Saturday, February 03, 2007

Publish Melo Commission Report, Protect Witnesses & Prosecute Gen. Palparan

The Filipino people have the constitutional right to information on matters of public concern. Mrs. Gloria Arroyo wants deeper investigation on alleged political killings by the military. An investigation after investigation may take 100 years before justice is attained to the victims. The Melo Commission Report is a public document and not a sole property of Gloria Arroyo. The Arroyo regime is trying to cover up the political killings and to protect the perpetrators. The regime’s all-out war against the communists may have resulted to the extra-judicial killings. It appears that the “Little President” ex-general Eduardo Ermita and his military clique cannot distinguish between legal Left and the armed partisans of the New People’s Army. The discredited Arroyo government revives the old communist bogey to gain public support and Uncle Sam’s military aid. United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston described as "tragic" the cases of human rights violations presented to him during his visit to the Philippines.

Philippine Constitution the BILL OF RIGHTS Section 7 states: The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

February 2, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Publish report, protect witnesses & prosecute Palparan

The Asian Human Rights Commission cautiously welcomes the findings of the Melo Commission that retired Major General Jovito Palparan Jr. and other military officers could be held liable for the unabated extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders, social campaigners, priests, political organisers and others in the Philippines. The final report of the commission, which was headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, handed to the president this week, reportedly points to the complicity of military officers in the killings and suggests that Palparan and others had command responsibility for the deaths.

The inquiry's conclusion puts to rest police and military claims that the allegations against Palparan and his men are unsubstantiated. That the army is culpable for extrajudicial killings is no longer a matter of doubt: so what happens next?

The police and military predictably sprang to the defence of Palparan and his subordinates. In separate media interviews on January 30, Deputy Director General Avelino Razon and General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., chiefs of Task Force Usig and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) respectively, made remarks that there were no evidence against Palparan and he is no longer under military’s jurisdiction, since he retired in September 2006. The comments from Razon are all the more remarkable given that his task force was established to hunt for the persons responsible for killings, not defend the accused. They are also in direct contradiction to the Melo Commission, which based its findings largely upon police documents, as most complainants and witnesses refused to cooperate because of distrust and fear. The commission has admitted that its work was hampered by the lack of cooperation; notwithstanding, it was still able to obtain sufficient evidence to establish that the military could be held accountable.

The enormous threats facing witnesses and families of dead victims or those who have survived attacks are the biggest obstacles to obtaining justice and redress in cases of extrajudicial killing in the Philippines. The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly drawn attention to the absence of protection for these persons as the primary reason that investigations there fail. For the police agency given the task of investigating persons alleged to have been involved in the killings to reject the findings of a presidential commission off-hand, instead of reviewing and building evidence against those identified as responsible, is completely unacceptable.

The police are duty-bound to recommend complainants and witnesses be given protection through the justice department, under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981). If they have not done this promptly they are either negligent or ignorant. The result in either case is that it is much easier to reach the convenient conclusion that there is a "lack of evidence".

It is also ridiculous for the military to excuse itself from responsibility. The obligations of any armed forces for the actions of its personnel do not expire when someone retires from service. Esperon's acknowledgement that army personnel may have been involved in killings must be more deeply probed. Have any of the implicated persons ever been sanctioned, disarmed or punished? What action, if any, has been taken against them? These questions remain altogether unanswered.

The killings will only end when there are prosecutions. There will only be prosecutions when witnesses and victims are protected, rather than threatened and killed themselves, and the perpetrators are investigated, rather than defended. The Melo Commission has no power upon which to initiate these things itself. The responsibility instead rests on the person who ordered the inquiry: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She is now obliged to see that its findings are given meaning, and the responsible state agencies, notably Task Force Usig and the justice department, do their jobs and the accused, including Major General Jovito Palparan Jr., are brought before courts of justice. She must also have the report made public without delay, in order that there is complete disclosure of its findings. Withholding of the report will only deepen public distrust in her administration, and raise further doubts about the assurances of her government that it is acting in the interests of the victims and their families.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Posted on 2007-02-02

Related Link:
Where is the Melo Report?

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