Thursday, March 29, 2007

Alston: Philippine military responsible for a significant number of killings

Alston: Govt reaction to visit ‘deeply schizophrenic’, Unoptimistic military will see problem’s gravity

By Veronica Uy
Last updated 05:45pm (Mla time) 03/28/2007

MANILA , Philippines -- (UPDATE) United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston described the Arroyo administration’s reaction to his 10-day visit to the country in February to investigate extrajudicial killings “deeply schizophrenic.”

Click here to download the report.

The comments, contained in a transcript of Alston’s oral report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on his investigation, a copy of which was provided by the office of Senator Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, was more biting than the description of the special rapporteur’s speech given by undersecretary Cecilia “Coco” Quisumbing of the Presidential Human Rights Committee.

Madrigal was also in Geneva to witness Alston’s submission of his preliminary report on his investigation of the extrajudicial killings. The report is also accessible on the UN website.

Earlier Wednesday, Quisumbing, quoting from accounts relayed to her by Philippine envoys who listened to Alston’s speech, said the report included impromptu comments that made his report “harsher” on the military than a draft received by the government.

In his speech, Alston noted that while President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was “taking positive initiatives” in response to recommendations he made, military and other key officials “have buried their collective heads in the sand and announced that business will continue as usual.”

At the same time, although Alston said killings by the New People’s Army are reprehensible and to be condemned,” he stressed that “there is absolutely no evidence that the recent surge in killings of leftist activists is due to a communist purge.”

“On the contrary, strong and consistent evidence leads to the conclusion that a significant number of these killings are due to the actions of the military,” he said.

He also noted that the NPA, Communist Party of the Philippines and National Democratic Front own responsibility for their own killings, and that the purges that rocked the ranks of the rebel movement happened two decades ago.

The UN expert, who made several recommendations to the Philippine government in his report, said these “will make little difference unless there is a fundamental change of heart on the part of the military or the emergence of civilian resolve to compel the military to change its ways.”

“Then, and only then, will it be possible to make real progress in ending the killings,” he stressed.

Quoting from his own statement before leaving the Philippines , Alston said the military continued to “remain in a state of almost total denial” over the killings.

Thus, a month after his visit, he said, “I have little reason for optimism.”

He cited a “colorful” statement of Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, who said last week that, “Alston won’t pay attention. He is blind, mute, and deaf. We can’t do anything about that,” reacting to the UN expert’s dismissal of military claims about a communist purge.

“Part of me appreciates the substitution of frank insults for the usual diplomatic platitudes, but anyone reading between the lines will receive a far more disturbing message: Those government officials who must act decisively if the killings are to end still refuse to accept that there is even a problem,” he told the UNHRC.

Alston said the military never substantiated its list the 1,227 names, dates, and places of individuals alleged to have been killed by communist rebels “despite numerous requests.”

He also accused the military of “disinformation” and dismissed as a “fabrication” Operation Bushfire, a purported rebel document the military claimed to have captured in May last year and which is supposed to detail a plan by the communists to kill their own members and pin the blame on the military.

“In the absence of strong supporting evidence, which I requested, this document bears all the hallmarks of a fabrication and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation,” he said.

Alston insisted that his initial impression about the military being principally responsible for the killings remains true.

“I would repeat today that based on my fact-finding there is no reasonable doubt that the military is responsible for a significant number of killings. Subsequent evidence points to the continuing nature of that practice,” he said.

In his written report, Alston noted “a passivity, bordering on an abdication of responsibility,” in the way the government and its officials “approach their responsibilities in relation to such human rights concerns” as the extrajudicial killings as he warned that failure to end the bloodshed would lead to “dire” consequences.

Quoting a member of the Philippine Mission to the UNHRC in Geneva , Quisumbing said Ambassador Enrique Manalo, as is allowed by Council rules, countered Alston’s report and told the body of the country’s efforts to end the killings.

But asked to react to Alston’s impromptu comments, Quisumbing did not actually contradict the UN special rapporteur.

“The government has to take a united stand because this is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution. This is not a race. It is not helpful to have a comparison [of actions] among branches of government,” she said.

However, Quisumbing said the government cannot comply with Alston’s request for a copy of a military “order of battle relating to one of the zones in the country in which significant conflict is currently occurring.”

She did say part of the Philippine response to the Alston report was a request for him to give the government a copy of a “leaked” order of battle he obtained while in the country and described as a 110-page document containing the names of hundreds of groups and individuals who have been classified by the military as “illegitimate” so the authenticity of the document may be ascertained.

During his visit to the country, Alston interviewed relatives of the murder victims, witnesses, and various government officials.

One of those he interviewed, Siche Gandinao, a Bayan Muna official from Misamis in Mindanao , was killed in front of her daughter on March 10. Gandinao testified about her father-in-law’s death in February.

The unabated political killings in the country, which human rights groups say have claimed more than 830 lives since 2001, have attracted international concern. Aside from the UN, the United States Congress and the European Union have offered to help solve the problem.

On Tuesday, Quisumbing said Alston’s preliminary report to the UNHRC is unlikely to endanger the Philippines ’ standing in the Council, much less result in a sanction, or lead to cutbacks in aid.

While Alston’s report does not carry an executive weight, many recognize the moral effect it has. Alston is expected to submit a final report on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in June.

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