With the Melo Commission just a phony, the President exonerating the AFP from any involvement in the extra-judicial killings and the CHR in limbo with regards its own investigation, whom will the families of the victims of political murders turn to for justice?
By Bobby Tuazon
Being toothless and seemingly beholden to the President, the two-week-old Melo Commission will likely be on its death throes even before it could seriously buckle down to work. Recent events show why.
On Aug. 31, Arroyo beat the gun on the commission which she created herself by exonerating the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from responsibility in the extra-judicial killings of political activists the probe body was tasked to investigate. The president’s preemptive move was made on the very day the commission began its work. As if on cue, top generals of the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) came up with statements again pinning the blame on the guerrilla New People’s Army (NPA) for the summary executions.
Reacting to international pressures, Arroyo formed the commission Aug. 21 to probe into the killings which since 2001 have claimed 744 civilian lives not to mention the enforced disappearances of 181 others. The investigation would cover media killings which, under Arroyo, have also made the Philippines the most dangerous country for reporters, after Iraq. Reports by Amnesty International (London and USA) and other international organizations pointed to the possible links of Arroyo’s security forces to the political killings. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent constitutional body, tried to follow up leads about the government forces’ involvement until its work was deemed redundant or rendered worthless with the formation of the Melo probe body.
Earlier, former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, whom Arroyo handpicked to head the commission, stressed that he would leave no stones unturned in carrying out the body’s task even if it would mean calling the President for investigation. Administrative Order 157, which created the commission, however authorizes it only to summon witnesses, to deputize the military, police and justice officials to help in its probe and recommend judicial remedies. Then on Aug. 31, Melo contradicted himself by clarifying that his group is not concerned with identifying the perpetrators of the summary executions but only to find the cause behind the atrocities.
“We are not so much concerned about that (identifying) the culprits in the killings,” Melo told reporters. “We are more concerned why this is happening, what is the cause of all these things.” Tough assertions turned out to be feeble and the chief commissioner appeared yielding to the wishes of the appointing power.
Ignoring widespread perceptions about a police whitewashing of the cases, Melo called the discredited PNP’s Task Force Usig “credible enough.” Undermining the commission’s own investigative powers what with two justice officials sitting as members, the former SC justice said he would rely on the task force “to investigate who the particular culprits are responsible for the killings.” He thus only bolstered the precipitate claims of Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr., chief of the police task force, that most of the killings were the handiwork of the leftists.
In a separate move to buttress military claims that the extra-judicial killings are part of an ongoing leftist purge, the AFP chief, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., threatened to file murder cases against party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo and two leaders of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Jose Maria Sison and Luis Jalandoni. Esperon linked them to the alleged bloody purge of hundreds of leftists during the 1980s. The three had earlier denied the charges as ridiculous, with Sison and Jalandoni themselves known to be already on forced exile at the time the internal purge reportedly happened.
Arroyo also said she is certain there is no military involvement in the extra-judicial killings. Instead, she blamed the left and her political opponents for plotting to link the AFP to the cases in a desperate step to destabilize the republic and unseat her from the presidency.
All these tend to bolster accusations that the Melo Commission is just a hoax and its creation only designed to defuse the mounting outrage over the killings. At the very least, they show a powerful but unseen hand out to make the task of the body superficial and keep its hands off the military and other security forces – the alleged culprits in the serial killings.
Aside from the commission’s proven close links with the President, two of its members – Chief State Prosecutor Jovencio Zuño and Director Nestor Mantaring of the National Bureau of Investigation come from the Department of Justice (DoJ) which is the President’s legal arm in her two-pronged “total war” against the left. As part of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), the DoJ was instrumental in the filing of rebellion charges against six progressive congressmen. DoJ Secretary Raul Gonzales has likewise prejudged the extra-judicial killings as a “necessary collateral damage” in government’s anti-insurgency campaign.
With the Melo Commission just a phony, the President exonerating the AFP from any involvement in the extra-judicial killings and the CHR in limbo with regards its own investigation, whom will the families of the victims of political murders turn to for justice? Congress itself has been made powerless in probing into the killings with Arroyo invoking the executive department’s and the AFP generals’ “prerogative” not to appear before the legislature’s investigative hearings. With no credible witnesses and rights groups participating in its probe, concerned groups are pushing for the Melo Commission to just as well fold up before it can even warm its seat. (Bulatlat.com)