There are legal and political courses of action available internationally which the victims’ families, rights groups, lawyers and civil libertarians can take to seek redress for the unmitigated killings including the prosecution of those responsible. There have been legal precedents under which state governments, prime ministers and individual generals who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity are hailed to an international court or tribunal.
BY BOBBY TUAZON
The remaining option for possibly stopping the summary executions of patriotic activists all over the country is to hold the Macapagal-Arroyo regime accountable before the international community, including international bodies and courts, alongside broad mobilizations in the Philippines.
The presumptive president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, stands accused of being responsible for the unmitigated political killings of at least 730 activists, progressive party-list organizers, rights volunteers, human rights lawyers and others, and for the disappearance of 181 others. Many of the victims were killed because of their political beliefs and for calling for the ouster of Macapagal-Arroyo whose constitutional legitimacy remains in question. They were tagged as “communist terrorists” or members of “front organizations” of the revolutionary underground which is a target of government’s U.S.-backed “war on terror.”
The reason why Amnesty International (AI), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the World Council of Churches (WCC), Asian Human Rights Council (AHRC) and other reputable organizations have raised alarms over the killings is not only because they found strong evidence proving the involvement of security forces in the extra-judicial killings but also because their commander in chief, Macapagal-Arroyo, has done nothing to stop the murders. The reason why the presumptive president has, on the other hand, finally taken a move by creating a fact-finding commission, is that public clamor is growing in the United States including inside its Congress calling on President Bush to withdraw his support for the Philippine president because of the killings.
In September, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights will meet in Geneva to receive and hear complaints from Philippine rights watchdogs about the summary executions. The UN committee recently castigated the Manila government for its failure to submit yearly reports on its human rights performance. The Geneva hearings that would confirm charges that the government has violated international law on account of the killings would be enough to disqualify its seat in the new UN Human Rights Council in New York. This would be a slap on the face of Macapagal-Arroyo herself who is set to attend the General Assembly even as she awaits confirmation of her solicited meeting with Bush.
In a loaded statement, a senator last week noted that the only way the killings will stop is simply for the president to issue an order. Instead of doing this, Macapagal-Arroyo created a presidential commission to look into the killings. But Administrative Order 157 only empowers the commission “to summon witnesses” and “deputize military, police and justice officials to help in its probe.” The order does not empower the body to summon the President and top armed forces generals, most especially Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, accused by rights groups as having a role in the killings.
The work of the commission ends with a recommendation regarding possible judicial remedies. Previous presidential commissions – the Agrava commission, which investigated the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr.; Davide Commission, on the coups d’etat of late 1980s; Gancayco Commission, on the OFW Flor Contemplacion case; and the Feliciano Commission, on the 2003 Oakwood mutiny – never became conclusive. The mastermind in the Aquino assassination was not officially named let alone punished while institutional reforms sought by the probe bodies never saw the light of day.
Members of the new commission, which is headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo, are affiliated with the president either as fellow Pampangueños or as direct subordinates. Two members, Director Nestor Mantaring of the National Bureau of Investigation and Chief State Prosecutor Jovencio Zuño, are subordinates of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales who has prejudged the killings as “necessary collateral damage.” Nelia Gonzalez, according to University of the Philippines (UP) insiders, is a Macapagal-Arroyo “hard-core loyalist” and mole in the UP Board of Regents.
With the required independence and impartiality of the commission stained by the pro-Arroyo reputation of its members and its powers limited, it is not surprising that the body itself has been called by critics from the church and other sectors as a “rubber stamp” and its purported investigation a sham. The political motive behind the order is to gain short-term media mileage for the president, defuse local and international indignation and eventually clear the executive department and generals of any possible accountability. One suspects that that is the least she could do to save herself. The commission’s investigation can drag on for years, while the executions will continue.