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We Demand a Credible Independent Investigation of the Murder of Filipino Activists

by Fil-Am Students for Justice and Peace Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006 at 5:22 AM

The Melo Commission of the Arroyo administration is doomed to fail because her regime as the prime suspect in the killings is also the prime investigator. We Fil-am students call for a truly independent and credible investigation of the murder of Filipino activists.


Under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, an unbroken string of serial killings of unarmed civilian activists by hooded assassins has been stalking the Philippines. The number of murders are already appalling and staggering --729 as of August 21, 2006, and still counting, with systematic, almost clockwork regularity, and in seeming fulfilment of grisly monthly quotas. What is striking that not a single of these cases have been solved. Not a single assassin has been apprehended and brought to justice.

Moreover, while ostensibly denouncing the political killings, President Arroyo has lavished promotions and public praise on General Jovito Palparan as her model and star military field officer. This, despite Palparan’s justification of these murders in media interviews and a long trail of murders and kidnappings wherever Palparan operates.

Only two decades after the fall of the Marcos administration, the repression of dissent and dissenters has ballooned to Marcosian proportions in the five years under Arroyo’s watch. The assassinations have fast acquired for the Philippines global notoriety as a wasteland of human rights atrocities and martial-law terror.

The killings have moved the famous human-rights watchdog and Nobel Prize Peace winner, Amnesty International, to remark: 'It should be a deep embarrassment to the government that people in the Philippines cannot freely exercise their rights of political expression and association.' Like other concerned groups, Amnesty International has argued that they:

'…constitute a pattern of politically targeted extrajudicial executions taking place within the broader context of a continuing counter-insurgency campaign. The organisation remains gravely concerned at repeated credible reports that members of the security forces have been directly involved in the attacks, or else have tolerated, acquiesced to, or been complicit in them.'

Reacting to a growing worldwide clamor for an credible investigation by an independent body, last August 21, 2006, President Arroyo formed a commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo and including National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, Roman Catholic Bishop Camilo Gregorio and University of the Philippines official Nelia Gonzalez.

For a number of reasons, however, this response is doomed to fail.

First, the investigators are handpicked by President Arroyo, instead of having the President maintain an arms-length distance from the process of organizing the body. As commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she supervises the “security agencies” that are the prime suspects identified by Amnesty International in these murders. The Melo Commission as an extension of the Arroyo administration thus grotesquely suffers from blatant conflict of interest, the prime suspect itself being the prime investigator. Unless President Arroyo keeps her hands off a selection of the investigators and the actual investigation of the political killings, such a probe is without any shred of credibility.

Second, the investigators comprising this commission are mostly current officials of her adminstration. The Commission head himself, Melo, is known to have been a loyal subordinate official under ex-President Diosdado Macapagal, the President’s father. In the Philippines, where political patronage is the norm, the fact that these officials are beholden to President Arroyo already ensure their lack of independence, or at the very least, their lack of credibility and thus acceptability.

Third, two of these officials who belong to the Justice Department, State Prosecutor Zuno and NBI head Mantaring, are already tainted by their complete failure to have solved any of the cases or prosecuted any suspect in these killings through the years. As such, they have proven by their own actions to have been grossly incompetent, derelict of duty and negligent for the longest time. There is simply no indication that they would now do otherwise, and acquire new-found independence and credibility in their new assignments.

Therefore, this commission follows the pattern of a long list of token human rights investigation commissions set up by dictatorial regimes, such as Marcos’s Agrava Commission, that ended up as exercises in white-washing the masterminds and real perpetrators.

In view of these considerations, we call in place of the so-called Melo Commission for:

1. The formation of a truly credible and independent quasi-judicial body that is above suspicion and beyond reproach, formed by one representative each of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Integrated Bar of the Philippines and International Parliamentarians Union to be chosen by these organizations themselves, and whose head is to be selected by these representatives themselves.

2. The power of this body to subpoena, prosecute, sentence and arrest suspects.

We hold that unless such a truly credible and independent, basically non-government, investigating commission is created and tasked in a sincere, serious effort to ferret out and eventually bring the assassination squads to justice, we find it difficult to expect from this current investigation more than a farce that will merely and sadly perpetuate the horrific human rights disaster of political killings in the Philippines .


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