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Philippine News Digest 148

May 15, 2009 · 


Week: May 11-15, 2009


  • Vigilante killings in Davao alarm UN
  • Police investigate summary killings in Metro Manila
  • Killing by Davao death squads continues, priest laments

Vigilante killings in Davao alarm UN
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:20:00 05/11/2009

Filed Under: Human Rights,Crime and Law and Justice,political killings
MANILA, Philippines‹Vigilante-style executions in Davao City have “significantly worsened” since 2007, with death squads claiming a victim almost every day, Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur, said in a report released in Manila.

Alston said in a 16-page follow-up report to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations that the activities of the death squads were “most troubling.”

“Davao City continues to be a hotbed of extrajudicial killings, and the vigilante-style death squad killings in Davao have significantly worsened since 2007,” he said.

Alston came to the Philippines two years ago to look into a surge in political murders and disappearances of activists and journalists under the Arroyo administration that has drawn widespread condemnation here and abroad.

His latest report centered on what the Philippine government has done on his recommendations to put an end to the spate of extrajudicial killings and disappearances in the country.

It was based on information provided by the Philippine government, consultations with domestic and international civil society groups and publicly available reports, Alston said.
He cited the recently published report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch titled “You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.”

“Reliable information indicates that, in 2008, such killings were almost a daily occurrence in Davao City, jumping from a reported 116 in 2007 to 269 in 2008,” he said.
Alston had recommended that the National Police Commission withdraw supervisory powers of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte over the local police, that the alleged “watch list” of petty criminals be abolished, and that an independent inquiry be conducted into the killings.

CHR probe ‘encouraging’
In his follow-up report, Alston said the investigation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) into the activities of the death squads was “most encouraging.”

He also welcomed Duterte¹s move to give up his supervisory role over police.

Alston said the abolition of the “watch list” of petty criminals submitted by the barangay officials to the police had yet to be followed.

He said that while these officials deny the existence of such a list, “this practice is an “open secret” in the local area, and such lists are maintained to this day.”

He also echoed Human Rights Watch¹s observations about a clear pattern of the victims, mostly petty criminals, and methods in the killings, where victims are usually shot by men riding in tandem on motorcycles.

Alston noted how the national and local governments both continued to deny the existence of the death squads which Human Rights Watch had said were behind executions apparently aimed at “social cleansing.”

Mayor has done nothing
He said Duterte “has done nothing to prevent these killings.”

Alston noted how the mayor¹s public statements had suggested that “he is, in fact, supportive” of the slayings.

“Mayor Duterte responded to the reported arrest and subsequent release of a notorious drug lord in Manila by saying: ŒHere in Davao, you can¹t go out alive. You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extrajudicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there, that will no longer be extrajudicial,” Alston quoted the mayor in his report.

He said he was unaware of a single conviction for a death squad killing in Davao.

Complete impunity
As a result, death squad members operate with complete impunity. Killing for hire is on the rise as death squad members become bold enough to sell their services, and some reports indicate that a killing only costs about P5,000 (about US$100),” Alston said.

He also said that “impunity also means that although killings take place in broad daylight, witnesses are not prepared to testify against the perpetrators.”

Alston warned that the impunity had “encouraged death squad killings to sprout up in other cities beyond Davao.”

“Since 2007, numerous patterns of death squad killings have been reported by media and civil society organizations in other cities in the region such as General Santos City, Digos City and Tagum City, and even in Cebu, the Philippines¹ second largest city,” Alston said.

Alston links Arroyo policy to killings
By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:52:00 05/11/2009

Filed Under: political killings,Crime and Law and Justice,Human Rights,Justice & Rights,Subversion,Military

MANILA, Philippines‹Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has blown the torch on the Philippine government for failing to institutionalize reforms recommended by the United Nations two years ago to put a stop to the executions.

Alston submitted to the UN Human Rights Council a 16-page follow-up report on April 29, laying squarely on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo¹s policy calling on the military to end communist insurgency “once and for all” by 2010 the responsibility for undermining the reforms.

The new report said the President¹s policy matrix had remained “the justification of military officials in tagging political and civil society organizations as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People¹s Army (NPA).”

“Overall, the most important shortcoming has been the government¹s failure to institutionalize or implement the many reforms that have been identified” in the first report, Alston said.

“In the absence of such steps, the progress that has been made remains fragile and easily reversed. The government¹s formal actions in response to the special rapporteur¹s recommendations have been symbolic, and lack the substantive and preventive dimensions necessary to end the culture of impunity.”

The April 29 report is a follow-up of Alston¹s findings and recommendations published in April 2008, following his February 2007 investigation of the killings of activists and journalists mainly blamed on state security forces.

The new report appeared to have been spurred by fresh developments, including the rise of the killings in Davao City blamed on the vigilante Davao Death Squad and the entry of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan in the House of Representatives as a result of the Supreme Court decision increasing the number of party-list congressmen.
Palparan, who led the anti-insurgency campaign in Eastern Visayas and Luzon, has been blamed by leftist activists who have taken the parliamentary or legal stream for the death squad executions of their members.

Command responsibility
An independent commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo has found that Palparan, and perhaps some of his superior officers, may be held responsible to prevent, punish or condemn the killings “under the principle of command responsibility.”

It cannot be discounted that Alston was prodded to write the updated report out of concern over the statements of Palparan that he would sponsor legislation to revive the Anti-Subversion Law (Republic Act No. 1700) which outlawed the CPP in 1957. The act was repealed in September 1992, legalizing the CPP.

Alston appeared to be concerned over throwback effects of Palparan¹s proposal on legislation that has opened up the legislative policy arena to further pluralize the Philippine electoral system.

Palparan has said the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law is part of his “crusade” against communist rebels and front organizations, claiming they are seeking to overthrow the government.

It is feared that the reopening of the issue over the legality of the CPP would convert Congress into an extension of the counterinsurgency campaign from the killing fields, where the military is now carrying out the Arroyo campaign to crush the communist movement by the end of her presidency in 2010.

Trumped-up charges
Alston’s second report said Ms Arroyo should be more transparent and emphatic on what “concrete steps have or have not been taken by the government and the Armed Forces to end measures in the counterinsurgency campaign that had led to the execution of civilians.”

“Moreover, forced disappearances and illegal detentions remain all too common, as does the bringing of trumped-up charges against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims,” Alston said.

He pointed out that contrary to his recommendations, the government has yet to abolish the Inter-Agency Legal Action Groups.

Alston said the group¹s main purpose was to prosecute members of the CPP, “many of whom will not be reachable by legal processes.”

“The temptation to execute such individuals thus remains,” he said.

However, Alston acknowledged that the government “deserves credit” for implementing reforms that partially fulfilled his recommendations. These include the government¹s sending a strong message, although informal, to the military, “which resulted in a significant decrease in the number of killings,” and a “strong policy statement” affirming its commitment against extrajudicial executions.

He noted that from the 220 reported deaths in 2006, the figures dropped to 94 in 2007 and 64 in 2008.

However, Alston qualified that, while current levels are significantly lower than before, they still remain a cause for great alarm, and reflect the failure to make the recommended structural reforms.”

Executions by CPP, NPA
He also said the CPP and its political wing, the National Democratic Front, and the NPA had failed to stop their own killings of civilians with alleged “blood debts” or “accountabilities to the people.”

Although Alson tried to be even-handed in distributing blame, he emphasized that the principle of command responsibility had not been applied in the alleged human rights violations, and cited as proof that Palparan is now a party-list representative in Congress.

He said that the Witness Protection Program had not improved since 2007‹”one of the most significant causes of continued impunity in the Philippines.”

He noted that there had been only one successful government prosecution of a perpetrator of an extrajudicial killing, and no conviction at all of any member of the military for the killings of activists, even if an enlisted man had been arrested for the 2005 murder of activist Ricardo Ramos.

There remains a “great disparity” in the number of extrajudicial killings recorded by civil society and those acknowledged by the government. As of March 2008, the human rights group Karapatan recorded 882 killings since 2001, and the PNP¹s Task Force Usig counted 146.

Alston’s report said the Office of the Ombudsman had done little to respond to the killings, while the lack of resources continued to hamper the work of an otherwise “more vocal” Commission on Human Rights.


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