Philippines Release Report on Political Killings
|Our Correspondent||Feb 23, 2007|
Responding to pressure from the United Nations and domestic critics,
the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo relented Thursday and
released an official report critical of the role of the Philippine military in
a spate of murders of political activists.
The release came a day after the UN Special Rapporteur on
political killings had criticized the government for its refusal to make the
Trying to put the best face on a situation in which elements
of the military have been held complicit in targeting above-ground leftist
activists for summary execution, government spokesman Ignacio Bunye called the
release a "milestone in our nation."
"For the first time in a generation, we have begun to
lift the veil on the violence that has beset our nation for far too long,"
he said. "This is a significant step forward to bringing perpetrators of
political violence to justice."
The report of the Melo Commission was completed in late
January but the palace initially refused to make it public.
Arroyo, whose administration has abandoned earlier policies
of reconciliation with leftist opponents in favor of what she has called “all-out
war,” pledged to stop the political killings in a statement.
“The nation must unite to bring down the curtain on a
generation of political violence and strengthen social order and justice. This
is about right and wrong, not about left or right,” she said.
report of the commission, chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo,
found evidence to suggest that the military was culpable in some killings. The
report blames rogue military elements without offering specific hard evidence.
"We have done our work. It is essentially a police work
now, finding and charging these people," Melo told Agence France-Presse.
"This is an eye opener for the security establishment ‑ that killings
exist and the military could be culpable."
On Wednesday Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur, ended a 10-day
mission here saying that the armed forces “are in a state of almost total
denial” over the killings.
The release of the report is unlikely to settle long-running
bitterness over the existence of death squads blamed by human rights groups for
more than 800 killings since Arroyo took office in 2001.
Alston had said he could not name a figure for the number of
assassinations of leftists and but said it was substantial.
Arroyo’s Justice Secretary, Raul Gonzalez said earlier that
Alston had been “brainwashed” by leftists during his visit. Gonzalez added that
the Melo report was "based only on the stories coming from the left"
and ignored government evidence of alleged atrocities by communist rebels.
Most witnesses and victims’ families refused to speak with
the Melo Commission, fearing a whitewash, said a leader of the left-wing human
rights group Karapatan.
“We believe the president is really the culprit as commander
in chief,” Jigs Clamor, the group’s deputy secretary general, told Asia
Sentinel. “Behind these killings is the counter-insurgency program of the