Bayan: UN official?s visit proves rights abuses in Mindanao rampant

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary execution, was scheduled to be in Davao Saturday to meet with government officials and human rights groups.

Casilao said Alston’s visit was a result of lobbying made by Philippine human rights groups at the UN's offices in New York and Geneva.

He said Alston, who was asked to report to the UN's Human Rights Council, would be instrumental in gaining international exposure and condemnation of the abuses given the protests that greeted President Arroyo during her European visit.

He said it could even lead to the blacklisting of the Philippines in the Human Rights Council. "There is also a possibility of a case to be filed in the international courts against the government.”

Fr. Antonio Ablon of the Philippine Independent Church, Karapatan secretary-general in Northern Mindanao, said the exposure will be a blow to the government's posturing in the international community.

Ablon said it will also bring about a new and independent voice in the country over the government's human rights record.

Casilao also played down National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales's accusation Alston will be ‘brainwashed’ by human rights groups.

Casilao said it was not possible because Alston would spend more time with government officials in his 10-day official visit to the Philippines.

Alston met with national officials of human rights groups in Manila Wednesday and was scheduled to meet with their colleagues in Baguio and Davao.

Alston arrived on February 11 and is expected to leave on February 21. His schedule showed a de-briefing in Malacañang with the National Security Council on the last day.

Kelly Delgado, Karapatan Southern Mindanao secretary-general, said they will present at least 20 documented cases of human rights violations around Mindanao to Alston when he meets them Sunday afternoon for a five-hour closed-door session.

He said human rights groups in Mindanao will gather in Davao where they will present victims, witnesses, and their relatives to Alston.

Based on an itinerary presented by Karapatan to MindaNews, Alston will meet officials from the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Last year, Alston succeeded in making the Sri Lanka government agree to a visit by an international human rights monitoring team to probe human rights abuses in the strife-torn island-nation.

He visited the country in 2005 and noted a deteriorating human rights situation in his report to the UN.

The military welcomed the UN official's visit.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said in a press conference Friday they are ready to cooperate and to be investigated.

Cabangbang, however, slammed militant groups for reportedly bloating statistics on the killings and the media's alleged sensationalizing of the issue.

According to Karapatan, since Arroyo assumed power in 2001, they have recorded 77 victims of extrajudicial killings in Southern Mindanao, 23 of which occurred in 2006.

Fifteen victims were killed in 2006 all of whom were leaders and members of progressive party-list groups and militant people's organizations, Delgado said.