The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organizations, and groups of human rights lawyers agree that the Melo Commission merely duplicates the functions of the CHR. They also believe that the Melo commission’s probe will amount to nothing as it lacks prosecutory powers. Proof of this is that eight more activists have been killed after the formation of the Melo Commission last August 21.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Saying that the newly-formed Melo Commission will duplicate the functions of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an executive of the independent human rights body said the newly formed Melo Commission might just be “a waste of money.”
Eduardo Diansuy, public relations officer of the Commission on Human Rights, said that the formation of the Melo Commission is contrary to the government’s policy of retrenchment and streamlining by giving the said body similar functions with that of the existing rights commission.
The CHR was created after the Filipino people toppled the Marcos dictatorship through a popular revolt that culminated in the historic Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA). Preceded by a Presidential Committee on Human Rights, the CHR was formed as an independent office by virtue of the 1987 Constitution.
In fact, Diansuy said it might not just be duplicating the functions of the CHR but also of the Presidential Human Rights Commission (PHRC) which has similar functions but is under the Department of Justice (DoJ).
What Diansuy suggested, in stead, was for Congress to strengthen the functions of the CHR by giving it powers to prosecute violators of the civil, political and human rights of an individual or groups of people. He said they have lobbied in Congress but to no avail.
In a separate interview, people’s lawyer Neri Colmenares said one of the primary problems of any commission investigating human rights abuses is its lack of powers over the suspected violators. “The military has no fear of any commission that has no powers to prosecute. They will just shun any probe,” he said.
Colmenares said it was even surprising for the president to create a separate investigating body now that the victims and their families perceive the CHR as an acceptable investigating body.
Diansuy however said that the creation of the Melo Commission would not stop the CHR from performing its tasks. It has in fact concluded two public inquiries in Central and Northern Luzon where reported violations are concentrated, he said.
The creation of the Melo Commission has been viewed with skepticism by victims of rights violations and the human rights community. “We have not been consulted about its formation and we are not aware of the processes it will follow in investigating the political killings,” Ruth Cervantes, Public Information Officer of the human rights watchdog Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) said in a separate interview.
“At dahil hanggang ngayon ay hindi nila kami kinakausap, hindi namin alam kung pahahalagahan ba ng Melo Commission ang mga pahayag ng mga biktima,” (Up to now they have not even contacted us. That is why we doubt whether the Melo Commission will value the statement of the victims and their relatives.) she added.
Diansuy and Cervantes confirmed that both their groups have not been formally invited to participate in the investigations. On the other hand, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said in a telephone interview that the commission would have its first public hearing on Sept. 12. Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director Avelino Razon, head of Task Force Usig, will be the first to testify.
Task Force Usig (TFU or Task Force Investigate) was the first body created by the president to investigate the killings of journalists and activists nationwide. Comprised mainly by the PNP, the task force had difficulties getting the cooperation of witnesses and relatives of victims as agents of the state are the main suspects in the killings. It further suffered from problems of credibility after it made public announcements that reiterated the line of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that the political killings were a result of a “purge” by the communist movement.
Cervantes said recent events, including the formation of the Melo Commission, are alarming to the human rights community because it apparently is leading towards a whitewash that will absolve the military and the Macapagal Arroyo government. Karapatan has documented at least 752 political killings while 181 have been abducted and remain missing as of Sept. 9. Relatives of victims as well as survivors blame AFP and PNP forces or military death squads for the killings and abductions.
Cervantes also said that since the commission was formed, August 21, another eight activists have been killed. This, Cervantes said, shows that the commission is toothless.
Cervantes said the Melo Commission should first prove its independence and transparency before Karapatan would agree to participate in its investigations.
Karapatan, she said, is also demanding for the removal of Zuño and Nestor Mantaring of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from the probe body. “They have shown nothing as far as investigating the military’s killing spree during the past five years. They have no place in the Melo Commission,” Cervantes said.
After more than 700 killings have been reported, the NBI has not presented any suspect to the public while the DoJ, Cervantes said, has done nothing but file rebellion cases against progressive members of the Lower House or known leaders of progressive organizations.
On the other hand, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chair Joe Torres said the media has already been cooperating with both the TFU and the Melo Commission. “What we are looking for is the government’s political will in solving the cases especially those that have been brought to court,” he said. “It is not enough to convict the triggermen. The investigators should also be able to unmask the masterminds,” he said. (Bulatlat.com)