the 90-day campaign period and we have yet to hear the stand of senatorial candidates on [this matter],” Mariano said.
He said the network of the leftist party-list groups in the grass roots would work in favor of senatorial candidates who would speak out against the killings.”
Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice (PATH) 45 Matimtiman St., cor. Magiting St., Teachers' Village East Quezon City 1101, Philippines Tel. No: (632) 921-8049 Telefax: (632) 926-2893
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The book about the CPP-NPA Purges
"Bobby Garcia provides a riveting account of the Communist Party of the Philippines' "killing fields" and situates it within the context of a revolutionary movement that was nobly motivated but also tragically flawed. To Suffer Thy Comrades goes beyond Garcia's narrative of his and other survivors' harrowing experiences and explains why the purges took place, how both torturers and victims coped and made sense of their plight, and how they survived in the aftermath of the purge. The book sheds light on the darkest and deepest secrets of the revolutionary movement and provides insights that are useful now that the communists are negotiating peace with the government" - SHEILA CORONEL, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
"...Bobby Garcia had the courage to write about the 'killing fields' despite some people's efforts to dissuade him. Bobby was one of its victims -- he was 21 when his entire future was nearly taken away from him -- who was lucky enough to survive. And who is even luckier to retain a huge sense of humor and equanimity, even when talking about his ordeal, at least with friends. His book is called "To Suffer Thy Comrades"...It is certainly not something that will set your mind at rest. But read it anyway. Its virtue is to be found in that biblical observation, 'The truth shall set you free.' - CONRADO DE QUIROS, Philippine Daily Inquirer