Philippines: Toward Ensuring Justice and Ending Political Killings

Memorandum submitted to Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines, by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International

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On 15 August 2006, Amnesty International issued a report, Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process (AI Index: ASA 35/006/2006),(1) expressing grave concern at an intensifying pattern of political killings, mainly of members of legal leftist political parties and other leftist activists, which have taken place in the Philippines over recent years.

The report examined the context of the killings and their impact on a long-standing peace process with communist armed groups, and made a series of recommendations to restore respect for human rights by all sides involved in the conflict, particularly by taking steps to ensure that effective investigations lead to those responsible for the killings being brought to justice.

On 21 August, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced the establishment of a special Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, to investigate the killings and to make recommendations for remedial action, including appropriate prosecutions and legislative proposals.

Pledging to “break this cycle of violence once and for all,” President Arroyo stated, “I have directed [the Melo Commission] to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of justice…the victims and their families deserve justice to be served.”

Subsequently President Arroyo invited the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, to meet in London (UK) on 14 September to discuss these issues in more detail. The Secretary General submitted this memorandum to the President as a basis for discussion for her consideration.

The memorandum contains three parts:

* A summary of key recommendations from Amnesty International’s report, Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process, issued on 15 August 2006.
* A summary of recent reports indicating that political killings are continuing to take place.
* Guidelines and key principles that Amnesty International considers would help ensure that the work of the Melo Commission of Inquiry gains wide public credibility and acceptance as independent, impartial and effective.

Amnesty International believes that by reflecting such guidelines and principles, the Melo Commission’s work and eventual recommendations present an important opportunity for the introduction of substantial, durable measures that will strengthen respect for human rights and the rule of law in the Philippines – and put an end to patterns of political killings.

Part 1. Amnesty International’s report on political killings, human rights and the peace process: key conclusions and recommendations

The number of killings of political and community activists in the Philippines, predominantly those associated with legal leftist or left-orientated groups has increased in recent years. The killings mostly carried out by unidentified men often wearing face masks who shoot the victims before escaping on motorcycles, have rarely led to the arrest, prosecution and punishment of those responsible.

The methodology of the attacks, including prior death threats and patterns of surveillance by persons reportedly linked to the security forces, the leftist profile of the victims and a climate of impunity which, in practice, has shielded the perpetrators from prosecution, have led Amnesty International to conclude that the attacks are not an unconnected series of criminal murders but constitute a politically-motivated pattern of killings. The organization remains gravely concerned that members of the security forces may have been directly involved in the killings, or else have tolerated, acquiesced to, or been complicit in them.

Amnesty International is concerned that existing serious flaws in the delivery of justice to the victims of such killings represents a failure by the government to fulfil its obligation under national and international law to protect the right to life of every individual in its jurisdiction. The organisation is also concerned that the killings have played a major role in the break-down of a protracted peace process and an accompanying human rights agreement, between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Amnesty International’s 14-Point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions, based on the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, provides a framework within which the pattern of political killings can be stopped. The organization urges the Government of the Philippines to implement the Program in full.

Given reports of continuing political killings, Amnesty International has made a number of recommendations, addressed to the government, international organisations, civil society organisations and the armed groups. A summary of key recommendations include:

A. Reassert Respect for Human Rights

Official condemnation: Consistently and at every level of government condemn all political killings.

Chain of command control: Prohibit orders from superior officers or public authorities authorizing, inciting or tacitly encouraging other persons to carry out unlawful killings, even through silence or failing to take action to investigate, and ensure that those in command exercise appropriate and effective control over those within their command.

Action against “death squads” and vigilantes: Prohibit and disband any “death squads”, private armies, vigilantes, criminal gangs and paramilitary forces operating outside the chain of command but with official support or acquiescence.

B. Guarantee the Administration of Justice

Investigation: Ensure that all complaints and reports of political killings are investigated promptly, impartially, independently, thoroughly and effectively. An independent and impartial body should exercise oversight to ensure investigations are conducted by the police and other investigative agencies in accordance with international standards.(2)

Prosecution: Ensure that those responsible for political killings are brought to justice in accordance with international standards of fairness.

Protection against death threats and other intimidation: Take action to fully implement the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981) in order to ensure safe, reliable and durable mechanisms guaranteeing the participation in the legal process of witnesses to political killings.

C. The Peace Process: ensure compliance with the Human Rights Agreement

All sides of the armed conflict should recommit to and ensure compliance with the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Respect for human rights the ground should be enhanced by taking steps to ensure the operation of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the CARHRIHL.

D. Action by other human rights institutions

National: The Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement should conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations of all reported political killings which should, as appropriate, lead promptly to recommendations to the Department of Justice to file criminal charges against those found responsible.

International: The Government of the Philippines should access the expertise of relevant UN special mechanisms by inviting the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, and representatives of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit the Philippines.

Part 2. Reports of further political killings

Between January and June 2006, Amnesty International collated reports of 51 political killings, compared to 66 recorded in the whole of 2005. Between July and the beginning of September, Amnesty International received reports of at least 15 further killings.

Among attacks reported was that on Dr Constancio Claver and his wife, Alyce, on 31 July 2006. Constancio Claver is respected medical practitioner and provincial convenor of the legal political party Bayan Muna (People First). Alice was a Bayan Muna member and active of behalf of indigenous peoples communities with the Cordillera People’s Alliance.

Early on 31 July, Dr Claver, Alyce Claver and their young daughter were on their way to drop off their older daughters at school in Tabuk, Kalinga. Two vans carrying unidentified assailants reportedly appeared on the sides of the highway and shot at their vehicle. Dr Claver received multiple gunshot wounds and Alyce received four gunshot wounds to the neck, head and shoulders. Their seven-year-old daughter was deeply traumatized by the event, and a female bystander was injured by stray bullets. Dr Claver and Alyce were taken to the Kalinga Provincial Hospital in Bulanao. Alyce Claver later died, while Constancio survived.

Attacks have continued following the establishment of the Melo Commission on 21 August. Victor Olayvar, a local leader of the leftist organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-New Patriotic Alliance) in Bohol was attacked while travelling by hired motorbike to Tagbilaran City, Bohol early on 7 September. Two men riding a motorcycle blocked the road and one reportedly shot Victor Olayvar several times at close range. He died shortly afterwards.

Prior to the attack, Victor Olayvar had reportedly been receiving death threats, and claimed he was under surveillance. At a local Peace Forum convened on 2 September, BAYAN members and other allied organizations expressed concerns to the local military unit over reports of an alleged military “hit list” which allegedly featured, among six others, Victor Olayvar’s name.

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