Total denial

United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or special executions Philip Alston ends his 10-day investigation in the Philippines today with a briefing attended by activist organizations, friends, supporters and families of victims of the more than 800 victims of extra-judicial killings under the Arroyo regime.

Alston criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines for being in a “state of almost total denial” of the involvement of its members in the killings. He reprimanded AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. for taking the word of retired Army Major Gen. Jovito Palparan, tagged as “The Butcher” by human rights groups, over the testimonies of witnesses and families of victims.

“When the Chief of the AFP contents himself with telephoning Major 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,” Alston said.

He also called upon Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of the human rights situation in the Philippines and to immediately issue a statement condemning killings.

Alston went on to urge the Arroyo administration to release the report of the Melo Commission, an independent fact-finding body initiated and formed by Malacanang as a result of growing pressure on the government to probe the killings.

The Melo Commission has initially submitted its findings to Malacanang but it refuses to divulge the full report to the media and the public. Arroyo’s spokespersons argue that the Melo Commission is not yet complete and lay the blame on victims (mostly from leftist groups) who deliberately ignored the hearings, citing that they refuse to accept the sincerity and impartiality of a Malacanang-led probe and that the Commision is bound to fail.

Alston, however, in his statement said, “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…Extending a Commission whose composition has never succeeded in winning full coooperation seems unlikely to cure the problems still perceived by those groups. Immediate relase of the report is an essential first step.”

While Alston’s statements clearly vindicate the victims, he relents that he is “powerless” to put a stop to the killings. His statement, albeit very objective and clearly in sympathy with the victims, will be translated into a complete report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in three months’ time. The UN, however, still does not have the authority to sanction governments found guilty beyond doubt of human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

As if to prove this distressing point, a journalist and two more activists added to the list of victims of extra-judicial killings during Alston’s stay.

The youngest and first student victim for this year was Farly Alcantara II , a 22-year-old graduating business administration student from the Camarines Norte State College and was leader and spokesperson for activist group League of Filipino Students. He was shot dead by still unidentified gunmen Thursday night four meters away from the gate of his school.

Alcantara was the fourth youth victim from the Bicol region. The other student leaders killed were Rie Mon Guran of Aquinas University in Legazpi (July 31, 2006) and Cris Hugo of Bicol University (March 19, 2006), both LFS leaders; and Joel Asejo of Bicol University (October 1, 2002) of youth group Anakbayan. Others like University of the Philippines students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan remain missing to this day after they were abducted by unidentified military troops last year.

The killings remain a state policy of terror that only Pres. Arroyo and her butchers in government and the AFP can put a stop to. If anything, Alston’s statement has once again triggered an international clamor to stop the killings and emboldened victims and witnesses to unite and act now to demand an end to the senseless and unjust bloodshed.

Please sign the petition to Stop the Killings in the Philippines.

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