Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US Senate panel raps dispatch of RP generals to hearing

The United States should suspend military aid to the Philippines until inept Arroyo regime stop political killings. Militants blame the military-police dead squads for the killings. Gloria Arroyo needs military support for her political survival.

US Senate panel raps dispatch of RP generals to hearing

ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C. - The head of a US Senate panel looking into the rash of political executions in the Philippines, chided the Manila government for sending top police and military officials to present their side.

“I don’t understand why you have to send military and police to a hearing that a couple of senators are holding to look at allegations of human rights abuses,” an apparently upset Senator Barbara Boxer said in this afternoon’s hearing of the Senate subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Boxer chairs the subcommittee.

“We made it very clear and to their credit they responded. They said they will not send any military, they won’t send any police, and they said they won’t send any intelligence agents,” she added.

The Senate panel was looking into, among others, accusations that Philippine security forces were behind many of the extra-judicial killings. The human rights NGO Karapatan said 836 people have been killed in political assassinations since President Arroyo took power in 2001 – over 200 of them last year alone.

“That’s a pretty basic point, that we don’t try to intimidate witnesses,” Boxer stressed.

President Arroyo earlier dispatched PNP Deputy Dir. Gen. Avelino Razon Jr., head of Task Force Usig – the body formed to help stop extra-judicial killings; Criminal Investigation & Detection Group (CIDG) Dir. Edgardo Doromal; Col. Gaudencio Pangilinan, deputy chief of the AFP’s Intelligence Service (ISAFP); and Col. Benedicto Jose, head of the AFP Human Rights Office.

But Razon told ABS-CBN News later that it was never their intention to join the Senate hearings. “We went here to help and be the resource persons of the Ambassador (Willy Gaa),” Razon emphasized.

“Mali yun, hindi kami invited ng US Senate, particularly Senator Barbara Boxer to testify. We are here to assist the Philippine Embassy,” he added.

ABS-CBN News learned that only Razon and Doromal have so far made it to Washington; Pangilinan’s arrival was delayed because a Philippine Airlines jet he took to San Francisco was delayed by a mechanical problem and Jose was still working to get a visa to travel to the US.

Eric John, Deputy Asst. Secretary of State for East Asian & Paific Affairs, said that while the Arroyo administration had initiated moves to stem the violence, it needed to move faster and more resolutely.

“I don’t think you could call it enough,” John said in response to questioning by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“I think she’s marched out in the right direction the last couple of months,” John said, referring to Arroyo initiatives against extra-judicial killings, but added that “until these numbers go down dramatically enough, we won’t know if that’s going to be enough.”

He said the State Department is ready to support moves within the Philippines to sustain the pressure on the Arroyo administration to follow-through on the campaign to stem human rights violations, especially extra-judicial killings.

But Eugene Martin, Executive Director of the Philippine Facilitation Project, U.S. Institute of Peace, painted a bleak picture at least for the short term.

He said the coming May polls in the Philippines will likely bring more violence – and a statement attributed to National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Martin said, was especially worrisome. Gonzales had stated that leftist candidates, particularly in the party list groups, would not be allowed to win seats in Congress.

Martin, a former deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Manila, labeled Gonzales’ statement as a “potential hunting license to military and local officials who agree with him.”

T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia & the Pacific of Amnesty International, said President Arroyo’s coddling of former army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan sent the wrong signals to victims of human rights violations and extra- judicial killings.

The hearing at the Dirksen Building, which is part of the Capitol Hill complex, drew a large crowd and the room was filled way before the start of the hearing this afternoon.

Boxer urged the State Department to review how aid is given to the Philippines. She cited a congressional think-tank report that said the Philippines enjoyed the “most dramatic” increase in US military assistance in the East Asia and Pacific region.

She declared that, “We must make sure that American taxpayers’ money is not spent to perpetuating” human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Boshop Eliezer Pascua, Sec-Gen of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, submitted a three-point proposal to the Boxer panel. He called for an immediate stop to the killings, including the scrapping of an alleged hitlist of military targets; bringing perpetrators to justice; and for the Arroyo administration to adhere to international human rights conventions.

Some 25 churchmen, including lay leaders working in Church-sponsored community projects have been killed in the last six years – the majority of them belonging to the UCCP.

Related Links:
US aid to Philippines questioned over killings
Rep. Satur Ocampo joins US probe into extrajudicial killings through YouTube
Delegates urge U.S. to help stop murders in Philippines

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