President Arroyo decided to ask their help after the Melo Commission Report, which she has withheld from media, had been roundly criticized. She formed the commission to investigate extrajudicial killings in response to complaints nationwide and criticisms from international human rights groups and governments including EU.
According to human rights and militant groups, EU and UNCHR came in response to their complaints. These had compelled President Arroyo to make the invitations.
What really brought the EU and UNCHR teams here is no matter. Certainly, the human rights and militant groups have complained to the EU and the UNCHR but the teams are official guests of the Philippines. Credit the government for humbly asking for help.
The truth is: Extrajudicial killings have hounded the country. Evidently, the problem has become too monstrous for the Arroyo government to solve for it is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the mastermind.
In sending their top officials at heads of their teams – Enedko Landaburu, director general for external relations of the European Union and Philip Alston, UNCHR special rapporteur – the EU and the UN have seriously honored President Arroyo’s invitation.
They are here to assess the situation. How EU and UNCHR can help will depend upon their report about their meetings with different government agencies and their interviews with witnesses to the killings – the surviving victims, relatives of the slain and groups that have documented the killings.
What will matter most is how the teams would assess the statements of President Arroyo, the military and police top brass, the testimonies of the victims and human rights and militant groups, and the documents pertinent to the killings.
That Malacañang was at first unwilling to grant the EU and UNCHR teams their request for copies of the Melo Commission Report must have intrigued them. That the report has not been released to media would imply that some ugly facts are being hidden.
Malacañang said that the report is just initial and incomplete because the victims, the relatives of the slain, and others invited by the Commission refused to appear. Still the report is of public interest and of much value to the EU and UNCHR investigators.
That the surviving victims, the relatives of the slain, and the human rights and militant groups were eager to meet Alston and his team and to give them their testimonies and documents highlighted their distrust for the Melo Commission — damning the Arroyo government.
These, too, must not have escaped the EU and UNCHR teams: Statements from President Arroyo and the military tending to show insincerity – if not, utter helplessness despite the powers at their command.
“As I have said, I have no tolerance for human rights violations, particularly the killing of journalists and activists,” the President said. Yet, the unabated killing since she became president in January 2001 is the most damning evidence of tolerance.
Her resolve: “I aim to stop it once and for all.” This has been said a number of times in the past. This time, she said she had sought the help of the commission [Melo or EU, is not clear] “to break the cycle of violence”.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon admitted that soldiers were involved in the killing of leftists and activists but this was not sanctioned by the AFP, not condoned but investigated “in order to prosecute [those] responsible”. But, the few cases investigated had been dismissed for “lack of evidence”. Involved! Yet, there was no evidence?
Besides the military, Esperon said, “the CPP/NPA and goons hired by politicians” are also responsible for the killings. This cannot be disputed. But that does not excuse the military from its responsibility including, together with the Police, the solving of the killings.
Esperon also considers the extrajudicial killings as ordinary crimes under police jurisdiction, not human rights violations. He wants to gloss over the significance of the consistent pattern of the killings.
However, the EU and UNCHR must be too familiar with the similarity of Arroyo’s “Oplan Bantay-Laya” and the CIA’s “Operation Phoenix” in Vietnam and other counter-insurgency operations to be deceived by a person no less than the AFP chief of staff.
This, too, should interest the EU and UNCHR teams. The military is accusing the human rights and militant groups of ignoring the killings done by the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army).
Killed by the CPP-NPA from 2000 to 2006 were 1,335 persons of which 650 were civilians; 499, military; and the rest, former rebels, rebel returnees and government officials. No doubt, these, too, were human rights violations.
The human rights and militant groups have documented 833 summary killings from 2001 to last Thursday, February 15. However, the military said the list has been bloated. With the documents, it would not be difficult to check the military’s claim.
It is not difficult to see that the Arroyo government is in a quagmire of its own making. It has lost much of its credibility and the trust of a big segment of the population – not just of the considerable number it calls “enemies of the state”.
In investigating the extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, the Arroyo government is viewed as the mastermind investigating itself – the military and the police being only the executors of “Oplan Bantay-Laya”.
Through the Melo Commission and Police Task Force Usig (TF Investigation), President Arroyo wants to shed the mastermind-image of her government. But it will take a truly neutral body to do this – not the Melo Commission that has to report to the President.
Hence, her invitation for help from EU and UNCHR. But it appears that the step is with the wrong foot. According to Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, the EU (and UNCHR, too?) “investigators will be working under the umbrella of the (Melo) commission”.
This will not help the Melo Commission win the trust of the victims of the killings and of human rights and militant groups. It will not erase the doubts and cynicism of a big sector of the population. The EU and UNCHR investigators will have no voice?
If President Arroyo sincerely wants help, the EU and UNCHR investigators should come not to help the Melo Commission but to do their own investigations alone with the government facilitating them and guaranteeing security.
The EU investigators will submit their findings and recommendations to the EU Commission; the UNCHR, to the UN Commission. It will be the EU and the UN that will give the Philippine government their commissions’ findings and recommendations.
When necessary, only the EU or the UN can ask an international court, like the International Peoples Tribunal in Netherlands, to come in. The Philippine government will not do this.
Will President Arroyo allow the EU and UNCHR to conduct independent investigations?
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])